City Life – Sound of Silence, Chitli Qabar Chowk
In times of corona.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
If you listen, you can hear it. The silence.
An absence of sounds has descended over the Chitli Qabar Chowk like a shroud upon the body of the dead. The air is alive with the twittering of birds though, but that only intensifies this strange quietude.
The Delhi Walla experienced the area’s starkly new silence during the course of a recent stay lasting 24 hours in a multi-storey house, situated right there in the Chowk. It is the only four-way crossroad in this part of the historic Walled City.
In the morning, the center of the Chowk used to be taken over by fish manger Muhammed Parvez. His ramshackle cart was an unofficial meeting point for the local gentry (always men) to gather and gossip about weather, politics as well as who died and who was born in which gulli or kucha the previous night.
But this morning, the fish cart is nowhere to be seen.
Long after the morning, and throughout the day, the Chowk would be like a pressure cooker crammed up with all varieties of tumultuous sounds—the cries of flower sellers, biryani sellers, balloon sellers, passers-by, rickshaw pullers, beggars, tourists, dogs and goats. There would be azaans streaming out of the loudspeakers from neighbourhood mosques in appointed hours.
But now all is stilled, except for the azaans; the mosques themselves are locked with noticed slapped on their doors, instructing the faithful to “pray at home.”
Indeed, this afternoon barely any soul is seen in the Chowk. One side-alley going up to Pahari Rajaan has its giant wooden doorway shut closed.
Later in the day, some of the shops and stalls that are permitted to operate open up for brief business., and the Chowk is restored to some aural stirrings.
By evening, a few minutes after 7 pm, the official beginning of the corona-triggered 12-hour curfew, the streets empty out totally.
And finally, it is 10 pm. No familiar faces, seen here every night during the BC (before corona) era are around—Muhammed Shakeer with his ice-cream cart, Raj Malik with his gas-filled balloons, and Muhammed Junaid, who manned the Burra Biryani stall. There’s also no sign of Mehboob tea stall, a pavement establishment that served adrak chai the whole night long.
Now a man in white kurta pajama steps into this setting. He looks around the emptiness, and walks away, perhaps towards his home, leaving Chitli Qabar to its silence. A silence so profound that you feel you could caress it with your own hands.
Soul of a place in lockdown