Delhi: Pao with paintings and a cup of tea

Nobody cares about the art. I’m 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 in August, 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 interior of Café De Art. Photo: Mayank Austen Soofi/Mint
The interior of Café De Art. Photo: Mayank Austen Soofi/Mint

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.

G-14, Marina Arcade, Connaught Circus, Connaught Place, Delhi.

By Mayank Austen Soofi

Mumbai: Financial freedom, one stitch at a time

If you drop by the Powai Bengali Welfare Association (PBWA) Durga Puja pandal in Mumbai this week, look for a stall selling everything from stationery to costume jewellery. All of it is handcrafted by the trainees at Mission Swayam Siddha (MSS), an NGO set up by the PBWA to help women from a lower economic strata find their feet. The NGO, entirely volunteer-led, imparts vocational training to socially disadvantaged women, teaching them embroidery, tailoring, jewellery-making and paper craft.

“We believe that empowering women from this strata, making them aware of their capabilities, and giving them access to opportunities that they are either unaware of, or have been denied, will have a positive spillover on the next generation," says Jayati Sarkar, a professor at the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research and one of the first volunteers.

Recently, the women crafted Arinna, a collection for international jewellery brand Isharya, weaving Turkish gold thread into earrings, cuffs and necklaces. It was a triumph, both for MSS’ reach and the level of skill the trainees brought to the table. Now in its 10th year, MSS is looking to expand. “We plan to start MSS centres in other parts of Mumbai and use the skill-set to service outside orders, as we did for Isharya," says Sarkar.

Buy MSS products at the PBWA Durga Puja pandal at Hiranandani Gardens, Powai, Mumbai. Products range from bookmarks (Rs10) to customized jewellery (Rs200-Rs1,500).

By Deepti Unni

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