City Hangout – Matia Mahal Bazar, Old Delhi
market in the pandemic.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Ramzan is gone, not its raunaq. The peppy bunting is hanging upon the street like an expired blessing (see photo). This weekday afternoon Old Delhi’s Matia Mahal Bazar is as packed as Nauchandi Mela.
Even in the worst days of the pandemic, Matia Mahal bustled with masses, but the fear of yet another lockdown or covid wave would hang upon the bazar like an ominous dark cloud. That’s gone with the masks. It’s now like the carefree pre-2020 times.
For 30 years, the one-armed Salim Bhai has been begging at the head of the bazar, beside the Kallan Sweets, across the road from Jama Masjid. He is back after spending lockdowns in his native Ahmedabad.
Danedar Shikanji seller Noor Ahmad, just 14 and with parents back home in the UP village, is counting the day’s sale—it’s a thousand rupees. Behind him, two Kashmiri nun chai traders, Khushnaseeb and Abdul Ghaffar, hurriedly waddle down the narrow stairs of “Govt. approved” Al-Ahad Holiday Home, and melt into the street congestion.
Bombay Saloon is houseful—all four chairs are full, and two customers are waiting by the glass door.
Fourth generation date seller Arif Khajoor Wale is guiding a customer to his stacks of dates, muttering, “This is from Iran, this is also from Iran, this is from Saudi, this is from Medina…”
Outside Salim Tea House, 67-year-old rickshaw puller Subedin is badgering a foreigner to board his rickshaw for the Old Delhi tour (“Sir, sir—Spice Market, Kinari Bazar, Red Fort”). 20-rupee notes are sticking out from the gusset of his sweating vest. Explaining why he is working at his advanced age, he shouts—“I’ve only daughters, no sons!”
Young Shabdam plods by, carrying an uncovered vessel filled with steaming yellow dal. “Taking it to Gharib Nawaz hotel!”
Outside the Old Famous Khoya Jalebi, a small island devoid of traffic has surfaced. A man is lying sprawled on the street. Nobody bothering to know who he can be. A Mohabbat ka Sherbet hawker mumbles the man is drunk and will get up on regaining hoshohawas (consciousness). The distracted crowd is automatically steering its way about him. Matia Mahal has regained its normalcy.
The Matia Mahal normalcy