City Hangout – Dilli Gate Nukkar, Old Delhi
In the big city, a small town.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Khurja, Kalpi, Najibabad, Sandeela… these are the small towns where expresses never stop. The train hisses by the platform in great speed and arrogance. Sympathetic window-side passengers though might wonder at the world existing beyond the station.
They must come to this nukkar in Old Delhi’s Dilli Gate. The street corner, appended with a tall peepal tree, is part of a crossing whose official name since last year is Pandit Rallaram Sharma Chowk. Its like the city center of one of those towns airdropped in the middle of nowhere. This afternoon, the nukkar is a kumbh of diverse occupations: rat poison seller, chooran seller, coconut slice seller, melon seller (fanning himself with a haath ka punkha). Other corners, other sights: a cat eyeing a tasty rat, a dog curled into a ball of loneliness, a samosa lying squashed on the ground. The nukkar’s dense fast-flowing crowd is thinning only occasionally, briefly.
Despite the buzz, nothing really seems to be happening here. The place is exuding the scent of a small town, and like any small town, its true scope must be vast, impossible to collapse into a few passages. Even so, let it be safely said that the nukkar’s most distinguishing aspect is the sacrosanct vision of neela Shiv. The bhagwan’s blue idol is perched atop a temple; his face softened into a barely perceptible smile, his gaze turned inward as if he were in the middle of a soliloquy. A scooterist stops in front of the temple, joins his palm, his helmeted head bowing down in reverence.
The popular Jaipur Namkeen Bhandar is attached to the Shiv Mandir like a limpet. Baskets of fresh-fried khasta and kachori feeding the gaze; buckets of aloo subzi squirting out whiffs of heeng and garam masala. Founder Dharamveer Singh, who established it in 1968 is 88, retired, rarely stepping out of his Krishna Nagar home.
Like in any small town bazaria, where Jagram Halwai tends to be right opposite rival Rajram Halwai, Brajbasi Namkeen Bhandar stands opposite Jaipur Namkeen Bhandar. Other nukkar landmarks include Sri Laxmi Narayan Pure Veg,, Aggarwal General Store, Tasty Baker, Heena Juice Center, an unnamed atta chakki and the venerable Pandav Kaleen Kal Bhairav Mandir (locked for the moment).
One more temple stands a few hundred steps away, towards Tiraha Behram Khan. Three fruit sellers are lying sprawled in front of its exquisitely carved door. On the facing pave, four men are sitting on chairs, gossiping. But this stretch seems to be a different small town with its own distinctive rhythms, and our express is fast speeding away.