City Life – Gali Chamre Wali Part 1, Old Delhi
Life of a lane.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Tak tak tak tak. An elderly man in an extra-maheen white kurta pajama is walking extremely slowly into the narrow gali. His metal walker is tap-tap-tapping the dusty ground strewn with discarded plastic packets. The street is choked with eavesdropping walls and windows. A black dog is asleep, curled into a ball. The gigantic door to the first house is ajar, revealing a long straight flight of stairs going up to a landing illumined in fuzzy orange.
Gali Chamre Wali used to be a locality of people employed in the chamra, or leather, trade, mutters the man, his voice like the soft clanging of two tiny copper chords. “Most of the original families left for Pakistan (following the partition),” he says. The man turns his head, surveying the lane with searching eyes, a few strands of his beard stirring slightly . “All my years…. spent here.”
Few paces away, a wooden door unhurriedly opens in a thick squeak. The man stops, as if the very existence of the world depends on observing the door move about its hinges. (His intense attentiveness evokes that irretrievable era when we had no mobile, and the only distraction outside our own thoughts was the offline world around us.) A woman’s head appears and disappears.
“I’m very old, “ the man says faintly, lips frowning. “I was born long ago, in this same gali.” Suddenly a little girl in frock runs out from the open door, her hasty heels propelling her to the road outside. Neither of them registers the other’s presence.
The man nears a turning, his slow gait, slowing further. The side-wall has a long crack, curving smoothly, like a calligrapher’s brushstroke “I had a dukan in Ballimaran,” he says. “Now my son earns for the house.”
The man stops again. With jerks of hesitant forcefulness, he knocks on a door with his right palm. Footsteps scurries along on the other side, coming closer. A chitkani (barrel bolt) is pulled down, or so it sounds like. The door opens. The room inside is all darkness The man keeps the walker aside, steps over the threshold, closing the door.