City Walk – Chhatta Shaikh Mangloo, Old Delhi
Life of a lane.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It flows like a nadi from under the shadow of the Jama Masjid. But a citizen walking on the street won’t see anything of the grand mosque. Flanked by multi-stories, Chhatta Shaikh Mangloo teems with crowds. This afternoon, a man is ambling along with a car door, but minus the rest of the car. Noting extraordinary. The street is overstuffed with shops overstocked with spare car parts. “This is selfstarter, this is altimotor, that is wiper machine, those are inner parts”—-a trader remarks, his grease-stained hand waving at the shop’s mind-churning clutter of metal knickknacks.
The spare car parts popped up in the street a few decades ago. It was formerly lined with havelis, each pickled in its self-contained isolation. Such as the Din Duniya House. That beautiful mansion of terraces, balconies, corridors and staircases was the home of Din Duniya, an Urdu haftewari (weekly magazine) founded in 1921 by the haveli’s patriarch—scholar Shokat Ali Fehmi. One of Shaikh Mangloo’s most distinguished residents, he authored 43 books on history and religion, most of which are in print. The magazine surveyed politics and society. Its publication lay suspended in the turbulent years around the partition. Later, it evolved into a mahanama, a monthly journal. Shokat Ali died in 1993; his Din Duniya continued to issue out from his haveli.
One afternoon, many seasons ago, the haveli’s courtyard was alive with the subdued whining of two printing machines—handfed machine, circa 1985, and automatic, circa 1996. The latest issue of Din Duniya was being printed. Its then editor-printer-publisher, Asif Fehmi—one of the founder’s four sons—was sitting silently in an adjoining hall. He was multitasking: writing an editorial, checking proof copies, drinking chai, and editing stories sent by the magazine’s two freelance contributors. At that time, it appeared that Din Duniya would last forever. It is lying discontinued since the Covid lockdowns.
During that same period of the pandemic, the Din Duniya House was renovated into more modern edifice by the gentle-mannered Arshad Fehmi, Shokat Ali’s other son. The new building’s sprawling roof offers a breath-stopping view of the Jama Masjid.
Further down the street, past Just For You guesthouse, past Noor Automobile Body Part Bumpers, stands Nawab House—the haveli of late Aziz Shafi, a magistrate remembered by Shaikh Mangloo masses as “judge saab.” Two dogs are snoozing outside the stately door. The haveli is a significant landmark. It has two chhatta, kind of bridges (see photo), that span over the street at two separate places, giving the street its designation of “Chhatta.” The chhattas connect Nawab House to late Nazam Faiz Ahmad’s haveli that stands on the facing side of the street. The passages were used by the purdah-bound ladies of the two havelis to visit each other. A chhatta traditionally bridged adjacent properties of a same owner that were separated by a public street.
Facing Nawab House lies a inconspicuous side-alley snaking into a warren of doorways. A locked yard within has the grave of a fakir. He was Shaikh Mangloo.
Chatta in life