City Walk – Vakeel Lane, Central Delhi
A serene amble.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
This quiet stretch has the tranquility of a siesta hour.
Vakeel Lane is a short walk from the Colonial-era commercial district of Connaught Place. But you will not believe it. The air here feels fresher. There is no noise except for the light twittering of birds. The road remains empty most of the time, save for a wandering ramladdu seller or some such soul. And the Connaught Place skyscrapers look as remote as a distant hill range.
Start the walk at the point where the lane meets Kasturba Gandhi Marg. Both sides of the alley are lined with boundary walls and back entrances of bungalows, apartments and high-rise offices. Some weather-beaten walls are landscaped with exquisite shadows of roadside shrubs.
The ambience changes as you walk ahead. The greenery thickens. Discarded furniture and cracked idols of Ganesha are lying on the roadside – this is because Hindus don’t keep broken gods at home.
A torn leather sofa lies resignedly amidst wild shrubs. Close by, a tree has crashed its way through a brick wall. Here and there pink bougainvilleas roll about in drunken bliss.
What is the story behind the lane’s name? Vakeel means lawyer, but no black-coats are to be seen. The Delhi Walla passes a few houses and can actually peek into their courtyards—how lucky these people are to live in such quietness and yet be so close to the city centre.
But the gates of most of these houses exude hostility with such tired lines:
Beware of Dogs
One wall threatens with a warning by the New Delhi Municipal Council:
Dumping of malba here is prohibited legal action will be taken against the defaulter
I stop by a couple who is washing their young children under a hand pump. “We beg for money but come here for a bath,” the husband says.
Stop at the first turning on the left. The board of Delhi Waqf Board marks the entrance to a Sufi shrine. Look for the caretaker if the door is locked. It leads to a hillock fertile with tangled thickets of weeds, grasses, bushes and dry leaves. The surrounding trees have a great number of aerial roots that lie suspended like a theater curtain.
The tomb of Hazrat Syed Jalaluddin Bukhari is of green tiles. The ascetic is said to have lived here about a century ago. The tin roof looks forlorn.
Further down the lane is a Delhi Development Authority park with two swings. The mood is very sleepy here even though a notice board is exhorting the visitor to exercise. Instead, a young man is fiddling around with his mobile phone while two cats are eating a roti—somebody must have left it for them.
The lane is lined with a couple of makeshift ironing stalls, manned by elderly men. The sole vegetable vendor passes his day lying on the pavement with a copy of a Hindi daily. He says most of his customers are Vakeel Lane dwellers, adding that one of the apartment complexes houses the staffers of the nearby Russian Cultural Center.
Finally, I reach the only grocery store here. A girl has come to get milk packets and the shopkeeper is addressing her as ‘beti’. The walk ends on Barakhamba Road. I see a man urinating on the lane’s green signboard (see last photo below).
Oasis in the city’s heart