City Hangout – Palika Parking Park, Connaught Place
A refuge for rejects.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The most liberating space for Delhi’s social rejects lies in the heart of the capital. The park above Palika Bazaar parking in the colonial-era Connaught Place is one of those rare public places in the city where the jobless, the homosexuals, the eunuchs, the smack addicts, and other lonely souls gather daily.
Until 2005 this crowd was seen in the adjacent Central Park. Elderly prostitutes stood beside bushes. Homosexuals made emergency love in the white-tiled urinal. Those who wished to be alone were left untouched. Foreign backpackers lounged on the grass. Book lovers read novels under giant neems.
But Delhi was building its first subway system, and Central Park was to be one of the hubs. Once taken over by the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, the park’s benches were disposed of, its grass turned over, its trees felled, and everything dug up to build an underground railway terminus. The renovated Central Park (opened in 2006) is a different world: well-behaved couples sit on grassy slopes, families stroll with standard-issue contentment, and children throw empty chip packets into the cascading fountains. Occasional concerts take place in a 350-seater amphitheater.
Meanwhile, the low life of the Central Park moved across the road to the garden above the Palika Bazaar parking. Here it co-exists harmoniously with the more conventional versions of life (couples, office-goers, tourists et cetera).
Ringed on three sides by a circular road clogged with cars and buses, the park remains surprisingly quiet. Sleeping is the most popular activity.
In the evening, red-capped ear cleaners chat with chaiwallas. Lone men smoke cigarettes. Drag queens walk with exaggerated hip swings. Boys kiss each other. Eunuchs sell blessings. Addicts look happy.
Come here each time you are bored of respectability.