City Walk – Galli Maulana Muhammed Saleem, Old Delhi
This way to Galli Saleem.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Is it a calle in Venice, or a rue in Paris, or a sokak in Istanbul? This Purani Dilli galli might be mistaken for a lane in the old quarter of any city. Situated discreetly, it is barely perceptible, and so silent, self-contained, secretive. The street gives nothing away, and fuses seamlessly with its surroundings, like a chameleon turning green in a green forest. It is so local that it is universal.
This sunny afternoon, the galli is immersed in cold shade. December daylight enters but dimly, giving the place a sense of perpetual evening. While a typical Walled City galli is a mela of peoples, goats, dogs, cats, here is no sign of that bustle. Both sides of the cramped alley consist of grey walls punctuated with grey doors. The galli ends into a doorway, more noticeable than the others. It is ajar, as if expecting somebody to step in or step out.
The street has not a single signage. No letterboxes, no nameplate. Impossible to find its name. Its lying as anonymous as the old anonymous graves that litter this area, around Turkman Gate.
At last, some minutes later, handicraft merchant Salauddin walks out from his shop, outside the lane. His gaze is stern, his voice is friendly, as he offers some gyan about the mysterious alley. “This is Galli Maulana Muhammed Saleem. He was a mufti…. he must have lived a long time ago. There are… ” He pauses, and begins to count on his fingers, murmuring mutely. He lifts his eyes. “The lane has 28 houses.” Himself living elsewhere, the handicraft man informs that some of the residents of Galli Saleem “work in handicraft shops, some are labourers, some are ear cleaners.” He remarks that the lane has a difficult relationship with the seasons. “In the winter, the galli gets very cold; in the summer, it heats up like tandoor.” Only those houses that have access to roof manage to receive some respite from the fluctuating extremities of Delhi weather.
He now returns to his shop.
The street regains its utter silence.
On wading deeper, what had appeared to be a black hole on the left side of the alley, turns out to be an opening into a musty staircase.
Now a creaking sound. One of the doors, further ahead in the galli, opens. A man emerges. Handicraft worker Danish (pictured) is leaving for work. After he exits into the livelier street outside, the lane again falls silent. Suddenly—see, rat!