City Life – “Pandrah Agust” Independence Day, Old Delhi
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
You are to be pitied if you live in Gurugram, or Ghaziabad, or Noida, or even in superposh Jorbagh. Because on Independence Day, the luckiest people in the country are those who live in Old Delhi.
The reason is as clear as RO water: the Walled City is where the Prime Minister gives his customary I-Day speech, from the ramparts of the Lal Qila.
The rest of Old Delhi too gets extraordinarily festive on Pandrah Agust (that’s what everyone here calls the great day). Particularly festive is the area around Jama Masjid. Virtually all shops and stalls in Matia Mahal Bazar these days sell stuff adorned with the colours of the Tiranga — dupattas to T-shirts, hair bands to scarves. The national flag is everywhere: roofs, balconies, windows. The market speakers, which in ordinary times warn shoppers of pickpockets, have been playing patriotic deshpremi songs on loop—‘Dil diya hai jaan bhi denge ae watan tere liye’ and ‘Ae mere watan ke logo’ being the most popular.
The ilaka that becomes most festive is Chitli Qabar Chowk, the intersection lying between Turkman Gate and Jama Masjid. Indeed, this ought to be your plan today. Board the metro to Delhi Gate (Violet Line) or Chawri Bazar (Yellow Line), and head to Chitli. On this day, residents get so carried away by the mood of azadi that they often let strangers onto their rooftops. And lest you forget, you have to be on a rooftop to truly experience the action.
This is what was seen from a Chitli chhat on Pandrah Agust last year (it wasn’t shared then, as it would have been cruel to relive the excitement long after it was over).
The roofs were crammed with kite fliers. Since this part of the Walled City stands on paharis (hills), some roofs tend to be taller than others, even though the buildings might have the same height. Each roof had at least two jhandas. Bhai Wasi’s roof had 11 flags.
The cloudy Purani Dilli phalak (sky) was punctuated with patange (kites). The humid air echoed with the roars and raptures of rooftop revellers. At times the roar would go so viral that even a shy introvert would start to roar. It was like being in a stadium or in a single screen cinema, everyone pulsating to a singular emotion.
And then there was the DJ wali music ripping over the galis. The surprise part was the selection of songs. They were not always the latest chart busters or the hits of the recent years. These were numbers to which perhaps our grandparents had danced to at discos in Connaught Place, back when Connaught Place had discos.
Post twilight, the azadi sky lit up with the gold rain of atishbazi.