City Walk – Post-Lockdown Lodhi Road, Central Delhi
Notes from a pandemic-era stroll.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Two masked men are sitting on the dusty footpath, by the traffic light, with sketch pads on their laps. They are drawing Safdarjung’s Tomb, standing just across the road.
It is a hot evening in the early post-lockdown, and traffic is still scarce. One has grown so used to seeing Delhi roads mostly empty, only peopled with those who really need to be out, that it is surreal to come across these sketchers.
These days, a walk through Lodhi Road seamlessly marries the extraordinary beauty of the long tree-lined avenue with the eerie ambiance of Delhi’s currently absent outdoor life, and produces something truly haunting. Further ahead, three fat buffaloes (where did they come from?!) are chomping off leaves from the untrimmed foliage planted on the road divider.
As the address of high-status institutions, Lodhi Road used to be traffic-heavy. Despite being in the heart of one of the most privileged portions of the city whose inhabitants emerge out of their houses only in chauffeur-driven cars, it used to teem with street hawkers. Dozens of ice cream carts would be parked outside Lodhi Gardens, which is still closed to visitors. How are those sellers coping, one wonders. (And what must have happened to Naresh Chandra, the stern ram laddoo seller who would walk up and down the road all day long with a snack basket on his head?)
A right turning leads to the quiet Jor Bagh Market. Nini KD Singh, the elderly owner of the bookstore there hasn’t entered her establishment for more than a year due to the coronavirus scare, though she would occasionally venture out to Lodhi Gardens before the second surge.
Some steps ahead, on the right, the gigantic India Habitat Centre overwhelms the senses like a monolithic vision from a mythical past. Here Delhi would go for music concerts, theatre plays, book launches and Tinder dates. Some years ago an unprecedented super-long queue had come up one evening to hear novelist Margaret Atwood talk with author Patrick French. The building is now marooned in desolation.
As Lodhi Road ends at Mathura Road, the sidewalk on the right has an anonymous grave screened off within a dense shield of trees. The evening light is streaming in through the leaves and falling decorously over the grave, making it look disconcertingly alive.