City Obituary – Deepak Nirula, Co-Founder of Nirula’s
Rest in Nirula’s.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Nirula’s, the site of our dates, the fire of our friendships; our sin, our soul, our perfect escapade. Ni-ru-la: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps within the mouth. Nirula’s was a treat after the cinema in Chanakya. It was a stopover with the school gang under the DefCol flyover. It was a burger, an ice-cream soda, a mutton thali, and it was even a hotel in Connaught Place. But in our memories, Nirula’s was first and foremost a hot chocolate fudge.
Deepak Nirula, the co-founder of Nirula’s chain of fast food, died on Tuesday, aged 70.
Millennials might be clueless about the Nirula’s, but it does light up the eyes of an earlier bunch of folks hailing from our National Capital Region. At one point in Delhi’s contemporary history, this restaurant chain used to virtually manufacture memories. Here, the youthful crowd would gang up through romances and breakups. And, lest anybody forgets, this was the place where many Delhiites tasted their life’s first banana split. The epic thing, however, was Nirula’s hot chocolate fudge. Be gentle though, dear reader, and utter the name of this dish with some sensitivity. The fudge touches a raw nerve.,Even a fleeting mention can break the hearts of at least two generations who used to lovingly call it HCF.
Till 2010, you found more than 80 Nirula’s blanketing the region. Every neighbourhood worth its salt just had to have one. And then the numbers whittled. Delhi got more restaurants and more cafés, and more multiplexes, and Nirula’s gradually faded to become a recollection of what many of us tend to think as an era of simple life. A time when there were no choices but only Sunday movies on Doordarshan, and a Fiat Padimoni for the entire family.
Gradually, not too many outlets remained. One was in Gole Market*. On a visit long before the pandemic, only a few tables were occupied. Two ladies in the corner were bonding over a pizza dripping with cheese, while a turbaned gentleman and his consort had just placed an order for paneer makhani. It felt then that the world was yesterday. It wasn’t just like the old buzz of Nirula’s when you would be surrounded by the fashionable crowd, by the important people of the capital. Even so, gazing upon that signature ‘N’s’ sign painted in red across the glass door was like a brief return to an older Delhi of single screen picture halls and cheap bus tickets. The high speed metro system didn’t exist. For people heading to the Nirula’s at Chankaya theater (the original one that doesn’t exist), there were torturously long traffic bottlenecks at AIIMS traffic light—the smooth AIIMS flyover would come much later.
No doubt, today’s Delhi is far more liveable in many ways. And yet, those moments now seem of a golden era when you would exit the auditorium in Chanakya with a thousand-plus crowd of fellow cinemagoers, and walk into Nirula’s. There you would order HCF, sprinkled with finely chopped nuts, served in a tall glass with a long spoon. It contained the flavor of a Delhi that we thought would last for ever.
*PS: The Nirula’s at Gole Market shut during the 2020 lockdown. The one in Connaught Place now has a Halidram’s.