A broken house.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The centuries-old Chandiwali Haveli in Old Delhi’s Katra Khushal Rai neighborhood is an extraordinary mansion. Though dilapidated, it is home to many families and is supremely picturesque.
A beautiful door on one side of the courtyard stands locked. You can easily see what lies behind it—the door panel is broken. The sight is intriguing, a disorderly combination of the ethereal and the ugly. Intricately carved pillars are wrapped in blue plastic. Kellogg’s cardboard cartons litter the broken floor. A far-off corner is packed with the type of white sacks that usually hold cement. The blue paint of the walls has faded to a pale shade. The plaster has peeled off in some places, exposing the old Lahori bricks underneath. Stacks of plywood rest idly.
This part of Chandi Wali Haveli is ignored by its residents. The remaining mansion is peopled with families that run small shops in the area. Anil Kumar supplies jewellery boxes to Kinari Bazaar. He has been living here for 20 years. “It’s a very, very large haveli, and some rooms have been locked since the time I came here. I don’t know what lies inside those rooms.” Turning towards the courtyard, he says, “Until a few years ago, it was always filled with children, but now many families have moved out of Old Delhi. One family went to Jaipur…. The owner is a Jain businessman. He lives in Chitra Vihar.” He adds: “We are standing over a tehkhana. It has a secret tunnel that goes all the way to Red Fort.”
The courtyard has a handpump. Didi Tera Devar Deewana, the hit film song from the 1990s, is playing in one of the houses.
A shopkeeper outside says the haveli takes its name from its earlier owner, Brij Krishna Chandiwala, who traded in silver.
The residents take pride in having their own kabadiwalla, or scrap dealer. The elderly Ali Muhammed (see last photo below) stops by daily with a large white sack on his back. He says the haveli hasn’t changed at all in 30 years.
The world of yesterday and today