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Q&A: Nandita Das interview

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The Scene caught up with Nandita Das to talk street food, handicrafts and the less welcome side of globalization...

The Scene: Tell us what's so special about Delhi.

Nandita Das: Delhi is a city that sees all seasons, unlike many other places. It's also a green city. It's got lots of trees, especially in central and south Delhi. You'll see lots of parks in residential localities, trees planted during the British time, and there are strict rules about not cutting them. We're very grateful that in the day and age of so many cars it's still so lovely and green.

TS: Has Delhi changed much in your lifetime?

ND: Well, there are still lots of lovely bookstores, old restaurants like the Volga and the Gaylord, which have been here since before I was born. There's a lot of old world charm here. But we've also got KFC -- that's the modern day colonization. Thanks to globalization we have KFC, McDonald's, Pepsi, Coke, all of it -- I'm not sure that's the best part of globalization.

TS: How does Delhi compare to Mumbai?

ND: It has a pace that's not too frenetic, unlike Bombay. It's not too crowded, it's much more spacious and green because it can expand horizontally instead of just vertically. People are a little more laid back, and I think so am I. It kind of works with my pace of life. Of course in any city there are different worlds that exist, and the world that I belong to -- primarily artists and people doing social work in the voluntary sector -- there is a lot of space for that. It's less commercial; it's the DC of India.

TS: Have you ever been tempted to move to Mumbai?

ND: I've had no real reason to shift to Bombay even though one part of my life is acting. I just don't feel the need to go to any other city. Most cities are getting more crowded and obsessive; this city allows you space. The cost of living is comparatively cheaper, too.

TS: What makes India different from other countries?

ND: The traditional and the modern coexist almost seamlessly, effortlessly. It's a very interesting part of India. These days, we need a bit of both. We don't want to become so modern that we lose all the beautiful things we have, but you can have the latest cars and mobile phones and still be peaceful. It's the best of the western world and the best of the east.

TS: You're a keen supporter of traditional crafts. Where does that come from?

ND: My father, who's a painter and an artist, collects handicrafts and hand woven things so it's really something I've grown up with. In those days there were no video games -- for us, entertainment was coming to places like the Delhi Crafts Museum. You get to meet artists from all over the country, you learn about their lives, buy little things and the great thing is all the money goes directly to them. There are no big shopkeepers so it's really lovely.

TS: Delhi has a great reputation for its cuisine, especially street food. Can you explain to us its culture and appeal?

ND: Street food is special because it crosses all classes, it's cheap and while it may seem unhygienic it's not, it's freshly made out in the open. It's all cooked on charcoal so the smell is nice and the taste is very different -- you could never get it on a gas cooker. You get things like kakori kebabs, which melt in your mouth, and the roast chicken and lamb, which are absolutely delicious. It's never complete without onions, a little bit of masala, some chutney and some dal with a dollop of butter. The one thing I would be careful of is water -- I wouldn't risk any water apart from mineral water.

Collage of Nandita Das and Delhi with the Old Fort in the background



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