The souvenir of the old CP.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Everything—except the fruits, the cookies, the protein chocolates and the wasabi peas—looks straight out of a time warp. The wood panelling, the display cabinets, even the floor, are as old as the store, circa 1935. The only major concession to modernity at The Oriental Fruit Mart in E-block, Connaught Place (CP), was the introduction of automatic sliding door in 2011.
This CP store is the stuff heritage is made of. Any CP aficionados will tell you how difficult is to keep pace with the furiously evolving colonial-era district. This world of stately white columns and louvred windows has become a muddle of restaurants, pubs and cafés. Feel free to accuse CP of selling its soul to franchisee outlets, but the truth is that the new watering holes have given it a fresh lease of life. A place that used to be dead after sundown is now buzzing with people—women included—into the early morning hours.
However, some of the Old CP continues to survive in the form of a few landmarks, such as The Oriental Fruit Mart.
The store was founded by the late Brat Pal. Today, his son Mohinder stands behind the counter with his two sons, Jitender and Ravinder. They are so polite to customers and talk so softly that you want to ask them, “Which city do you think you live in?”
Indeed, hanging out at the shop is an escape from rude Delhi. In her book Perpetual City: A Short Biography Of Delhi, author Malvika Singh wrote of a time when you would find avocados only at The Oriental Fruit Mart.
The shop started stocking cosmetics and Ayurvedic products in 2001 because “we don’t want our customers to go elsewhere”.
Ask the owners to point out the fridge that has been functioning since 1941. It looks like a cupboard. It is a must-see (see photos 2 and 4 below).
My most memorable Oriental Mart moment took place some years ago. It was late evening in the winter and CP had started to shut down for the day. Most stores had already downed their shutters. The empty arcades felt abandoned and scary. I passed in front of the Mart. There was light within and the sliding door was open. Just outside two stray dogs lay asleep. The world suddenly seemed safe and stable. It felt that we all could perhaps last as long as The Oriental Fruit Mart.
1. (Mohinder Pal with younger son, Ravinder)