A slice of haveli.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The most beautiful part of her house is the bedroom window. One afternoon The Delhi Walla enters the home of Rachna Jain in Old Delhi’s Gali Maata Wali. Ms Jain runs the Guru Kripa Saree House in nearby Moti Bazaar.
Her house is like the soothing climax to a scenic walk. First, you enter the Moongey Wali Haveli through its ornately carved doorway. Many families have homes in this mansion. Then you linger in the courtyard before climbing a dark staircase. You arrive at a long balcony that connects with another balcony, which looks out over a second courtyard. Ms Jain’s house is in this part of the haveli.
The drawing room is furnished with mattresses laid out on the floor. There is absolute silence here, as if the city and its people have been left behind. Further in is the bedroom, with its sole window that suddenly reconnects you with the world outside.
Ms Jain has stayed in this sprawling, rundown haveli for three decades. “My husband’s family is just across this street,” she says, waving towards the wall at her back. “My peehar (mother’s family) is beyond the other street.” Ms Jain’s husband is a cloth merchant. Her daughter, an analyst with the consultancy firm KPMG, is based in London. Her son is a consultant with the Indian subsidiary of the Spanish infrastructure giant Isolux Corsán in Gurgaon, adjoining Delhi. The family is planning to sell its share of the haveli in six months.
“These days, Old Delhi families don’t get good marital proposals for their children,” says Ms Jain. Her son, Aditya says, “I will soon have to marry, but no girl would want to settle in congested Old Delhi.” Mother and son say that everyone visits the Walled City to shop for wedding trousseaus, but nobody wishes to live there.
It’s not just the narrow lanes that deter potential brides, but also the fact that households in the havelis have shared toilets. The Jains, though, have built an attached bathroom.
The migration of the Jains will further bring down the dwindling number of families in the mansion. “Our haveli was like one big family. Everyone freely entered each other’s homes. Nothing was ever stolen. Nobody was a stranger…. The neighbours left one by one. I miss them. Many of them live in west Delhi. Sometimes they come to my sari shop to meet me,” says Ms Jain.
The family had planned to leave the haveli in 2001. They had paid in advance for a duplex apartment in north Delhi’s Civil Lines. But then Ms Jain’s father-in-law died and her mother-in-law refused to leave. She died in 2014. Her framed portrait hangs in the drawing room (see the last photo below).
The world of yesterday