City Walk – Gali Takhat Wali, Old Delhi
The street of wooden cot.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Dictionary describes it as “any place raised above the ground for sitting, reclining, or sleeping.” Basically a wooden cot, it gives its name to an Old Delhi street.
Gali Takhat Wali neighbours Gali Sui Walan, the street of the tailor’s needle. The path linking the two galiyan is gripping. A wretchedly narrow airless alley sparks out from Gali Sui Walan, opening into another arm of Gali Sui Walan. This smoggy noon two goats are peacefully feeding on gular leaves outside a pink doorway. The rest of the route to Gali Takhat Wali wends past Sultan Gym, Abdul Malik Bawarchi’s kitchen, Gali Tajiran, Aziz General Store, Rais Tailors and Drapers, box-maker Sajid’s workshop… past a lovely blue building… finally reaching our destination street.
A takhat propped up against a ruined shutter front (see photo) is the nishani for Gali Takhat Wali. An amiable bookbinder in cream salwar-kurta is standing idle, his arm resting on a derelict wall. The takhat has been put aside, the gentle Rizwan explains, because of on-going street repairs. Else it is always spread out along this very corner. “The elders of our gali sit on the takhat to pass their day.”
A cul-de-sac by the parked takhat ends into a house whose arched door is topped with a Plaster of Paris decoration. The decoration is half-broken. The door is ajar, revealing a darkened staircase and a black cat’s moist gleaming eyes.
Rizwan dates the takhat from the colonial-era “angrezo ke zamane se.” The huge cot used to be bigger, he informs. As the gali’s aabadi (population) increased, and galiwale needed more space in the gali to park their scooters and motor cycles, the takhat was cut down for the greater common good. The cot has seen a lot more than its own amputation; it bears witness to those long-ago days when “every household in Gali Takhat Wali used to manufacture sui, the tailor’s needle.” The street even had a sui “karkhana.” In fact the adjoining Gali Sui Walan takes its name from that vanished needle-making factory.
Today, the bookbinder notes, nobody in Gali Takhat Wali makes sui. “Everything from our past is gone except for the takhat.”
Now a bunch of labourers appear, their eyebrows dripping with sweat. The men are manually dragging a cart crammed with almirah, refrigerator, TV set, table. Is a new family moving into Gali Takhat Wali—a passer-by asks, but walks on, without caring for the answer.