At the wedding, at the kirtan, at Paharganj’s Lal Ram Chand Ji ki mashhoor dukaan since 1940: jalebi. Glittering gorgeous and hot on hotter news in the paper from the morning. You want to urgently pick one up between your cold fingers and crunch it warm between your canines. More golden than the dome of Gurudwara Bangla Sahib you visited prior, more convoluted than these Paharganj ki galiyan where you find yourself rambling about for the lack of reason and raft, more ancient than the twentieth-century shop that hawks it, you want to pluck one right away and gently squeeze its suffocating sweetness in your mouth. More orange than the 6 pm sun that oversaw the road that led you here. These whorls reject the flavour of the streets where they are born, they are voluptuous and not narrow, wet with warmth on this cold November evening. But they also identify with these thoroughfares in a way that they are similarly incoherent unto themselves.
Batter of flour and yogurt voyages through a nozzle to calligraph loops in hot ghee. With graceful abandon they float—these ancient scripts for happiness—until they are crisp and coral enough to be tonged out. Then bathed in a syrup of sugar, they become little circuits of pleasure, sappy and swell enough to ink your own personal Ikigai.
You think, after two or three—okay four—your palate must tire and sleep. But no. that numbing nectar has had your cosmos captivated and your brain schematically sugared to keep on chomping. And so you have another round of these roundabouts. And every time you wait in earnest for that holy crackle between your gums releasing a glorious gushing of juice and joy onto your soft palate and hardened soul. By now your fingers will be all shiny and awkward and you’ll start eyeing the fat and shinier stash of tissues at the modest shop with unusual licentiousness. The guy behind the counter hands you down a modest wad and you try to prune the stickiness off your hands but they’ve been marked. Proof of your undammed and damning desire. You stare in vain—all gecko-limbed and livid. And yet the only Van der Waals attraction you feel is towards more of those jalebis.
You nibble lavishly. You withdraw poorly. You think meagrely. You stomach voraciously. All the way gazing at the architecture of your appetite outlined in coils of crimson. Alongside Jama Masjid Qazi Wali, you feel delivered. Come bow your aches down. In these old smudging lanes, you have arrived at your altar—all bent and rounding on the lilt of the evening. In its runny labyrinthine core, lies a most orienting sweetness. Nothing spells devotion more straightforwardly than these tangled tender truths. For all its twists, a most lucid language for love. Incandescent jumbles of joy. Wisps of warmth woven with much whim worming their way right into your soul.
You ask for paper to get the sheen off your fingers but unwittingly, a curl of your hair gets caught in your veneered thumb and you rub it in vain only to ick everything up. And that’s when you know it. You have stained an evening with the experience of a lifetime.