Delhi Stories: Power cuts pale in the face of the perfect naan

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The Independent Online

Delhi residents find it hard to suppress a wry smile when we read of "chaos" as a Western city is blacked out, because summer power cuts are a daily occurrence here. Already an air of resigned misery has settled over the capital as the daytime temperature regularly hits 42C and rarely sinks below 25C at night.

Delhi residents find it hard to suppress a wry smile when we read of "chaos" as a Western city is blacked out, because summer power cuts are a daily occurrence here. Already an air of resigned misery has settled over the capital as the daytime temperature regularly hits 42C and rarely sinks below 25C at night.

The huge demand for electricity to power air-conditioning has resulted in the depressing phenomenon of "load-shedding". This is where the electricity company, unable to satisfy demand, simply cuts off the power to certain neighbourhoods for two hours, sometimes longer.

I have had to buy a generator, which is alarmingly fuelled by kerosene and emits poisonous-smelling fumes - if it starts. Nothing is ever that simple in Delhi. You buy a brand-new generator and two weeks later, as the electricity board plunges the office into darkness, it refuses to work. An electrician is called.

"Problem is sparking plug," he confidently asserts. "So how much for a new one?" you ask. "No problem. Cleaning old one," he replies, amid much frenzied activity with a dirty old rag. Half an hour later the cleaned spark plug still doesn't work, and you have to buy a new one.

But even when the generator works, it doesn't solve all your problems. Unless you can afford the £1,000 model - the IoS can't - the generator won't run the air-conditioning. Nor can you risk plugging the office computer directly into a generator. A power surge could fry your laptop.

All this is daily life in Delhi, but great Western capitals seem to grind to a halt if the power goes off for even a couple of hours.

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In the regular debate as to which is Delhi's best restaurant, most contenders are tucked away inside five-star hotels. They are about as far removed from the street life of the city as possible, with air-conditioning blasting the place to an Arctic chill, so the city's glitterati can show off their latest European fashions, despite the 40C-plus heat outside.

But the name that is always mentioned is Karim's, and it could not be more different from the others. In fact, it's almost the only thing that will tempt the capital's rich and powerful to leave the manicured lawns of Lutyens's New Delhi for the warrens of the old city.

Karim's is down a narrow winding lane, just across from the Jama Masjid, the city's main mosque. To get there you have to elbow your way through Old Delhi's impossibly crowded streets, negotiating a path through the beggars, most of them with at least one limb amputated, and past the long lines queuing up at the city soup kitchens.

This restaurant doesn't serve alcohol. It doesn't even serve coffee after your meal. They won't let you linger at your table - there are far too many other diners waiting. People make the trek here for one thing alone: the food.

Karim's was founded by, and still belongs to, the descendants of the chef who cooked for the Mughal emperors of India. To this day it serves exotic old imperial recipes you will have difficulty finding anywhere else, including that delicious rarity, roghni naan bread, which I can assure you is like nothing you'll find at your local curry house.

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