‘Shehr Dilli’ Captures The Comforting Nostalgia Of Delhi Shops, Eateries, & Hangouts

Aditya Raj’s Nostalgic Artwork Captures Iconic Landmarks Across Delhi
‘Shehr Dilli’ Captures The Comforting Nostalgia Of Delhi Shops, Eateries, & Hangouts
Image Courtesy: Aditya Raj

‘Yeh Dilli Hai Mere Yaar, Bus Ishq, Mohabbat, Pyaar’

These lyrics resonate with each individual who has ever called Delhi home. One can either spend their entire lifetime here or move here; irrespective, the chaotic charm of the city is sure to captivate your heart. With nostalgia enmeshed in the the very fabric of the city, each part of the national capital is famous for a particular landmark that holds on to the memories of various different generations.

From the rustic lanes of Old Delhi to the Indo-European architecture of Lutyens Delhi, there is a feeling of magnificence associated with the visually-stunning buildings. The forts, palaces, memorials or the towering minarets of the mosques, as well as the lush green spaces, boast of a rich heritage. Beyond these historical sites, there is also an undeniable relevance in the nooks and corners that holds onto different cultural periods and reflects the spirit of the times.

Capturing the same ethos through their artwork, is Aditya Raj, a young artist who had initially moved to the city in order to pursue a law degree but decided to turn his passion for painting into a profession shortly after graduation. His love for Delhi is what prompted Raj to make it his muse and portray the nuances and attributes of different parts of the city on his canvas.

The visual directory provides a guide to the many historic landmarks such as decade-old bookstores, bakeries, restaurants, instrument shops and cafes that have a legacy and still remain crowded with people every single day. Evoking nostalgia, these pieces bring up the many attached memories and personal sagas that add to the glory of each space.

Image Courtesy: Aditya Raj

One of his artworks captures the enchanting Bahrisons Bookshop that arrived in Delhi post the independence of India. A young man of 19, who fled from his ancestral village in Pakistan at the time of partition, became the proud owner of a small bookshop in Delhi’s Khan Market after witnessing much hardship as a refugee. Bahrisons maintains its modest appearance to this today, yet is one of the most famous places in the city for book lovers.

His granddaughter, Aanchal Malhotra, describes the place by its “smell of printed paper, the way the air is filled with a passion for reading”. One can browse and read books for hours without buying, as the shop is an extension of the owner’s unwavering patience. This welcoming spirit has inspired generations of families that continue to visit it and return to the same place with their children.

Similarly, another cultural hotspot featured on Aditya’s canvas is Nirula’s, Delhi’s first fast-food restaurant that opened in Connaught Place back in 1977. The homegrown restaurant was a prime location for younger generations. The founder and owner Deepak Nirula used to encourage young scholars to score straight A’s in order to receive free ice-cream sundaes.

Nirula’s was also a buzzing space for dates. My own parents shared stories from the 90s when sharing their famous hot chocolate fudge was a tradition. Transforming the culture and food of India, the ‘desi’ version of fast food soon became a national sensation. While there are now over seventy outlets around India, the restaurant remains rooted in the capital where it has touched the lives of generations.

Image Courtesy: Aditya Raj

Furthermore, Aditya also paints a captivating image of famous shops such as Rikhi Ram Musical Co. started by late Pt. Rikhi Ram –– one of the best musical instrument makers in the world. The shop is currently run by the fourth and fifth generations of the same family. Popular stalls such as Tom Uncle’s Maggi Point, a speciality for Delhi University students, also find a place in the artist’s series.

Aditya’s paintings are a window into local places that carry a wealth of memories instead of the usual historical grandeur. These spaces are often overlooked while speaking of the many charms of Delhi as we tend to focus on the huge monuments and gleaming buildings of ancient periods. Yet what truly captures the real essence of ‘Dilli’ or Delhi are these small shops and corners that speak to every local person who has spent innumerable hours of leisure in these spaces.

Explore the entire series here.