City Walk – Gali Nal Wali, Old Delhi
The too-short lane.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
This story ought to be really short and must have only three sentences. For this is about Old Delhi’s shortest street, which has just three residential addresses. You can walk the whole of the gali in 14 itsy-bitsy steps.
Gali Nal Wali used to have a nal, or water tap, at its mouth until 25 years back, informs Umesh Kumar who works in nearby Akbar Dairy. The lane begins at Gali Shah Abul Khair and concludes into the stately Hameed Manzil. This afternoon, the mansion’s blue door is partly open, giving the glimpse of a staircase within. An elderly gent in topi walks down slowly. He is wearing a crisp mustard-green kurta paired with a white pajama in Aligarh cut.
Having spent all his 70 years in the same street, Fazle Haque confirms that the gali still looks the way it looked in his childhood, except that one of the three houses have lately been transformed into a beehive of flats. His own house dates from 1910. “Hameed Manzil was built by my dada Hameeduddin,” he says in his commanding, courteous voice. The building’s original construction material consisted of the slender old-fashioned lakhori bricks. They have been replaced by modern-day bricks, owing to renovations in 1969 and 2018.
An alumnus of the Delhi School of Economics, Fazle Haque was a manufacturer of kitchen and cigarette lighters. The business ended with the mass onslaught of cheaper made-in-China lighters in the late 1990s. Although his family manages a shop in Sadar Bazar called Aziz & Sons Buttonwala that specialises in tailoring material, “we continue to be known as Lighter Wale.”
The venerable man is not particularly venerable about the name of his street. He points out many Walled City lanes having the same name. “In the early years of the last century, most houses in Old Delhi didn’t have running water… residents would draw paani from neighbourhood wells, or from public taps installed on certain streets… naturally, every gali having such a tap started to be known as Gali Nal Wali.”
Standing at the threshold of his house, Fazle Haque recalls his grandmother who would tell him stories of a long-ago time when the area was gairabad, meaning “that this was the outskirts of the Walled City, and the streets here were sparsely inhabited, almost bayaban (wild).”
He later escorts the visitor into his sprawling residence. The light-filled courtyard has something that the Gali Nal Wali outside no longer has—a nal.