Mission Delhi – Adam Burakowski, Gujarat Bhawan Restaurant
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Moong dal, arhar dal, vegetable kofta, aloo gobhi matar, farsan, choorma laddu, dhokla, tillar papad and fresh rotis. This picturesque Gujarati thali will soon be a sweet, aching memory to the Polish ambassador. With his five-year term in India coming to an end, Adam Burakowski is to wind down the cozy routine he had built so lovingly around this homey meal. Each time a short half-hour spell of appointment-free afternoon chanced to ease his otherwise packed schedule at the embassy in Shanti Path, the ambassador would be ferried in his long, black car by chauffeur Sunil Kumar to Gujarat Bhawan in Kautilya Marg—a mere five-minute drive. There, His Excellency would sign-in in the visitors’ register, walk to the Gujarat Bhawan Restaurant within, claim a window-side table and order the comforting thali—the many dishes rotating daily, the additional servings unlimited, and all of it for 210 rupees.
“I will especially miss the Special Gujarati thali that comes with the addition of mithai,” he mutters, tearing a piece of roti, scooping into it a bit of gobhi. The ambassador’s next posting is in South Africa. Before he leaves Delhi, he wishes to meet a favourite Delhi walla—novelist Surender Mohan Pathak. “I once read somewhere that he lives in Karol Bagh.” The envoy from Europe reads Pathak in original Hindi, which he self-taught himself with help from Bollywood films and Lata Mangeshkar love songs. The ambassador picked up our language long before he became an ambassador, when he would frequently fly to Delhi from hometown Warsaw as a political science research scholar. Gradually, “main Dilli wala ban gaya.”
Casually breaking the crispy papad into two unequal halves, the ambassador gets senti about quitting Delhi. No more will he be able to stroll and snap mobile phone photos in Chandni Chowk, no more will he be able to party with Polish expats in Gurgaon, or lose himself in an aimless walk in Cyberhub. Neither does his new home in Pretoria, South Africa capital, boasts of anything comparable to the grand history of his New Delhi home. The white art-deco bungalow at 1 Tilak Marg was Dr BR Ambedkar home as India’s first law minister. “For about five years, I worked in the same cabinet where Dr Ambedkar used to work when he was writing the Constitution of India. It gives me a lot of inspiration. Myself being a scholar I know I cannot match his level, but at least I’m trying.”
After finishing the khana (the pickles stay untouched), the ambassador instinctively discharges the closing rituals of his Gujarat Bhawan routine. He gets up from the table, thanks the waiters, walks to the desk, pays in cash (he always brings the exact change), heads to the basin, washes his hands, and walks out. Within weeks Adam Burakowski shall cease to be a Delhi walla.
[This is the 528th portrait of Mission Delhi project]