City Neighbourhood – Gali Dakotan, Old Delhi
Lane of Saturday people.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Place-names in Old Delhi make sense. Gosht Wali Pahari is nestled along a pahari and has shops selling gosht. Pahari Imli had an imli tree. Gali Akhare Wali had an akhara. Gali Mazar Wali had a mazar. Gali Jagat Cinema Wali had Jagat Cinema. Gali Dakotan had dacoits.
Not true—this bit about Gali Dakotan. The error is borne out of an unfortunate symmetry of words. The pronunciation of ‘dakotan’ is so easily confused with ‘dakait’, or ‘dacoit’, that many Walled City residents buy into the false narrative. Including Gali Dakotan wale themselves, or at least these two residents chatting this afternoon at the street’s dead-end. The women are shocked that their gali isn’t named after dacoits, a belief they had been holding since their childhood. An elderly woman running a kiosk asserts that she always knew the true story “but nobody bothers to ask me.”
Decades ago, long before the independence, the lane—close to the Walled City’s vanished stone wall—was exclusively the address of a community of people who workshopped Shani Dev and would ask for dakshina, or donations, in exchange of the said divinity’s blessings. In fact, a quick search in the all-knowing Google describes a ‘dakot’ as a “person who accepts the offerings forwarded on Shani Dev.”
At some point in the past, the original inhabitants of Gali Dakotan left the lane. All that remains of them today in the Walled City is the name they gave to their street, which came to be peopled with citizens belonging to various occupations. A walk this afternoon reveals it to be a narrow lane filled with houses and printing presses, along with sightings of beautiful doors and windows, as well as goats and cats.
On the other hand, all across Delhi traffic lights, every city commuter who has to be out on a Saturday, or Shaniwar, is likely to come across people carrying a small black statue of Shani Dev while asking for dakshina. The statuette is usually kept in a bowl filled with mustard oil. Perhaps some of these citizens might be the descendants of the original Gali Dakotan wale.