An Evening in Khan Market: Suleiman Khan and Anwar Sheikh encounter the famous 'Khan Market Gang'
“In the Congress, we are very tolerant, very democratic, except that we don’t take kindly to public dissent,” they said. “Charming couple,” Suleiman grinned.
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Explainer: This is part of the continuing series of two close friends, Suleiman Khan and Anwar Sheikh. Suleiman works in Saudi Arabia and is politically curious. Anwar is a rising Congress leader. For earlier parts of this series, visit the author’s page on DailyO.
7 pm, New Delhi
“Now that the elections are over, Anwarbhai,” said Suleiman Khan, “Let’s check out Khan Market. I’ve heard so much about it!”
Anwar Sheikh’s eyes lit up. After a gruelling election campaign, Khan Market was just the place to unwind.
The two friends were comfortably ensconced in Anwar’s South Delhi flat. “You’re right, Suleiman,” he said. “Khan Market’s got some great restaurants. Great shopping. Great crowd too. It’s buzzing.”
“Will we meet any members of the Khan Market gang that our Prime Minister spoke about in one of his interviews?” Suleiman asked innocently.
Come join the gang! 'Khan Market' has become a hot favourite for witty political retorts now. (Photo: Reuters)
Anwar gave his friend a good-natured nudge in his ribs. “Suleiman, don’t listen to everything that Modi says. It’s all a jumla.”
Suleiman changed the subject. “Anwarbhai, I hope you aren’t thinking of quitting Congress like all those turncoats. Back in Saudi last week, I read half the Congress wants to join the BJP — even their social media heads are vanishing. What’s going on?”
Anwar groaned. “Look, Suleiman, you’ve just arrived from Saudi Arabia. You don’t know how Modi stole the election with all those tampered EVMs. I told Rahul ji on the phone that we must complain to the EC but he doesn’t want to meet anyone right now.”
“Except his dog,” smiled Suleiman.
“Oh, stop it, Suleiman! Now forget all this political stuff and let’s hit Khan Market. That’s where the action is.”
* * *
9 pm, Khan Market
As the two friends drove down Khan Market’s narrow lanes, Suleiman asked curiously: “Anwarbhai, isn’t that a BJP leader who just got out of the car in front of us?”
“Yep,” said Anwar, as he struggled to find a place to park his BMW in the crowded lane. “He’s the guy you must have seen on TV defending the BJP’s broken alliance with the PDP. He likes his drink. And he loves Khan Market.”
Suleiman smiled. “So the BJP is catching all the bad habits of you Congress folks.”
“No, no, Suleiman, Rahul ji is very strict about this sort of thing. He doesn’t want our party to get the suit-boot tag so we come here only once or twice a week and keep a low profile.”
As the two friends walked up to the lane, Anwar snapped his fingers. “There it is, Suleiman! My favourite. Yum Yum Cha. The sushi here is to die for!”
Raajneetik Wisdom: Indian political winds may change everyday, but good sushi is forever! (Photo: Reuters)
The two friends walked through a narrow entrance and up the staircase to the restaurant on the first floor. “A bit cramped, Anwarbhai – –”
Suleiman was cut off mid-sentence as a well-known TV anchor with salt and pepper hair thumped Anwar on the back and roared: “Great to see you back in action, Anwar! Hope you’ve got your mojo back after the elections.”
Before Anwar could reply, Suleiman looked around the restaurant and joked: “All the 52 Congress MPs in the Lok Sabha could fit in here.”
The TV anchor lost his smile. “I don’t think we’ve been introduced,” he said through clenched teeth.
“Oh, this is my friend Suleiman from Saudi Arabia,” Anwar said hastily. “He’s here on vacation and wanted to check out the Khan market scene.” The TV anchor looked Suleiman up and down and said icily: “Ah, your first time in Khan Market?”
“That’s right,” said Suleiman. “In Delhi, I usually prefer restaurants around Connaught Place like Farzi Café, The Spice Route, Nizam’s...”
The TV anchor waved at him imperiously: “Those are good but they don’t quite have the right crowd, if you know what I mean?” He smiled. “You mean the Khan Market gang? I’ve always wanted to meet them.”
The anchor’s smile disappeared again.
Anwar quickly ushered Suleiman to their table. They decided to order the sushi and some chilli dim sums.
At an adjacent table, a raucous group was discussing the upcoming World Cup clash between India and Pakistan in Manchester on June 16. “I believe Imran is going there especially for the match,” said a young woman dressed in a fitted white shirt. “He’s 66 but isn’t he still just gorgeous! For his sake only, I hope Pakistan wins!”
Several people on the table began to speak at once, comparing Virat Kohli’s fitness with the overweight Pakistani captain Sarfraz Nawaz.
“His stomach walks ahead of him,” laughed the woman’s companion. He quickly lapsed into silence on receiving a frozen smile from her.
Anwar leant forward conspiratorially. “That gentleman owns one of Delhi’s biggest car dealerships. And that’s his wife who parties regularly at Annabel’s in London. They’re uber-rich. Oh, and they support the Congress. Even Rahul ji and Priyanka ji, they say, party at the couple’s farmhouse.”
Just then, a white kurta-clad man accompanied by a woman wearing an elegant pearl necklace and a fixed smile walked towards them. “Anwar!” the man stopped at their table. “It’s been ages!”
The two men hugged warmly. “This is my friend Suleiman,” Anwar said. “Suleiman, this is one of India’s finest political thinkers. He predicted we’d win 125 seats in Parliament.”
“Oh, but that was before that badly timed Pulwama attack and the Balakot thing,” the man said defensively. “Modi turned the narrative around to fake nationalism.”
“Why don’t you join us,” Anwar said. “Suleiman would love to hear about the Congress’ revival plans.”
As the couple sat down at their table, Suleiman asked brightly: “What do you think of Modi’s new cabinet?”
The man buried his head in his hands. “Old wine in old bottles. I tell you, Suleiman, we’ll be back with a bang in 2024. Modi and Shah are way too arrogant. Their Hindutva nationalism won’t work. Look at the way they treat their allies. I predict the JD(U) and Shiv Sena will walk out by the year-end.”
PICTURE OF BOTTLES OF WINE AND WINE GLASSES
CAPTION: 'OLD WINE IN OLD BOTTLES' IS HOW THE MODI 2.0 CABINET COMES ACROSS TO SOME
“But that will still leave the NDA with 318 seats,” said Suleiman.
The man’s smile didn’t reach his eyes as he replied: “Suleiman, this is India, the political winds change every day, every week. Who knows what tomorrow brings?”
Amidst a sudden flurry, a tall man with newly greying hair falling rakishly across his forehead swept past their table. “Ooh,” sighed the woman with the pearl necklace. “I wish they would make him Congress president now that Rahul ji doesn’t want the job anymore. He’ll even teach us a new long word every day.”
“Don’t be silly, dear,” her white kurta-clad companion said. “You know Sonia ji. She’ll convince Rahul ji eventually to stay on after he gets over the shock of losing so badly to a chowkidar. Give it time. All will be well.”
“And the Congress will remain a family firm,” Suleiman said sotto voce.
Anwar smiled nervously “Suleiman is just joking,” he said to the white kurta-clad man who had just shot a piercing look at Suleiman.
“He’d better be, Anwar,” he said. “In Congress, we are very tolerant, very democratic, except that we don’t take kindly to public dissent.”
The couple stood up abruptly and made their way to a table at the back of the restaurant.
Yum Yum Wisdom: You win some, you lose some, but at the end of the day, there's always dimsum. (Photo: PTI)
“Charming couple,” Suleiman grinned at Anwar, as the waiter brought their sushi and dim sums. “Are they part of the Khan Market gang?”
Anwar rolled his eyes. “Suleiman, Suleiman, do you want to get me into trouble with the party? They might even take back the BMW 5 Series they gifted me in recognition for all my hard work last December in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.”
11pm, Khan Market
As they walked out of Yum Yum Cha, a bank of double-parked SUVs greeted them. Anwar groaned. “It’ll take an hour to get out of this jam, Suleiman.”
Suleiman smiled. “It’s been worth it, Anwarbhai. When I return to Riyadh, I’ll at least be able to tell my friends that I met a few members of the Khan Market gang and survived.”
Anwar shook his head in exasperation as they slid into his car. “Suleiman, let’s forget all that, just concentrate on getting out of this Khan Market traffic jam.”
“Next time, Anwarbhai, we’ll stick to good old Connaught Place. We might even run into Robert ji there one day.”