City Walk – Gali Chandi Wali, Old Delhi
Rue du silver.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
See the photo. That deg is filled with molten chandi, the silver. Anybody can come and get a bowl full of it for 30 rupees.
If only. But then it is Gali Chandi Wali after all. The deg is actually filled with spicy hot nihari. The eatery stamps the access to Chandi Wali. The lane was a locality of silver jewellers. No such trader exists here now. The sole banner hanging in the alley this silent afternoon is of “Imran Welding Works—old shutter & new shutter, window & gate repairing.”
The dimly lit cul-de-sac is as narrow as a corridor in a Ghaziabad flat, and is a khichdi of kal (future), aaj (present), kal (past). Some parts of the street walls are just bare bricks. Some parts are freshly cemented and plastered. Some parts are in varying shades of blue, deepened with the patinas of decades, perhaps even centuries.
A door flaps open. A man in striped pheran steps out. Nazeer Ahmad is a Srinagar wale. “Every year in winter I move here in Delhi for a few months… it gets too cold in Kashmir at this time,” his halting thoughtful voice says. Indeed, during the cold season, Old Delhi’s tea houses start serving the pink Kashmiri chai, with the accompanying lavasa roti. Their customers are the scores of Kashmiris who temporally invade the lodges crisscrossing the galliyan around the Jama Masjid. Nazeer Ahmed doesn’t have to stay in those. One of these Chandi Wali houses belongs to his wife’s family.
The gali’s highlight is an aged mansion marked by three arched doors. Zardozi artists live within; the men and the women of the family design, embroider and manufacture fabrics of gold zari thread by hand. Staying loyal to its original architecture, the house is a maze of corridors, courtyards, staircases, fluted columns, niched taaks, high-ceiling rooms and pigeon-friendly balconies.
Meanwhile, at the mouth of the gali, young cook Sameer is standing at the aforementioned eatery, his cold hand finding comfort in the heat of the lidded cauldron. An elderly woman turns into Chandi Wali, carrying a packet of Uncle Chipps.