City Neighbourhood – Katra Baan Wale, Old Delhi
A place-name in the Walled City.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
In the old days in Old Delhi, Purani Dilli wale would have beds of baan, strings made of “munj” or “kans” plants. These beds were called charpai, or khatiya, or khaat. The beds were easy to move around. During summer evenings at home, a bucket of water would be carried to the roof (there were no multi-storeys then), and the water would be sprinkled to cool the concrete, after which the beds would be temporarily shifted upstairs for the family to sleep at night.
To sustain such a way of living, there used to be “baan wale” who would prepare the baan for the bed. This was separate from the profession of weaving the baan about the four legs of the bed—those bunai wale would walk all day along the streets, shouting out their presence like any street vendor.
Today, the baan wale have mostly become history. But a neighbourhood, off the Chitli Qabar Bazar, continues to be called Katra Baan Wale.
This afternoon, the Katra is submerged in shade and shanti. The short passage into it passes by a couple of staircases, itself ending into a sweeping staircase. The secluded locality is so small, so cramped, that it can at best contain four or five houses. A Katra dweller shakes his head on being urged to confirm this assessment. As the only person present this moment in the otherwise empty passage, Fareed is perched on a parked scooter. Speaking slowly, he explains that the Katra has about twenty houses. He shows a barely perceptible side-alley, cloaked in darkness. It opens into a tiny courtyard, flooded with daylight.
This secretive courtyard is a supremely dense world, crammed with multi-storey households, each house over-spilling with clothes, buckets, potted plants, water tanks, washing machines, cooking gas cylinders, toys, chairs, and more clothes and more buckets.
Outside, in the passage, Fareed is still perched on that same scooter. “I work in the morning and at night when the shops outside in Chitli Qabar (bazar) lie shuttered… I join other patri wale in laying our stalls in front of those shops.” He says most Katra dwellers “are in the bookbinding line… but years ago, before the time of the azadi, the people of the Katra were baan wale… they would make baan at home.”
Fareed now falls quiet. See photo.