Shahpur Jat, one of South Delhi's urban villages, is undergoing a gentrification of sorts. Along its edges, it is now possible to buy stylish shoes, pizza, high priced coffee, English books and more. You can even get an artistic tatoo. Small publishers, software engineers and artists have set up offices and studios in buildings which, until recently, provided crowded living quarters to local workers.
It's hard to say how all this is affecting everyday life in the area. On the upside, new business means new jobs, though most of the professional work goes to people from outside the neighborhood. Still, some of the new businesses do hire local working class youth, educated in the area. On the downside, rents are going up in certain parts of the village. This is difficult for workers who are seeking low cost housing in South Delhi--of that, there can be little doubt. This kind of displacement rarely makes the news, because it involves lease agreements and not bulldozers. But it is displacement, nonetheless.
How far will it go? That's hard to say. The very density of the housing and the narrowness of the lanes makes it likely that a complete transformation of Shahpur Jat is unlikely to happen anytime soon. And in many cases, ownership of buildings is shared; in those situations, renting out a floor is typically a lot easier than selling the whole building. My guess is that unless someone very powerful organises a lot of bulldozers--something which seems unlikely at this point-- gentrification will remain an incremental, problematic process, pushing from the edges, slowly inward.
But this post is supposed to be a dhaba review, not an essay about gentrification. Well, if you live or work or shop in or near Shahpur Jat, there are a lot of places you can eat. Try them out--except the pizza place; skip that entirely--there are a lot of better choices.
I spent some time in the area recently with a friend who works there, and I was impressed with Jagdamba Bhog, a small joint that serves a different dish every day. Some days, it's rajma chawal, some days it's chole chawal, some days it's kadi chawal. Most days there's a sabzi and roti as well. The food is spicy and hot and is served on eco-friendly steel plates. If you are lucky, you'll get a spot to stand and eat. If you eat there in summer, you won't have AC of course, but you may catch a cool breeze from the dhaba's water cooler. Of course, take away is also an option.
Rs. 20 buys you enough food to fill most human beings up. In fact, after a week of eating there, I had to let my belt out one notch--and that's not a joke! This food is made for fellows who work hard for a living; it's not short on carbohydrates. Still, the rajma itself tends to be pretty thin--protein is a little harder to come by on a Rs. 20 budget these days. But if you feel shortchanged, appeal to the chef with a smile, and you will surely be rewarded!
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