Christmas with the Kumars

2008-01-07 00:00

It was Christmas in Delhi and the street urchins were selling Santa hats at the intersections, and the leaves were covered in a light layer of not snow, but dust. The poppers of popcorn and the roasters of peanuts were doing a brisk streetside trade. With every degree the temperature dropped, the tastier the gulab jamuns in their vats of warm treacle looked. The nightwatchman’s dog, Basanti, wore her winter plumage: a red jacket with a paw-print design.

At Chandni Chowk Town Hall, near Old Delhi’s moonlight bazaar, we went to watch a performance by ghazal singers. We emerged from the Metro station into a Dickensian world. It was pitch dark, there was the sound of someone spitting and squatting figures clustered around smoky fires. Bicycle rickshaws appeared out of nowhere and quickly receded into the blackness down the rutted street. Vagrants shrouded in blankets lay on the pavements.

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