City Walk – Patli Gali, Old Delhi
The too-narrow lane.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
You are walking nonchalantly through this severely cramped walled lane in the Walled City. Suddenly somebody approaches from the opposite direction. One of you will have to give up the ego by shifting aside, pressing the back to the wall, and letting the other to slide through the passage. Else, a stalemate.
Patli Gali is as patli as an ittar bottle’s neck. Sandwiched between two super-high walls, it is so narrow that no two passers-by can walk side by side. A pardesi unfamiliar to the area might misconstrue it to be a private walkway. Stepping into the secretive street is thrilling. The bazar noise fades, the daylight dims, the sky vanishes. You feel sheltered from the smog. While the walls on both sides fester in varying degrees of age and darkening—the one on the right is actually the wall of the adjoining Pathan Wali Masjid.
Like an alley in some magical world, this straight, narrow, almost-anonymous alley starts off a street with a fairly famous name and ends into a street bearing that same famous name. You may as well say that Patli Gali exist in our labyrinthine world only to connect the two parallel arms of Gali Sui Walan. The narrow lane’s one mouth faces Sui Walan’s Zakir Alam Tea Stall, the other mouth faces Sui Walan’s Babu Tailor & Son, which was founded by late Muhammed Haneef, and now manned by his 75-year-old son. The venerable Zaheer credits his family enterprise for being the sartorial stylist of the area’s classical musicians. “These artists always wear white kurta pajama,” he says confidentially. With a bit of cajoling, the “tailor master” agrees to wade into the middle of Patli to pose for a photo, along with the much younger Ismail of the next-door Shadda Doodhwale dairy.
The simple task turns out to be an event. The lane jams up with the hurry-hurry pedestrians. One excited citizen jokes of their gali hosting a “film ki shooting.” This makes everyone laugh. Since the lane is hemmed in by face-to-face walls, the laughter’s echo lingers a moment longer than the actual laughter.