City Walk – Gali Wakil Wali, Old Delhi
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Indeed, there is somebody walking in black. But she is a figure in burqa, not a lawyer in robes.
It was an honest mistake. Blame the lane. Is Gali Wakil Wali named after a particular wakil, or lawyer, or does it simply intend to commemorate the profession? Whom to ask? This afternoon, the lane is empty—the woman has disappeared through a side-door.
The street is a tributary of Galli Sooiwallan. There, the life is full of sounds and actions, but our narrow lane feels divorced from its mainstem. Its world is frozen, as if put on mute. Even though, at times, some of the most insignificant sounds of Sooiwallan travel into this narrowness, each cry or shout briefly lingering in the air, like a soap bubble floating for a few seconds before bursting.
But hush, a muffled chitchat is streaming out of the window of a government-run homeopathic/unani dispensary. Further ahead, the street suffocates into an arched tunnel-like corridor made of lakhori bricks, through which it opens into a small sunny courtyard.
The courtyard is ittered with a washing machine, a fridge, a red scooter, and crisscrossed with clotheslines. A woman is washing clothes in one corner. The katra, as this courtyard is called by the residents, is composed of many households. The woman is chatting with neighbours — one lady is standing by an upper floor window, another is on a balcony, and one more is half-hidden behind a staircase. The friendly residents declare that the street is very old, but they have no idea about the wakil who gave his name to the locality. Nor does the garment trader who pops up from one of these houses. A spare car parts dealer protests “I have been asking this same question since childhood.”
Meanwhile, a minor construction work is in progress in one of the houses that line the lane. Labourer Razi is sweating profusely. He comes out of the work site, a dark dusty enclosure, and stands in the middle of the lane, resting his arms on both street walls. A native of Gurgaon, he is temporarily staying in Walled City’s Ballimaran. Largely unfamiliar with the historic quarter, he has no clue about the mysterious wakil. Why would he? He has come here from the so-called Millennium City to execute his work, and bring novelty to this enigmatic old street. Something of this young man’s legacy shall stay on here for a length of time.
This way to Gali Wakil Wali