In a city populated by nearly two crore individuals, it is rarely that one is noticed, let alone by the head of government, who, one imagines, has more significant matters to attend to. Yet, on a day that must certainly have been slow and possibly cloudy, his attention turned to peoples and passers-by of a well-known market in the capital minding their fledgling businesses, as actual as metaphorical, and if push came to shove, voting. In an interview to a prominent daily, he told members of the so-christened ‘Khan Market gang’ that having failed to be ‘neutral’ and ‘unbiased’ sympathisers of the ruling dispensation — neutral and sympathiser being strictly coterminous, not oxymoronic — they must reckon with their insignificance in shaping the image of his office. It is rarely, to extend the spirit of rarity, that the irrelevant are brought into relevance to be told that they are, in fact, irrelevant.
Let me, however, be honest about my complicity. I have spent an appreciable number of hours in the circular, graffiti-laced ruins of Khan Market, often squandering an inconvenient measure of corrupt and demonetised currency alike. I have cherished my familiarity with the collections of its iconic bookstores, the gastronomical delights of its quaint cafés, the vibrancy of conversation ubiquitous in these two spaces of the market, the delight of running into persons you read and read about (and, dare I add, whose recognition an intellectual parvenu can but do without), the brazen gaudiness of the moneyed figures flocking the open market’s insolate spaces with infectious, enviable élan, the salubrious smell of its sedition. If it demands only vague familiarity with this nondescript market and writing this and that with a thinking mind, I am guilty — as are, I am afraid, many, many more that this resplendent and wildly patronising market keeps out.
Established with the Sarojini Nagar Market as a commercial node for incoming refugees from partitioned Punjab, spaces in the then-makeshift Khan Market were apportioned to desperate and traumatised Punjabi men and women, many of whom were traders, in the hope that they will attain a livelihood in utterly unfamiliar territory and come to replicate their commercial success in and for independent India. Many of them — like the late Bahri of Bahrisons Booksellers — did precisely that, elevating this market named after Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan or the ‘Gandhi’ of the Northwest Frontier Province, to national and global prominence as the most expensive retail space in the country. This was made possible by (among other things) its location serendipitously close to the seat of the government, Lutyen’s Delhi, and the gilded residences of those at its helm and those otherwise associated with the powers that be. Starched and nourished by the moneyed reserves of the country’s illustrious political and intellectual forces over the many, many decades of its making, Khan Market is but a market — it symbolises a space that kept many like its vituperative critic away and a space that, more importantly, continues to deny him the love he, at least in his own eyes, deserves.
Of course, some of us continue to make the biweekly pilgrimage here and there to catch up with our left-y professors, few of whom, I am afraid, are related to the Grand Old Party in ways as one would like and suspect. We lament, wryly, dramatically, the ‘state’ of the nation, as it were, and our demonetised presents and futures. Punctuating the rehearsed lament of the gang, however, are also figures of some novelty descending from acrimonious newsrooms to populate the decadent market, visiting your cherished bookstores and your beloved cafés but with different tastes, and walking the hallowed corridors of the Khan Market with the panache of the virtuoso who runs the show — power is a fickle mistress, and this is the Lutyen’s Delhi staffing the government, its inchoate think-tanks, and its assorted fora of media neutrally, objectively, sympathetically. Not only, as one of the gang would say, are the Fundoos (a term we owe, again, to a former member of the gang, Khushwant Singh) here, they have made the market their own as indeed. Are these entrants interlopers, or are they, one would gasp, of the infamous gang? In this fruitless exercise of classifying the heterogeneous and frequently complementary elite of a nation of dizzying diversity, neither. The Fundoo, and god forbid his avowedly anti-Lutyens position, is as elite and at home in Khan Market as the resident Congressi. Politicians, after all, only decry an elite that has kept them away and out to be able to reproduce its own. One is unsure when the interviewee's last visit to the market was, but take it from an intrepid traveller — the Khan Market has taken a new love, and it is he.
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Updated Date: May 25, 2019 12:08:43 IST