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24.08.2017

Do I have big ears? At Headphones, a new silent disco in Delhi (still a novelty in India), the headphones don’t quite fit around these elephant flappers jutting out from my head. I get music louder in one ear than the other, which throws me off balance. I take them off; I’ll try again later. The restaurant speakers, meanwhile, are playing some kind of EDM abomination. On a table across us is a man in his mid-30s, possibly a finance guy by day, entranced in a romantic slow-dance, serenading his Bira Blonde bottle with no sense of rhythm and a kind of passion I can only envy, while the beats behind him race away. He really needs to take a Zumba class.

“No, silly,” my inner voice reminds me. “This is the Concept.” He’s dancing to an altogether different song. “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music." Duh.

***

As soon as I enter Headphones — all the way on the second floor of a building all the way in Punjabi Bagh — I’m handed a pair of neon-lit headphones with instructions: On one side is a little switch to toggle between the three channels they offer — predictably, these play Sufi music, Bollywood and EDM. The other side has volume control, in case you want to listen to music and chatter away. Depending on your channel selection, the headphone lights change from blue to green to red.

I put on my headphones again and, after some wiggling, manage an even fit — maybe it’s my head that’s big, not the ears. Sufi seems to be the least objectionable option available, so I switch to that (no, I’m kidding; I pick Bollywood).

I’m handed a pair of neon-lit headphones with instructions: On one side is a little switch to toggle between the three channels they offer — predictably, these play Sufi music, Bollywood and EDM.

Headphones (the place, not the equipment) possesses a strange energy. For starters, it is empty apart from one other table. Although maybe that’s my fault, as I’ve picked a weekday to visit. There’s a dopey gorilla poking out from one of the walls; he’s wearing the same headphones as me. The ceilings have rangoli-type light arrangements that twinkle sporadically. I spot a framed poster of the back of a male head, with a woman’s hands caressing his hair. K-I-S-S-I-N-G.

The door to the bathroom, oddly, is made of glass, so you can see whoever’s inside, staring at themselves in the sink. The interior is dim, but a big screen plays videos if it’s Bollywood or Sufi on the house system, and WinAmp-like kaleidoscopic projections for the EDM songs — brightening and weirding out the place, respectively.

It all sounds a little confusing, but I like to believe that’s deliberate. On the surface, the whole point of Headphones is its silent disco novelty. They have nights where three different DJs play at the same time — which must lead to a flash-mob disaster on the dance floor — and other times with people doing the foxtrot to Sonu Nigam (theoretically). Paradoxically, a logical design doesn’t make sense. The surroundings, after all, need to fit in with the dissonant image of drunk people dancing away to silence.

***
 
“Barkeep, there’s an apple in my drink,” I call out, “and it’s on fire!” Rhythm, a signature cocktail, is a Jim Beam whiskey-based drink that, while lacking in presentation — as with all the cocktails here — packs a lit (fam) cinnamon stick, underneath which the glass soaks in flavour. It’s an interesting, spicy preparation, with an apple slice on the side, peppered with brown sugar. The best part: Rhythm has caramel, the bulk of which rests patiently at the bottom while you finish up the liquor above.

Paan Mojito (of which we try the mocktail variety) is a pleasant surprise. It has a literal paan in it, or something that tastes exactly like one and not that Absinthe/Jagermeister fennel flavour, alleviating my fears of a ’Nam Flashback from the time I tried Absinthe—I spent three days in recovery and I’m still nursing an emotional hangover. Secret Garden, another cocktail, takes the secret too far, dumping green apple, rose, “passion” and lemongrass in with rum, causing a hostile sugar rush.

Food, on the other hand, is approached with some caution. There’s standard desi gastro-pub fare: tikkas, wings, things to pick at; some Chinese dishes, some continental dishes. Penne Alfredo with chicken has the kind of dry, cheesy flavour (and smell) that makes my insides wary of what’s to come. The very spicy tandoori stuffed mushrooms, though, add a welcome balance to the sweet, sweet Secret Garden.

I glance around to find that my not-friend, the slow-dancer, is now jiving goofily on a little hookah balcony. Hello? There’s no music playing! Inside, Daler Mehndi takes over the projector screen; then another Daler, and another, and another. There are four of them, all dancing. And that too, dear reader, is a kind of magic.

Getting there1, Club Road, Punjabi Bagh, New Delhi. A meal for two costs approximately Rs 2500.
 
Accessibility: No ramps along the staircase leading to the lift — not very friendly.

This story was contributed by Akhil Sood, an arts and culture writer living in New Delhi.

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