Delhi Nightlife for Mint

Mint came up with a great headline for this piece.  Reminds me of Gerald Durrell’s books. Read it below or click the link.

A Phantom and Other Nocturnal Animals

  • Columns
  • Posted: Thu, Aug 25 2011. 9:58 PM IST
A Phantom and other nocturnal animals
There is one thing that we Bangaloreans mourn: the 11.30pm curfew by which the bars and restaurants close. To watch Delhiites revel way past our curfew time gave me Delhi-envy

The Good Life | Shoba Narayan

I got Delhi-envy at 1.43am on a soft summer night when I met a man called Honey. The evening began at 10pm at an art gallery opening. Hotelier Priya Paul (whom I had first met a week ago) and her friends, Vivek Sahni and Nikhil Khanna, were going out with a group of friends and they invited me to come along. The group included a contemporary artist-couple, a gallery owner, some expat curators, a design guru and some advertising folk. Some 15 of them debated about where to go and ended up choosing Boombox Café, a bar in Khan Market.


Feel the pulse:At Lap, a lounge bar in New Delhi owned by actor Arjun Rampal. Photo by Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Feel the pulse:At Lap, a lounge bar in New Delhi owned by actor Arjun Rampal. Photo by Pradeep Gaur/Mint


Delhi, I discovered, dines at 11pm. Boombox was full of people. We all squeezed into a corner booth and spent the next couple of hours smoking fragrant sheesha and drinking everything that was on offer. Sahni, I learned, owned an eponymous design firm and was co-founder of Kama Ayurveda, whose products I use on my head in the hope of growing hair. I complained that his products were not fragrant enough. We debated the merits of fragrance versus benefits in massage oils; and the metaphysical question: Why do things that are good for you, such as Dead Sea mud and Ayurvedic potions, smell so bad? I am sure both of us made valid points—if only I could remember them. I was concentrating on grabbing the sheesha pipe that kept disappearing. “Do you realize that it is all the ex-smokers who want the sheesha-fix?” asked the lady-sculptor with a British accent. 

Two hours later, there was another spirited debate about where to go. We ended up outside Cibo at Janpath and were told that nobody would be allowed in. “Gudda” (fashion designer Rohit Bal) was in the house, said the bouncer, and they were turning people away. Sahni walked up and whispered something to him. The doors opened. Paul and I seemed to be the only two women in the compound. Bal, who co-owns the place, held court in the open courtyard, offering drinks, discussing his fashion show and introducing the male models who surrounded him. One particularly handsome man introduced himself as Honey.


The old-world charm of Hard Rock Café attracts many Bangaloreans. Photo by Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

The old-world charm of Hard Rock Café attracts many Bangaloreans. Photo by Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint


Everyone around chuckled. Unbelievable, said Paul. Can’t be your real name. 

It is, insisted Honey. “His full name is Honey Makhni,” said Bal amid much laughter.

Then it struck me. It was 2am on a Saturday night. Cibo was full of men enjoying “boy’s night out”. Vodka shots were being downed; techno music that sounded like a heartbeat on steroids was being pumped through the sound system. The ladies room was taken over by men making out behind the partitions. An editor from GQ walked by, clad in a white kurta-pyjama, air-kissing everyone in sight. Toto, I told myself. I have a feeling we aren’t in Bangalore any more.

There are two kinds of people in the world. Some are rabid city patriots. Listen to south Mumbai types talk about their city and you’ll know what I mean. Others are oblivious to place. They can be happy anywhere. I used to be rabid. I once refused to date a man because he made the mistake of dissing my hometown. I am different now. After living in Bangalore for the last five years and learning to love this city, after exploring Mumbai and Delhi in a fairly intense way and learning to love their quirks, I’ve morphed into the kind of person who, I think, could be as happy—or unhappy—in any metro.

That said, there is one thing that we Bangaloreans mourn: the 11.30pm curfew. Bars and restaurants close before Cinderella got home. They kick us out. To watch Delhiites revel way past our curfew time gave me Delhi-envy.

Around 2am the police came. The bar could stay open, they said. But the music had to stop. I watched a Delhi version of what we Bangaloreans complain about every weekend. “What’s the point of keeping open a bar without music?” said Bal, wringing his hands. I felt a twinge of perverse and juvenile joy. Take that, Delhi. Now you know how we feel.


If you want to listen to live music, Blue Frog is the place to head to in Mumbai. Photo by Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

If you want to listen to live music, Blue Frog is the place to head to in Mumbai. Photo by Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint


Cities have rhythms. Chennai comes alive at 6am, Bangalore at 11am, Mumbai at 8pm and Delhi at midnight. For a visitor, Mumbai’s vibe is casual. Whether you are quaffing beer at Leopold Café along with a room full of delirious tourists, enjoying the view atop the Dome at the Intercontinental Marine Drive with your sweetheart and a Cosmopolitan, listening to live music at Blue Frog, doing the—what’s it called—dubstep at Bonobo, drinking Suleimani chai with the intellectuals at Prithvi Theatre’s café, or ending the night at Zafran, Mumbaikars have the worldly sophistication of having seen everything and been everywhere. They are glad you are visiting their fair city but you know what, they get immigrants every day, so have a great night, amigo. But get caught without a cab on your way home and the same Mumbaikar who appeared nonchalant, almost offhand, will insist on dropping you home with an equally casual, “Don’t be silly. Get in the car.” 

The best of Chennai’s nightlife happens in the farmhouses lining ECR (East Coast Road). The setting is magical—swaying coconut palms, the Arabian Sea, water that has been warmed by the blistering daytime heat to encourage skinny dipping, and lots of hard liquor. Chennai folks hold their drinks either very well or very badly. You sweat out your hangover the next day and build tolerance.

Bangalore has some great places. Take 5 in Indiranagar has live acts by musicians Radha Thomas and Amit Heri, who are very good, perhaps because Take 5 is co-owned by singer Arati Rao. Although I despise franchises, Hard Rock Café in Bangalore is housed in a lovely building. Opus, owned by Carlton and the late, great Gina Braganza, is an old favourite. Newer outlets such as Sky Bar, Bacchus, F Bar and Cloud 9 are popular with college students. But none of them have the sprawling spaces that I saw in Delhi.

The next stop in Delhi was Lap, where actor Arjun Rampal—still handsome—was spinning discs when we entered. In the VIP area, fashion designer Suneet Verma and co-owner A.D. Singh chatted with Paul and exchanged hugs and Delhi gossip. Vineet Jain of The Times of India group came by to chat. More gossip. People thronged the outside garden and everyone seemed to know each other. That’s the other thing. Both Cibo and Lap have lovely outdoor spaces, something I haven’t seen in space-starved Bangalore.

Close to dawn, we stumbled out. There was a line of pretty young things, clad in miniskirts, waiting for their cars. One 20-something said hello to Paul, who didn’t recognize her. A minute later, her car rolled up. It was a Rolls-Royce Phantom. The girl’s escort got into the driver’s side beside her and they pulled away, waving at us. How can you not remember a girl who owns a Phantom, I asked.

Who’s that girl, asked Paul. And then I had my only-in-Delhi moment of the night. “Oh that,” said the bouncer in Hindi. “That’s Pooja bhabhi.”

Apparently the girl got the Phantom as a wedding present. Only in Delhi.

I have never seen a Rolls-Royce in Bangalore, and you know what? I am kind of proud of it. We have our nouveau riche in Bangalore too, but the new rich play it quiet in Maruti Swifts.

The next weekend, I was at Kyra, a bar in Bangalore, where the Nathaniel School of Music’s students played a gig. Grey-haired grandmothers in Parsi-embroidered saris sat around tables eating chilli chicken. Bindi-sporting mothers held up video cameras to record their children’s performances. Square fathers shook their hips and tried to act cool. Children ran around. The only thing missing was a wailing baby. It was a world away from the edgy hipness of Lap but it felt like home.

Shoba Narayan loved her Delhi noir experience. She cannot wait to go back. Write to her at







A night out with girlfriends

This essay appeared in M magazine of The National. Click here for the link.

A night out with girlfriends is simply good therapy
Shoba Narayan
Last Updated: Mar 22, 2011

My three girlfriends and I went out one night recently to The Pink Poppadam, a modern Indian restaurant in Bangalore. Mostly, we talked about our homes and lives, spouses and in-laws, children and careers, fears and hopes. We returned home a little lighter and ready to face the month ahead.

As numerous studies have shown, men and women bond differently. My husband rarely discusses his mental angst or marital issues with his buddies. When they get together, they talk about sports, current events and the markets. When we fight, he goes off to watch a game. I call a friend. These are stereotypes, but they come from a real paradigm. Women gain comfort from talking to each other. We sort each other out.

On this night, for instance, all four of us wives complained about how technology had ruined our ability to connect with our partners. “My husband is on the phone all the time,” said my friend Sheila. “If he is not checking his BlackBerry, he is texting. And this happens even during dinner. I’ve made this rule that he cannot take phone calls while we eat, but it doesn’t seem to be working because each call is an ‘important’ one.”

The rest of us nodded sympathetically. So it wasn’t only in our homes where this was an issue.

Another friend told us how hard it is living in a joint family with her in-laws. “My husband doesn’t want to get in the middle of it, but sometimes that only compounds the problem,” she cried. “My mother-in-law thinks she can say anything to me and get away with it, because he won’t correct his mother. It is left to me to be the bad guy and rudely shut her up, which I don’t want to do.”

We gave her solutions: “Move out. Or get them to go back to their ancestral home in the village.”

“Your husband thinks he is being the good son but what about being a good husband?”

“Stay quiet and put up with it,” said one friend dourly. “Old people never change. Maybe they’ll die soon.”

We all laughed and launched into a discussion about our own in-laws.

And so it went. I confided my fears over my teenage daughter posting photographs of herself on Facebook. My friends advised me not to be so conservative. “This generation lives out their lives on Facebook,” they said. I nodded thoughtfully. Maybe I ought to ease up on my kid.

When we started this ritual of going out together, all four of us were a little cautious. We were part of the same social group and had met each other at parties. But intimacy is different. Where do you start and how much do you confide? I’ve thought about this and have come up with some tips should you decide on a monthly meet-up:

• Pick women who are extroverted. There is nothing worse than sharing your problems with a silent partner.

• Pick women you respect but who think differently to you. This is key because their approach to life will be different from yours and will force you to look at issues from another angle.

• Go to a nice restaurant. Have fun with it. This isn’t only group therapy. It is a chance to laugh as well.

• If your husband grouses about your leaving for the evening, tell him it is good for your marriage. And it is.

• Make a pact that nothing that is said during the evening will get repeated. Choose discreet women, not gossips.

• Enjoy yourselves!

Shoba Narayan is a journalist based in Bangalore, India. She is the author of Monsoon Diary: A Memoir with Recipes.