City Feature – Foreign Babe in Shahjahanabad
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On her own in Old Delhi.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Is Phebe Bay, a 20-year-old girl from Singapore, unusually adventurous? This management intern in Gurgaon does what most girls of this city rarely dare: walking in Old Delhi bylanes, alone.
Just four months in the Capital and Ms Bay has seen more of Shahjahanabad – another name for the Walled City – than most English-speaking, jeans-wearing Delhi girls of her age. Eating shami kebabs in Matia Mahal bazaar and jalebis in Chandni Chowk, sight-seeing in Jama Masjid, buying books in Daryaganj, strolling aimlessly in Turkman Gate alleys… She has done all that. On her own. Ms Bay speaks only three Hindustani words – Kitna, Namaste, Shukriya.
Is it wise to be alone in the Walled City when you don’t even understand the local language? Isn’t Old Delhi culturally too conservative? Is it Ok to go there in jeans and T-shirt, not the most popular women wear in that part of the city? What about the ogling men? Is Ms Bay too brave?
“Not really,” the Singaporean girl says while shaking hands with a child in Turkman Gate. Not so tall and very slender, she smiles a lot. “If you want to experience the culture of great cities, you have to venture out into their ancient parts.”
Most Delhi girls don’t go there. Not alone.
“One must take precautions,” Ms Bay says. “Don’t stay out late. Make sure no one is following you.”
Do the men stare at her? Any nasty experience?
“Sometimes men bump into me, especially here in Old Delhi,” Ms Bay says. “I’m not sure if it’s intentional but I get angry.”
What does she do then?
“Well, I get fine after a while,” she shrugs. “I think Old Delhi guys are not used to seeing girls, and on occasions they are not so gentlemanly. South Delhi guys are certainly better.”
Why not limit excursions to less risky south Delhi?
“It’s too prim and proper,” says Ms Bay. “Old Delhi is a completely different experience. The smell, the sights… look, donkey! The stuff that you find in shops here is different. People, too, are friendlier.”
Considering she is from Singapore where spitting chewing gum on the road is a crime, doesn’t she get horrified by Old Delhi’s insanitary filth?
“Well, you need to be quite agile while walking down the alleys, carefully hopping over the cow dung cakes” Ms Bay confesses. “But it’s the bikes… streets are too narrow for them… and also the honking which I don’t like.”
Just then a bike honks past her.
Pointing towards a crumbling house, Ms Bay exclaims, “Look at that wall… so old, so pretty… you don’t get to see that in Singapore.”
What does she think of Gurgaon? Aren’t the malls of that Delhi suburb truly world-class?
“I know, I know… you Delhiwallas are very proud of Gurgaon’s tall buildings,” Ms Bay says. “But Gurgaon is boring. The same malls, the same buildings… the same kind of people.”
As she goes up to sit on Jama Masjid stairs, a beggar approaches Ms Bay. She ignores him. “I used to give a lot when I was new to the Walled City but later I discovered that they’ve become too aggressive,” she says. “Yet, sometimes you come across people with no arm or leg and that’s sad.”
Is there anything about Old Delhi that really bugs her?
“Loos,” Ms Bay says. “Searching for clean, usable toilets is so difficult here. If it’s an emergency, I have to walk to the Café Coffee Day in Chandni Chowk, or I take the metro to Connaught Place.”
Talking of transport, how does she commute?
“From Gurgaon, I take a bus or a shared cab to Delhi,” she says, “and from there, it’s usually the Metro.”
Evening is setting in. It’s time for Ms Bay to return. Her parting words, “Bye bye, Namaste.”
Click here to read Ms Phebe’s hard talk with Delhiwallas.
Mixing with the Turkman Gate crowd
Everybody loves a digicam
Feeling at home?
Old Delhi’s Everest (at Jama Masjid)
But Everest is not enough
This is fun
Little Miss Naughty
This is disheartening! How many women have been raped in walled city as compared to other ‘POSH & PLUSH’ localities of Delhi? Women might be stared and commented upon but they are as safe as a house here.
Get your facts right Soofi bhai. This is really really really very heart wrecking!
I have to say, the girl got guts.
( http://abdusalaam.blogspot.com )
Is the piece trying to give a hint that Old Delhi men, especially, are sort of lech? That wasn’t my intention. I just wanted to bring out the false stereotypes that many Delhiwallas living outside of Old Delhi have for this part of our city and how it fell on a foreigner to rip apart those falsehoods. And yes, while we talked about it, it was wise to realise that the touristy Shahjanabad doesn’t boast of clean toilets!
she has guts to make use of her precious time as she chooses.good luck
I never imagined that you’d reply Soofi Bhai. But good to see that you responsed. Although, you turned the tables over once again.
I can write reams and reams about the ill treatment that Old Dilli (Delhi) gets, but…Yeh kahani phir kabhi.
This girl is so courageous! I spent a year in Gurgaon and never ventured beyond the narrow lanes of Chadni Chowk. Not that I didn’t want to – after reading the City of Djiins all I wanted to do is jump on a rickshaw and go explore old Delhi. Of course, I was warned it is not safe. Although Gurgaon was not safe either.
One fine day, I hope to be back and venture into the heart of it…
To be honest, based on my personal experience, a lot more eve-teasing happens in Old Delhi than in other parts of Delhi. That could be the reason why most women feel unsafe to walk around there.
Prior to this post, I must say I never knew Delhites perceptions of Old Delhi – that it was unsafe for girls. And why is jeans and T-shirt not the most popular woman wear in the city? I have worn those on numerous occasions. People stare a lot, but it is not a problem.
When I first came to Chandni Chowk, I was shaken by the noise, heat and dust. But a few more trips later, I got used to it. It started to feel like I was walking in a Chinatown or a Little India in Singapore. Not the cleanest of all places, but some of the most interesting and beautiful.
And one helpful hint before going to Old Delhi – Try to drink as little water as possible!
Phebe – please be careful
you are a good kid
You lead an interesting life and interesting encounters with people Mayank…
Lots of good luck to Phebe
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