City Hangout – Tracking the Pigeons, Chitli Qabar Chowk
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Suddenly, the house of lawyer Nilofar “advocate” starts moving. Nahi nahi, these are actually the dark ripples moving along the building’s walls that give that impression. The restless pigeons are flying over Chitli Qabar Chowk; the fleeting ripples are their winged shadows. See photo.
Every day, many times, the flock make rounds over the tumultuous Chowk, going about like a fast-moving cloud. The pigeons belong to the family that owns Purani Dilli’s most distinguished mithai shop—Shereen Bhawan wale, who live in next-door Pahari Rajaan. This afternoon, the route of the pigeons was tracked by this reporter over their several rounds. The birds’ circumambulation, after all, give a bird’s-eye view of a very special part of the historic Walled City, one that is zero percent touristy, marinated in its own hyperlocal mahaul, ambiance, of dukaans and makaans.
The charged masakalis enter the intersection by swooping over Nisa Jewellers and Fashion Bling showroom (which recently replaced Ansari Chicken Foods). They go over Hotel Shezan Palace (the Chowk’s tallest building). Then they pass over the Chitli Qabar Dargah (the tiny Sufi shrine gives the Chowk its identity), flapping onwards to Star Flower and Alain Flower (the two florists have been here for a hundred years; both make jaimalas, gajras and sehras out of the same two flowers—chandni and gulab).
The birds fly over Fareed Siddiqui Bangle Store, Fancy Silk Emporium, and Muzaffar bhai’s vegetable cart (Muzaffar bhai, with his perennially prickly white stubble, has been Chitli Qabar’s living landmark since the year of independence). They quickly cross over the cramped Gali Haveli Azam Khan (a lane that houses Ameer Sweet House, the inaugural ribbon was cut decades ago by then prime minister’s son Sanjay Gandhi).
Leaving behind Buland Bakery and A-1 Lazeez Seekh Kebab, the birds reach the house of Nilofar “advocate” (their shadows fall on its walls, giving the concrete an illusion of slow motion).
Then they rush by Hakeem Baqai’s Ayurveda & Yunani Clinic (offering treatment in “baldness, stress, sinusitis, skin diseases, arthritis, diabetes, hypertension, male & female sexual disorders”), flying over Bhai Faruq ki dukaan, Prince Jewellers, Haroon’s grocery, Bhai Sultan bartan wale, Hafiz’s biryani point, Chaudhry Perfumers (since 1857), A-1 Flowers, Shehzad’s chai wale, “tailor master” Javed bhai’s flat (perched upon A-1 Flowers), Discount Medicura Dawai Ghar, and Jhinjhianvi Designer Boutique (the owner’s late father was eminent poet Musheer Jhinjhianvi).
The circle is complete. The birds return to their roof, leaving the Chowk’s smoggy upper altitudes into a vacant zone of gloom.
Minutes later, they re-appear over Nisa Jewellers.