City Walk – The Circles of Shakti Nagar, North Delhi
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It is commonly assumed that nothing exciting ever happens in small towns and villages. At best, the threadbare public life centers around a tree in the square, under which folks might stop to trade some mild gossip.
With their malls and multi-storeys, big cities are denied of such charms — rather dig out your dog-eared copy of R K Narayan’s short stories, set in the small town of Malgudi, to experience the pleasures of such quaint settings.
Or, you can make a tour of the circles of Shakti Nagar. The sleepy north Delhi neighbourhood is an enclave of private houses interspersed with teenie-weenie boutiques, one-man tailoring shops and boxy groceries that give “flat 10 percent discount on MRP.” The locality lanes are marked with three roundabouts, each distinguished by a tree, and marooned in the uniqueness of its setting.
Start the walk with Alam Chand Chowk that boasts one of the tallest trees in this part of the city. The majestic banyan shoots up far beyond the altitudes of the surrounding residences, as if wanting to slam into the very surface of the sky. Its huge trunk is extensively creased, like hundred of streams running down a mountainside. Portraits of Gods lie by the tree, indicating the veneration it commands in the area. The circle has a small rain shelter, the kind seen in parks. It is decked up with dozens of mooras. A rickshaw puller is drinking water from a filter installed beside the tree. The roundabout faces a couple of shops. Among them, Banga Studio displays romantic portraits of smiling couples, while an elderly man is sitting quietly in Sparsh Confectioners & Stationers.
A minute-long wall away lies Dhariwal Chowk. It is more subdued, though with a carefully cultivated wildish look consisting of a central tree surrounded by minor ones—-a board is painted with the gardener’s mobile number. Two cows are loitering beside the fence. On the adjacent Nanku Paan Corner, a sign warns against spitting. An elderly couple in their balcony are intently gazing at Shri Hari Drycleaners, which claims to be an expert in “European Dryclean Service.”
The third circle, Choudhury Deepchand Ruhil Chowk, has a graceful peepal. A passerby informs that neighbourhood folks offer prayers under the tree during the early morning hours. A flier slapped on the circle’s metal signage is advertising “PG for boys” with benefits like “RO Water, Friendly Environment, and Walking Distance from Delhi University.”
A small maternity hospital lies next to the circle. A woman is sitting at the gate, looking bored, as if nothing ever happens in this part of the world.
The taste of small town life