City Life - Gali Chamre Wali Part 2, Old Delhi

City Life – Gali Chamre Wali Part 2, Old Delhi

City Life - Gali Chamre Wali Part 2, Old Delhi

Life of a lane.

[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Walls have ears, we know that. But doors with mouths? That’s the magic happening in this gali—two facing doors are chitchatting, that too in human-speak.

Blame the twilight dark. It’s actually two women talking, each standing by her house door, half-hidden behind the curtain. The street’s emptiness is bridging the gap between them.

And in a window far above, a silhouette stands unmoving.

Gali Chamre Wali was inhabited by people working in the chamra, or leather, trade. Most of those dwellers moved to Pakistan following the partition. The street today has citizens from a cross-section of occupations. These facts have already been outed in an earlier dispatch on the gali. But the gali has an extraordinary trait demanding a repeat walkthrough.

It’s so long.

Many Walled City streets are long, even longer, you’ll protest, but they tend to be half a bazar, speckled with tailoring shops, beauty parlours and bakeries. Gali Chamre Wali is an assortment of residences alone—not one grocery! The lane begins dully, sandwiched between Bilal Masjid and Alba Gold Vanaspati Oil warehouse The entrance is so narrow that the hulky bodybuilder twins of Kucha Chellan’s Solidcore gym won’t be able to stand side by side. Naturally, a first-time visitor debuting into the standard-issue lane would expect it to end quickly and unremarkably like any standard-issue lane.

The gali instead turns out to be as time-varnished as any antique table patina. Every third doorway is moulded with a fading grandeur, intensifying curiosities about the private histories within. Deeper into the lane, the silence is solid, almost palpable. Barely any humans to be sighted. Just doorways and staircases, dogs and cats. A cooking smell is streaming out of one of the curtained doors (shimla mirch subzi for dinner!).

The street still isn’t ending. After a succession of winding turns, just as you start fearing this to be a Kafkaesque labyrinth, the dead-end props up. The path is blocked by a derelict yet regal doorway, thoroughly cobwebbed. The dust-crusted wooden ledge is carved with patterns of leaves. Some elegant mansion must stand on the other side. A man’s stern voice floats in from somewhere unseen, stating flatly, “Nobody lives there.”