Does it say something about access if it so happens that I had never been to Khan Market before I entered politics? Those days, my social interactions in Delhi were confined to the more airy, circular corridors of Connaught Place, where the footfall is always more diverse. My first trip to the market happened during the 2014 election campaign. From Khan Chacha, the market’s popular kabab haunt in which a party colleague and I ended up, I was stunned to see a Land Rover driver confidently parking it on the wrong side of the alley and a family of four getting down from the vehicle with an armed body guard. I was confused: what were these rich and powerful people doing in these narrow lanes? I was too ignorant. I eventually moved to Delhi, only to find myself in Khan Market again and again. It’s the closest market for me with a bank and a pharmacy and it has a variety of restaurants for every occasion.
Now, I could call myself a keen observer at least, if not a critical insider of Khan Market. My regular visits to Delhi’s most stiff-lipped bazaar have made me an expert of sorts on its philosophy (yes, the market has come to command a set of unwritten rules over the years). One can divide my treatise further into two sections—rules shared with others, and exclusive rules. The understanding that traffic rules are meant to be broken in direct proportion to your car’s size or horsepower, that you abandon your car as soon as you enter the market and let the driver deal with the chaotic parking and that everything in this market costs double of other markets are all facts that could be shared by other places. The exclusives are more deeply ingrained: that the tribe of people driving their own hatchbacks are to be looked at from the corner of the ‘authentic’ Khan Marketeer’s eye in one swift movement of status judgement and that market vendors are to subtly inform you of their interest in you as a customer based on your attire and the brand of sunglasses you wear, is knowledge that one acquires only over time. Also, a shopkeeper considers it an insult if you ask the price of a commodity before putting it in the shopping bag—the onus of keeping in mind the fact that you are shopping in one of the most expensive commercial places in the world is upon you.
Khan’s grandness is like a Lutyens’ Delhi whisper—it’s hidden from all except those very few it is meant for. So you don’t see it in an obvious way. But once in the inner lanes and past the pub receptionists behind makeshift desks, the menu opens up to exquisite, and exclusive, choices. But, don’t dare ask for trivial questions such as if the complex has a Building Use Certificate or has taken adequate fire safety measures. It’s perhaps from here that the Hauz Khas pubs took their cue and went precariously ‘shanty-chic’. While climbing those two-feet wide staircases, try to ignore that there is no fire exit.
In a nutshell, Khan Market packs in convenient flexibility with enormous privilege by bending the rules. A carefree sense of security prevails here for the rich, they even leave their expensive cars’ keys with the parking wallahs, who can be seen pushing and pulling Audis and Mercs (they’re mostly not allowed to start the engines) with the concentration of chess players to ease parking hassles.
Everything happens smoothly here, without the slightest quarrel. Every visitor here is a die-hard capitalist with a garnishing of socialism. How, you ask. An exhibitionist feudal socialism manifests itself in the few temporary shops allowed in the compound and some stray dogs always lounging outside shops. Sometimes, you will witness some shopper hosting beggars at an overpriced bakery. At the same time, an accompanying housemaid (for the kids) is not expected to sit on the same table while dining at a restaurant.
The best part of the Khan Market kingdom is that everyone here knows that they are part of a larger ecosystem and everyone needs to follow certain rules, conventions and traditions, which are as sacrosanct as the Nehruvian consensus itself. I have heard it being said from good sources that like the followers of the former prime minister Nehru, who firmly believe that he could do no wrong, there is firm belief that opinion expressed and verdict delivered in Khan Market after two pegs of single malt whiskey can never go wrong. The authority of review petition is restricted only to the ones who issued the initial diktat. Any challenger poses an imminent risk of being immediately labelled as an outsider, bigot...‘sanghi’, ‘bhakt’ etc. and therefore incompetent to play any important role in society.(The author is in-charge of the BJP’s foreign affair’s department)