Somewhere beyond Paris.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Nobody cares about the art. The Delhi Walla is in the imaginatively named Café De Art, yet another freshman in Delhi’s overpacked CP, or Connaught Place. And it is deathly still. It’s noon, and I am the lone customer. It feels like one of those excursions to the National Gallery of Modern Art.
De Art opened a few months ago, and like all the places in this colonial-era district, it has a romantic past—it stands where the Marques & Co. Music Salon once did. That colonial-era landmark with dark-wood piano window displays closed down a couple of years ago.
Today this space has become a kind of art gallery with tables on the side, or maybe it’s the other way round. The old-world aura, however, has not vanished completely from this part of CP. You just have to hop over to the neighbouring landmark, still HK Harison & Co., a “high-class furniture” showroom that has stood there since 1940.
The menu at De Art is not particularly creative—think vada pao, finger fries, tuna sandwiches, etc., along with a conventional range of teas, coffees and pastries. The vada pao was greasy, but that should not reflect poorly on the cook. Most of the fancy new watering holes in CP offer similarly greasy dishes. Café De Art stays true to the tradition, though it has dared to stand up to its name by hanging on its wall paintings by artists such as Riddhima Sharrof, Sadhana Porwal and Sukanya Aynakus. The waiter told me the wall would feature different painters. The only place nearby that De Art could model itself on is the Triveni Art Gallery, with its famous terrace café (old-timers might know it simply as the “canteen”).
Although this doesn’t seem one of those carefully curated spaces where established artists would plot to make their presence felt, it does grow on you if you linger at your table. Unlike many happening cafés and restaurants in town, there is no loud music here, so you can have a real conversation with your mobile phone (or friend).
The café’s glass front looks out to the signature white columns of CP’s Outer Circle, enabling you to enjoy an armchair view of all sorts of random souls walking along the corridor. There goes a foreigner with a Japanese guidebook, followed by an unhappy-looking couple, a stray brown dog, an ear cleaner with his customary red cap, and a scooterist who should not be in the corridor. Beyond is the sluggish traffic—the auto-rickshaws, the buses—and the disturbing sound of horns. Magically, however, it’s quiet inside De Art. You’re in the heart of this noisy city, and yet far from it.
Meanwhile, a group of four enters. One of them actually makes the effort to look at the paintings. There’s still hope for art.
Pao with paintings