City Walk - Paharai Rajaan, Old Delhi

City Walk – Paharai Rajaan, Old Delhi

City Walk - Paharai Rajaan, Old Delhi

The hill of the workers

[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Who made Taj Mahal? Shah Jahan. No, who actually raised the Taj, stone by stone? Nobody knows. History is mute on the labourers who built the monument. Ditto for Old Delhi’s Red Fort, and Jama Masjid.

The one thing you can do is walk in a locality that derives its name from those labourers. “Pahari Rajaan was a pahari (hill) that initially had the houses of raj mistri (labourer), who were building the Jama Masjid and the Lal Qila,” says Naseer-ul-Hassan, who lives in an old house perched at the mouth of Pahari. This lane in Chitli Qabar Chowk goes up a slope, rummaging through a dense web of shops and homes, including Bhai Shehzad’s chai stall and Bawarchi Suleman’s kitchen. One of these houses belongs to the Buttonwale family, who runs a shop stocked with a multifarious variety of buttons. Another house, as elaborate as a haveli, belongs to the family that owns the landmark Shereen Bhawan mithai shop. The other eminent address is of the aforementioned Naseer-ul-Hassan. His late father, Musheer Jhinjhianvi, was a distinguished poet. The poet’s daughter, herself a poet, lives in nearby Galli Hakeemwali. Iffat Zarrin recalls that every evening, during the 1970s, her father would host a meeting of fellow poets at his Pahari Rajaan baithak, where she would be handed the task of serving tea. “I would hear people such as Khumar Barabankbi, Shamim Jaipuri and Sahir Hoshiyarpuri.”

Today, Pahari Rajaan is home to quite a few people working in nearby meat shops. That’s why the neighbourhood is also known as Gosht Wali Pahari, or the hill of the meat. At one time, it had many meat shops, though only two survive —Muqeem Meat Shop, while the other one is unnamed. Every morning the elderly woman-owner sits outside this unnamed meat shop, quietly administering the establishment. Her daily presence and forceful individuality make Nawabzadi, aka Apa and Aunty, Pahari Rajaan’s most eminent resident, second only to the late poet. Indeed, this impression of Pahari Rajaan ought to be concluded by reading aloud a popular Musheer Jhinjhianvi verse:

“Jab woh mere qareeb se haskar guzar gaye
Kuch khaas doston ke bhi chehere utar gaye
Halanki unko dekhkar palti thi nazar
Mehsoos yeh hua ki zamane guzar gaye”
(When he passed by me with a smile
A few special friends lost their smiles
Even though when I saw them my gaze turned back
I felt as though an age had passed by)

The lady of Paharai Rajaan


City Walk - Paharai Rajaan, Old Delhi