City Life – Hijron ka Phatak, Old Delhi
A lost world.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Katra Chandi Walla in Old Delhi is home to handicraft artisans of chandi or silverwork. Most people call it by its former name–Hijron ka Phatak. The place used to be largely inhabited by citizens identifying themselves as members of the hijra, or transgender, community. No such person live here now, says elderly artisan Riyaz, a katra resident. This afternoon, he points out the homes that earlier belonged to those former dwellers—see photo.
A time was when scores of transgender people resided not only in this katra, but also in the surrounding galis and kuchas. “They called their home ‘dera,’ they were very polite, they kept to themselves,” recalls an elderly grocer. A chai stall man says: “They would sing, dance, and distribute blessings at other people’s happy occasions, themselves receiving money and gifts.” A construction material supplier says: “They never worked near the ilaka where they lived, but willingly gave money to any needy person in their gali… by 1970s and 80s, most of them had left Purani Dilli.”
Here is an anthology of a few of those enigmatic figures of the Walled City’s living history. All the descriptions, baring the words within brackets, have been drawn from the recollections of the area’s present-day residents.
Sona and Chaman: “These two were close friends, and had their dera in Gali Master Shiv Prasad. Following the partition, Sona left for Lahore, while Chaman stayed, establishing herself as a legendary beauty with gora rang and kairi aankhe. She would be seen in Banarasi silk saris, with a sulagti cigarette as her constant companion.”
Haji Qadeera: “Her qad, size, was small. She would be usually clad in a simple white chikan kurta and a check tehmat. Always a paan in the mouth, a paan in the hand. Lived in Gali Addan.”
Haji Duggi Mai: “Died years ago. Her chelas continue to live at her dera in Gali Wazeer Beg. (The metal name-plate on the doorway is inscribed in Urdu and Hindi as Hajji Duggi Nayak ka Dera).”
Gulzari Mai: “She lives on the main street of Turkman Gate Bazar. (Often seen sitting silently beside a paan stall, near Gali Dakotan, in a starched white kurta and lungi.)”
Names of other citizens: “Nanda Zenana, Rafeeqan Mai, Bambai Mai, Surayya Zenana, Shabbo, Haji Vimla, Haji Badamo, Noori—she was an excellent singer, often crooning the songs from the (1983) film Hero.”
Ahmed Haji: “Born in Gali Sui Wallan. Extensively featured by foreign correspondents. Copies of a book on her were kept in the business class of every hawai jahaz flying out of Delhi—or so she would tell her friends. She once spent two lakh rupees on her adopted daughter’s birthday party held at Anglo-Arabic School in Ajmeri Gate. Moved to Mehndiyan graveyard on the Walled City’s outskirts, where she died. (She is the protagonist of Dayanita Singh’s book Myself Mona Ahmed).”