- Minute to burn it
July 13, 2013
Bored by long workouts? Just seven fast and furious minutes can produce results.
- Going Biblical
July 13, 2013
In Jordan, one finds places mentioned in the Bible.
- Tribal travel
July 13, 2013
Ethically sensitive ethno-tourism ventures are benefiting tourists, tribals.
- In This Section
- Entire Website
From the Times Of India
- MOST POPULAR
Hauz Khas, not so khas?
The trendy hub for hipsters, foodies and arts and craft now charges monstrous rents for even a tiny, stuffy basement. Restaurants, pubs and studios are leaving — and the big chains are moving in. Is Delhi's famous Village losing its indie vibe?
The road that leads to Delhi's hippest address, the Hauz Khas Village, is almost lyrical. Reserve forests that create a canopy overhead line the road and the temperature drops considerably just a few metres in. For brains addled by the summer heat, this oasis provides some much-needed respite. It lasts for a few moments. Within seconds, the canopy vanishes, everything is covered with dust and the quiet punctured by shouts of "Bhaiyya! Parking hai kya," at various levels of desperation. Hauz Khas Village or HKV. You've arrived.
Arty, eclectic, bohemian, hipster — all these adjectives are used for HKV, but the local Delhi term — "thoda hatke" (slightly offbeat) — says it best. The "thoda hatke" on Google Maps translates into an amorphous assortment of buildings at the edge of the Hauz Khas Complex, an archeological gem shaped like a slice of toast wrapped in forests. This tiny urban village throbs with the energy of the city's trendiest hotspot. It has charm, art, novelty and history. Flaunting studios, workshops, kitsch clothing stores, art galleries, bars with live music, boutique bakeries, restaurants, the Village has worn its badge of independent entrepreneurship with pride. But is this set to change?
The last few months have witnessed the closure of a few of HKV's veteran hangouts and the entry of big chain restaurants. Many people are now asking: what of the village's soul? Will the village turn out to be a twin of its generic, high-end version of retail space — Khan Market?
The most recent casualty has been HKV's only indie bookstore, Yodakin. After the landlord doubled the rent, the owner moved out. The Living Room (TLR), one of the first bars to provide a real platform for new bands, and which was in many ways emblematic of the Village's indie success, has closed down as well. O'Layla, a clothing/accessories store that figured on practically every shopper's must-do list had its last sale in February. Gunpowder, a peninsular cuisine restaurant with a glorious balcony on which HKV's coat of arms could be emblazoned if it had one, is also known to be looking for an alternate space.
Green House, an experimental art spot, has also gone. Simultaneously, chains such as Out of the Box, Amici, Smoke House Deli, Chicago Pizza and Cocoberry have moved in. Cumulatively, these closures have stabbed a stake of fear through HKV's vibrant heart. Most of the departed cite astronomical rents as the main reason for moving.
"In the last two years, how the village has metamorphosed!" says Kishore Singh of Delhi Art Gallery, one of the city's most prominent galleries situated at the heart of HKV. "People started coming in in droves and landlords hiked the rents. It is partly short-term vision. Chains are also always looking for more alternate spaces."
HKV's success has been, to use a tired phrase, meteoric. For the past two years, it has behaved like a bunny on crack — erratic, unpredictable, often unruly in its development. The village provided an aesthetic refuge for a city exhausted by the sterility of malls. "In the past decade everyone was drawn to malls, the new retail attractions," says Singh. "But then the profile changed.
HKV became the change from malls, from the sameness of everything. Small creative studios and workshops came in because they could afford a physical address in basements here."
A victim of its own success
Today, even a tiny basement is prohibitive to lease. Pradip Saha, a social communications expert, wanted to rent space in the Village but went instead to Lado Sarai, another urban village but a poorer cousin.
"The Village landlords have become extortionary," Saha says. "In Lado, I pay Rs 21,000 per month for a basement studio with parking and a neem tree outside.
In HKV, for a similar space, I would have to pay Rs 40,000 to 60,000. HKV developed because certain people had an allegiance to the area. Independent businesses had character. Big brands are generic, as are their clientele. Their novelty wears off, whereas independent ventures, whether food or books or clothing, have a specific clientele. If the smaller shops with personalities move out, the Village will lose its charm because they are the ones who brought people in."
Artists who think of HKV as an indispensable part of their coming-of-age bemoan the dilution of its spirit. One of them is Kriti Monga, creative director of Turmeric Design, which has designed the interiors and illustrations in the newly opened Smoke House Deli. "I have equal and contradictory feelings about HKV," she says. "Six or seven years ago Delhi's design scene was still evolving and HKV was a really large part of it. The Village was a place where various ideas were mashed up. It was such a hub. You could meet people you knew, stay on till two or three o'clock in the morning. There was collaboration and inspiration.
Being an artist/designer, I felt its energy of serendipity and experimentation. It was the alternative scene. That has sort of been unassembled. It is hard not to feel nostalgic and sad that that doesn't exist anymore. Rents have tripled overnight." HKV's trajectory, however, has pretty much followed those of popular commercial destinations.
Monga grew up in Khan Market, which was built in the 1950s as a place for senior government officials who moved back to India after Partition. There were shops on the ground floor and residences on the first floor. "Families were intensely connected and, of course, there was a shared sense of history," says Singh. "But it became popular and people started converting the upstairs into shops also. It's nature changed. This happens everywhere to cool art districts.
Look at Gracia in Barcelona. It followed a similar pattern. It was a little urban village on the fringes of the main city, artists moved in because of its affordability. Musicians came in. It became cooler, hipster. With that, it became expensive. The same happened to Brooklyn, to Montmartre. The place becomes too cool for itself. But this transformation came too fast for HKV. My heart feels sad but my brain knows that this is bound to happen."
History, on a loop
It was a cool morning in early March, 1987, when Bina Ramani went on an exploratory run to look for cheap studio space. And then she turned a corner. "Suddenly, I had come to a small opening through the lanes. There were charpoys, attractively dressed village men with hookahs, in crisp turbans and kurtas. To me, it was pure little India with little havelis and their pristine white walls and clean lanes. Houses had single floors and charming coloured doors. The lane opened into this amazing reservoir and the sun was setting. I felt like crying. It was a coming home kind of thing," says Ramani, a designer who had come back to India after years in the US.
Six hundred years ago, the poet Mutahhar of Kara had a similar experience. When he entered the Hauz Khas complex garden through the village in the late 14th century, he had this to say — "The courtyard was self-animating and its expanse was life giving. Its dust was musk-scented and its fragrance possessed the odour of amber…" One can safely assume that the scene probably brought tears to the poet's eyes as well. The historical nugget is gleaned from Anthony Welch's paper on the complex's architectural history (A Medieval Center of Learning in India: The Hauz Khas Madrasa in Delhi).
Welch, too, found himself in an overwhelming soprano voice singing a lovely, peaceful song. I was spellbound. Eventually a young woman in a brilliant scarlet sari appeared; she was singing a lullaby…she stood against the sooty blackness of the tomb as if she was a pari (angel)."
Ten years after Welch's visit, Ramani's store, Once Upon a Time, set in motion the wheels of development of a village that knew the dairy market better than designer apparel. She wanted to develop the area into the European idea of an art district. "I had envisioned about 8 to 10 restaurants, 15 to 20 galleries/boutiques, and maybe one events place," she says. "I met with a lot of resistance that this won't work — it was a romantic notion. Integration doesn't work in India, etc. It was a very radical an idea then. I didn't want it to be just an elite Indian but a fun community, an oasis, an international hub. It succeeded for a while."
The wheels of HKV have slowed down and ground to a halt for a few years between now and then. The Delhi Art Gallery set up there in 1993 during the slow years. "There was no great vision that oversaw the development of the Village," says Singh. "Initially there was Bina who was looking for a trendy alternative space, and she created a spot over here. Because of her persona, she got a lot of footfalls to her boutique. It was very bucolic then. For creative people, getting the footsteps in was not easy. But one of the reasons it lost some of its energy was that there were no food places." Ironically, says Ramani, today the village's art scene is at risk from its restaurant-heavy development. Financially robust restaurants seeking to expand are eager to set up here — and only they can afford to. HKV's popularity is evident from its presence on the city's must-eat lists, the expats' must-visit lists, tourists' check lists and almost every end-of-the-day entertainment plan.
Riyaaz Amlani, CEO and managing director of Impresario Entertainment and Hospitality that owns over 15 brands of restaurants/bars including the HKV Smoke House Deli, says, "It's charming, extremely beautiful and has personality. The location was so beautiful we couldn't resist it. It is sad that some small entrepreneurial artists are being shunted out. Will it be affordable for small independent guys? I can't say. It is something that will settle itself, will boil down to equal demand and supply. It is going through a shake-up but I hope it will hold something for everyone."
The idea of Indian urbanism
The tragedy of the village can be condensed within its two polarities — one, that it illustrates our cherished idea of the perfect urban space with its history and heritage, its gorgeous setting and natural beauty, art and trendiness, thriving commerce and upward mobility and two, it reflects everything that is wrong with the city — its rapaciousness, its obsession with growth at the cost of everything, lawlessness and its lack of vision.
Gautam Bhatia, architect, writer and satirist, says that urban villages are the lifeline of the city. "It is the most natural way a city grows," he says. "It is the only place without regulations. So it creates its own dynamics. And because it doesn't have rules, its nature is based on cooperation rather than confrontation.
The rest of the city, deadened and isolated, is all about — don't touch this, don't park there. This is a reversal of that. If we were to ever create a sense of Indian urbanism, this is a place that would hold all the signs. If we leave its planning to the local area residents and the infrastructural problems to the government, it would create the kind of neighbourhoods we idealise, the kind of romantic, nostalgic look we fantasise about. The blueprint is here but no one is noticing it."
Register for Full Access to the Crest Edition
Don't have a Facebook Account? Sign up for Times Crest here.