City Life – Faces of a Far-Off War, Paharganj
On Israel and Palestine.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Everyone is smiling in these photos. A few are even grinning. All seem to be young. All are Israelis. The same carefree expressions are to be found on their faces, as on those of the attendees at last weekend’s Supernova music festival, held in the southern Israeli desert, close to the border with Gaza. Some of us have seen those attendees in viral video clips filmed during the attack by Hamas on Saturday morning. (The carefree expressions were seen in a clip that was filmed just before the attack.)
260 festivalgoers were killed, many others have been taken hostage. The internet is full of the videos and pictures of those young Israelis. (Some of the victims were of other nationalities as well.)
Meanwhile, in Delhi, the aforementioned hundreds of passport-sized snaps of young Israelis are spread across a large desk on the cash counter of a shop in Paharganj. They lie under a glass. With grim news continually coming from west Asia about the killings of Israelis and Palestinians, it is surreal to observe these faces.
Faruk Leather Shop actually deals with jackets and bags. It also showcases a significant segment of transitory Paharganjwale—young Israelis. Delhi’s budget hotel district has always teemed with international backpackers. Over the past decades, young visitors from Israel became the dominant group of tourists. Paharganj even has a Chabad House — a lodge for Jewish travel- lers — whose chapters are spread across the world.
Established in 1988 by Faruk Ahmad, originally
from Kashmir, Faruk Leather Shop is on the same narrow lane as the Chabad House. The founder’s grandson once explained to The Delhi Walla that “Israeli tourists started arriving in India in great numbers from 1991 onwards, and many of them would come to us for jackets and bags”. He also explained the logic behind the hundreds of photos on the desk — “Israeli backpackers would leave their photos here so that their friends in Israel, who might come later to India and to our shop, w might see these photos and feel connected.” Many of those friends indeed would turn up. And they, in turn, would leave behind their photos for another set of friends.
Gazing at these young happy faces, one wonders if these people are okay. If any of them were in that fateful music festival. The photos bring the reality of a distant war closer home. We feel the horror and grief that the Israelis must be going through more vividly.
But no shop in Paharganj displays the photos of Palestinians. How does one feel the horror and grief that they must be going through?