City Walk – Galli Sham Lal Street, Old Delhi
World of a street.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It is like being in a crowd, and suddenly everyone disappears — except you.
This is what stepping into Gali Sham Lal feels like. Firmly keeping the boisterousness of Matia Mahal Bazar outside its dehleez, the introvert lane is a tunnel of dim light and quietness. Although a mere kebab’s throw from Jama Masjid’s Gate No. 1, and despite being the first of the many lanes that punctuate the much chronicled Matia Mahal, this is a barely known gali. The cramped lane comprises mostly of travellers’ lodges. The hoarding of Amreena Guest House looks weatherbeaten, as does of Al Ashfaq Guest House. The Urdu calligraphy on both hoardings is red and outlined with fluorescent green, as if they were by the same artist.
The point where the short cul-de-sac turns at a right angle is marked by Hotel Zamzam, and all you see of it is its reception counter jutting out straight onto the street. Underneath, the basement houses Silver Gym. This evening, it is filled with sweaty young men. Sidhu Moose Wala is playing loud in the music system.
Nobody in the lane could cast any light on the person who gave his name to the street. But the venerable Syed Muzaffar Ali, of landmark Subhan Factory Drycleaners and Launderers in Galli Syyed Rafai street, remembers visiting Galli Sham Lal as a child. He had a friend there. “It was a neighbourhood of Hindus of the Kayastha community,” he says over a cup of chai in his shop. “In the evenings, women of the locality sat outside their doorways, chatting to each other, or picking gehu or jau.” But there would be no bachhe (children) along the lane, he recalls. “Because each home was a typical Purani Dilli mansion with its aangan, baithak, dalaan and chhat. There was so much space inside that no child felt the need to be out.” All those spaces are gone. “Most of the original families left by the 1970s for other places… the old houses were replaced by the hotels of today,” he says.
As night descends on Sham Lal street, a black cat slithers out of her hiding place and boldly gazes at a passerby. Instant later, she pounces after a giant rat running for his life.
This way to Sham Lal