Mission Delhi – Liyakatullah, Galli Choori Wallan
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It looks like a cave, but completely of wood. The tiny store in Old Delhi’s Galli Choori Wallan street has its doorway flanked on either side with a tall column of petis, or wooden crates. The boxy space inside the doorway is crammed on three sides by stacks of wooden slabs. And here sits Liyakatullah. It’s a sluggish afternoon and he is having his post-lunch chai. From across the street, the scene resembles a Mughal miniature painting.
In his 50s, the nimble-limbed Liyakatullah makes petis for bazar merchants. “Before me, my father Barkatullah would sit here and make similar petis. Before my father, my grandfather Kifayatullah would sit here and make similar petis.”
Like many people in the Walled City, Liyakatullah talks of the past as if it was something that had happened this morning, just after breakfast. “This lane used to be full of tinke wale, who would make tinke wali tokri,” he says, referring to little baskets woven out of jute grass. In the old times, he says, the shopkeepers here would have their lunch delivered from home in those quaint baskets—they are now replaced by plastic baskets. The tinke wale workers are gone too. “Only a few elderly people can tell you that this street wasn’t known as Galli Choori Wallan, or the bangle sellers street, but as Galli Tinke Walli.”
As he stays perched on his heirloom seat, it is easy to reduce Liyakatullah to his cubicle. As if all of him consisted of his inherited occupation. But the modest man has transcended those limitations, and has lately earned the reputation of one of the Walled City’s most respected kabutarbaz, or pigeon trainer. It is said that a kabutar groomed by “Liyakat” can fly miles before returning to its owner’s rooftop—whereas an average pigeon might cross ten rooftops at best before returning. “I learned kabutarbazi from Ustad Sultan of Galli Bundu Paan Wali street in Urdu Bazar” he says in a low voice, as if embarrassed to talk of his distinguishing trait.
By now the tea break is over, and Liyakatullah retreats to the concerns of his unique cubicle.
[This is the 428th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
His cubicle like no other