City Landmark – Plaza Amphitheatre, Basant Lok Market
Today with yesterdays.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Sail boats in the harbour. Their white sails arrayed beside each other—see photo. But there’s no hulk, no deck, no mast, no river. No boats either. The sail-like objects are simply sheets of fabric spread upon an amphitheater, here in a corner of Basant Lok Market.
This late hour, three-four women are sitting on the amphitheater’s tiered steps with shopping bags, looking contended. A few paces away a heavily tattooed loner is wolfing down something fried and greasy off a sauce-smeared paper plate.
Meanwhile, a cool breeze has descended upon the summer evening like a memory of winter. The serene amphitheater feels detached from the surrounding commerce consisting of cafés, restaurants, and a supermarket crammed with imported brands.
The market is historic. Before the advent of shopping malls, before the venerable Connaught Place botoxed itself with youthful bars, before Khan Market turned totally servile to the super-rich, the smart set—the bohemians, the fashionistas, the writer types, the movie aficionados, the pre-Insta influencers, the super-rich too—would land in Basant Lok to see and be seen. The place boasts of India’s first McDonald’s, and is still holding on to Priya, the iconic single-screen cinema that mutated into a nationwide multiplex chain. Basant Lok also had Delhi’s most eclectic bookstore whose owner was himself a cool character. (A picturesque shoe shop stands on the site of Fact & Fiction). For a brief time, the market had a cafe run by a pianist who eventually moved out to set up the cultish Piano Man Jazz Club, with outlets in Safdarjung Enclave and (Gurgaon’s) Sector 15.
Back then, this amphitheater used to be a dry pool. One ancient afternoon, a decade ago, the pool was carpeted with hundreds of pigeons, until a man casually stepped into them. They fled away in one great cloud.
This evening, no bird. A middle aged man steps into the amphitheater, settling down right at the deserted center, beside a dog turned to the other direction. Minutes pass, and the two stay quiet, like characters in a Chekhov play wherein everything happens when nothing happens.