City Neighbourhood - Gali Ghantewali, Old Delhi

City Neighbourhood – Gali Ghantewali, Old Delhi

City Neighbourhood - Gali Ghantewali, Old Delhi

A street of the bell.

[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Lazy but punctual, it comes back every hour to mark the passing of time. Sometimes its sound is so muted by the daytime blabber of the streets, and one could imagine it has stopped. But there can be no confusion at night—the sound spreads in ripples, its prosaicness distilled out of a reservoir of poetry.

Or rather, that is how it must have been like, for it no longer exists. That almost mythical grand bell—It was believed to have adorned the mansion of a silver merchant—that gave its identity to a street in Old Delhi, on the slopes of Pahari Bhojla.

Today, the only ghanta in Gali Ghantewali is in its name. The bell disappeared at an unknown point in the past. One citizen asserts that the bell was replaced by a clock tower for a while, which became so popular that citizens from various galis would walk over to Gali Ghantewali to check the hour of the day.

This afternoon, the dimly lit street is drowned in silence. An awara billi is ambling by a cobwebbed window in slow motion, as if in awe of the quietude. The short street is lined with small contiguous houses occasionally interrupted by a small shop or a small warehouse. The gali gradually rises into a series of steep steps, ending into a residence. Each house is swaddled in privacy. Many have their doors closed. Some doors are slightly open, but the curtains within make it impossible to see the interiors. One such curtain, as red as a bride’s lehenga, is swaying lazily in the icy breeze.

The emptiness of the gali is pierced by the appearance of a middle-aged man in white kurta-pajama. He haltingly climbs the steps at the end of the street, stops outside a door, and unhooks its long latch, the metal chain makes a clanking sound.

The street has three side-alleys, each ending into a doorway. One of the doors is patched up with so many pieces of unpainted plywood that it looks like a man bandaged from head to toe. Another of these dead-end doorways, in the middle alley, is sculpted into an arched niche, and could be a visitor from two or three centuries ago. Except that it is stamped with a series of electric meters.

This alley has water dripping out from a drainage pipe, dripping straight onto the ground (there seems to be no drain). The dirty water is collecting into a tiny pool in the middle of the passage. The echoing plops are intensifying the surrounding silence.

A side door opens. Inside, a man is sifting through a “kabad” of spare car parts, soundlessly.