City Walk – Sounds of Alleys, Pahadi Imli
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
There is no one to be seen. It is totally empty. And yet this is the same Old Delhi, that historic quarter, very picturesque — but usually so cramped and noisy.
This neighbourhood is tucked upon old Delhi’s Pahadi Imli. There’s is no imli tree to spot but the pahadi, the hill, remains. One can perceive its height by the gradually rising walkway. A few steps ahead, the alley splays out into two bylanes, going further up the hill. All passages around here are intermittently punctuated with stairs.
This afternoon, despite being empty, the place is alive. The alleys are lined with private houses. The air is echoing with the voices of the (unseen) residents, coming through partially opened doors, windows, balconies and roofs. Indeed, there’s so much (hushed) cacophony of household sounds that you can almost see all the cries, scoldings, coughs, giggles—and pressure cooker whistles too—dancing together in the air in a great jumble.
Even so, one can distinguish each sound and mull upon it to imagine the life in the house it is originating from.
Here’s a woman’s rebuke coming from a window up in the heights. “Why are you screaming?! Close your eyes and let me run the soap on your face”— probably a mother bathing her child.
A male voice is streaming out from an adjacent door: “Are you Nawab Phanney Khan that people will obey you?!”
And somewhere someone is humming a mournful ditty to herself (or himself).
There is absolutely no way of putting together these words and the mouths that utter them—which may not seem that odd in the days of face masks. Suddenly an elderly man steps out of a house—was he the one who mentioned Supreme Court some time ago?
Eavesdropping on the lane doesn’t reveal anything sensational. The babble is as uneventful as in any family. But encountering a host of these homey phrases, pronounced simultaneously, gives an otherworldly texture to everyday utterances. Besides, they also draw an outsider closer to Pahadi Imli’s intimate life.
Soon enough, you reach the last houses towards the top and you have to climb down back to the base camp—which is the Matia Mahal bazar. Where it’s very noisy, and you can hear nothing.
Walled City eavesdropping