City Life – Line of Control, Matia Mahal
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Old Delhi gets something new.
It wasn’t here until yesterday. And now, a glossy white line is running along the Matia Mahal Bazar, slicing its main street in equal halves.
“It was already painted when I arrived to set up my stall this morning (read Monday) at 7,” informs tea stall owner Muhammed Hamid—his rickety table is tucked by the street-side, a spitting distance from the dividing line. The man has no clue on who ordered the partition. Bawarchi Kallan offers a guess. Sitting a few steps away, across the street, he gazes intently at the line, saying, “Corporation people must have done it.” He is referring to the area’s municipal corporation. While morning shift sweeper Kanta suggests that the line might have been painted to regulate the traffic “and to keep the left and right side apart.”
That this is a novel sight is undisputed. No other pathway in the vicinity has such a divider. Indeed, the Old Quarter roads and passages know no divide— rickshaw men, cyclists, cart pullers, bikers and pedestrians (humans as well as cats, dogs, goats and rats) go about in all directions. In fact, the traffic in the Walled City interiors looks as messy as the overhanging power cables above. Yet things work—people do reach their destinations, and during emergencies the crowds part as swiftly for fire brigade trucks and ambulances as the Red Sea did for the Israelites, in the Old Testament.
Even so, this attempt to impose order is noteworthy.
The painted line starts at Dujana House crossing and goes past an armful of shops and eateries—Bukhari’s Kids Zone, Naseem Jwellers, K & R Pickle and Murabbas, U-Like Collection, A Jabbar Milk Store, Asgher Bakery (yummy sheermals!), A-One Xerox, Bombay Saloon etc. It barely bends along the way, leaping over the (covered) gutters, and ends in front of the grand Jama Masjid. This late morning, beggar woman Anwari is sitting cross-legged atop the last stretch, silently immersed in thoughts.
As the noon hour approaches, the street gets chaotic with increased traffic—barely anyone is respecting the line. It’s been only a few hours since it was painted but has already grown less white, and seems to have embedded itself into the texture of the tarmac. As if it had always been here.
New in old