Special Feature – Why is Old Delhi So Dirty?
The Delhi walla‘s pretension in writing makes me want to lodge a bullet in his balls – Blogger Nimpipi, the woodchuck chucks
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The existential question.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The old quarters of any ‘World Class City’, say, like Madrid, are always beautiful and clean. Then why is the touristy Old Delhi, also called Delhi-6 due to its pin code, so chaotic and dirty?
The Delhi Walla is at Chitli Qabar chowk, the heart of the walled city, the one-time Capital of the Mughal Empire. From this intersection, one lane leads to Matia Mahal bazaar, another to Daryaganj, the third to Turkman Gate.
Instead of a cop, there is a fishmonger at the intersection – not managing traffic, but selling his catch. The result: jam. Rickshaws, scooters, bikes, pedestrians. Honking. Rickshaw bells ringing. Drains overflowing. Banana peels on roadsides. Paan stains on walls. Electric wires blocking the sky.
Three boys are hanging around at one side of the chowk. “Why is Old Delhi so dirty?” I ask them. “Yes, there’s filth for sure,” says 20-year-old Kamran Khan, a school dropout. “But there are things that make you love this place.”
And what are those?
“Come during Eid,” he says. “You would see hundreds of us hugging each other and exchanging festive greetings. It’s great to watch so many Muslims together.”
I then cross the lane to talk to a man called Raja. He has been selling Bollywood postcards at this spot for more than 20 years. “Why is this place so dirty?” I repeat the question. “Too many people live here and municipal workers are too careless,” he says.
I jump over the open drain to enter Mansoor Ahmad’s readymade garment store, called Taj Fashion. He too says, “Too many people.”
I then look up at a four-storey mansion. It is said that in the 19th century this was the residence of a popular dastango, an oral storyteller in Urdu. That art is now lost. The entrance is from a side lane. I enter. Silence, peace. Unlit stairs going up to a first floor courtyard. On one side, an open door. Inside, a drawing room. A middle-aged man lounging in white kurta pajama.
“Sir, why is Old Delhi so dirty?”
“Do you know there are around eight lakh people living in a radius of 1.5 km?” the man says in flawless English. An alumnus of Delhi’s uppity St Stephen’s College, Nasirul Hassan Jhinjiaani owns this beautiful house, including the pigeons on the rooftop. He takes me up to show the Delhi-6 skyline. It is a zigzag line of concrete structures on all sides, looking as if invading army is closing in. No view of the grand Jama Masjid, though. Even now you can see its dome from Connaught Place L block, but not from its own neighbourhood. “No parks here, no sports complexes, no banquet halls,” Mr Hassan says. “Here, people live like mosquitoes.”
But do they have to live like that? Does this place have to be so dirty? “It’s corruption,” he shakes his head. “If this place still resonates with beauty, it is because of its heritage, though we have spared no efforts to ruin it.”
In 1990, Mr Hassan’s father, an Urdu poet, suffered a heart attack. Since there was a traffic jam outside, there was a delay in taking him to the hospital. He died on the way. “People don’t have space to walk,” he says. “Encroaching shops have eaten up the roads.”
Back in his drawing room, Mr Hassan reflects on the neighbourhood’s past glory. “Before the Partition, before many Muslims went to Pakistan, the cream lived here,” he said. “Sir Syed Ahmad, the founder of Aligarh Muslim University, had a house here. So did barrister Asaf Ali.”
“Still, why is Old Delhi so dirty?”
“You know, there are also nice things about Purani Dilli,” Mr Hassan says. “There is tehzeeb, mohabbat, traditions. We haven’t lost all of that.”
Perhaps. But why is Old Delhi… ?
Is this beautiful?
Is it modern art?
Is it romantic?
The quiet bubble
Mr Hassan at his drawing room
Is this pretty?
Is it World Class?
Are we indifferent?