City Life - Altering Patterns, Old Delhi

City Life – Altering Patterns, Old Delhi

Everything is changing.

[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]

One time this used to be an empty lot littered with the detritus of a collapsed mansion. Then a builder raised a multi-storey, with Khan’s Bistro on the ground level. It happened just last year.

Everything is changing in Purani Dilli. While childbirths in Kasturba Gandhi maternity hospital and wedding banquets in Mahavir Vatika continue to be punctuated by regular burials in Dilli Gate Qabristan, the fabric of Walled City’s daily life is altering profoundly. Here’s a drone-like survey of some of the million public and private changes pulsating through a tiny segment of the historic quarter. Multiply these shifting minutiae of life a billion times over and this becomes an Homeric epic of the entire city.

Making it a point to smile “despite the tragedies in my home,” flower woman Lalmati who would sit by the Turkman Gate roadside selling red roses and white champas died some years ago. So did Turkman Gate beggar Mumtaz who was abandoned by his family after he lost his legs in a road mishap. So did Turkman Gate’s sherbet seller Muhammed Rafi—his son Salman, who now mans the stall, converted half of the place into a footwear cart.

Early this month, Cheeku, the kitten who lived with his human family in Pahari Rajaan, died of fever-related causes, despite being treated in an animal hospital in Tees Hazari and later in a more expensive private clinic in Preet Vihar.

Homemaker Shahana of Gali Shakti Mandir last year replaced the household’s traditional dastarkhan—the plastic mat spread on the floor at meal time—with a dining table, drastically changing the family tradition. Instead of partaking their meals in a cross-legged posture, they sit on the dining table chair.

Poet Iffat Zarrin’s husband Shamim Siddiqui, aka Shalimar Cinema wale, died in January following a prolonged illness, leaving her alone in her book-lined house in Gali Hakimji Wali.

Disrupting a lifetime of rustling out the Mughlai dishes of nihari and sherermal at his modest establishment in Choori Wallan Chowk, cook Nawab Mursalin suddenly started to sell goat feed.

Young graduate Aqsa married this winter, shifting out of her mother’s home in Kucha Chelan to her husband’s house in Lakshmi Nagar, outside the Walled City.

Tailor “master” Javed Iqbal moved from Lakshmi Nagar to the Walled City with wife Rubina and little daughter Rida, settling down in a one-room flat in Chitli Qabar Chowk, just above Bhai Shehzad’s chai stall, the principal furniture being a mattress.

Homemaker Sabeeha’s nest in Gosht Wali Pahari grew emptier—elder son Zubair moved to Amsterdam in February; younger son Kabeer moved to Leeds, England, in September.

Weeks ago, a raggedy wall with broken windows on Shah Abul Khair street was at long last cleaned of its perennial garbage, and painted over with drawings of old-style doorways and arches, plus the slogan—“I love Purani Dilli.” See photo.