City Walk - Haveli Azam Khan, Old Delhi

City Walk – Haveli Azam Khan, Old Delhi

A Walled City street

[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]

The door’s tatty curtain was to hide the once-affluent family’s wretched poverty, its threadbare predicament instead exposed its decline.

Yashpal’s iconic short story Purdah immediately comes to mind on gazing at this purdah, here in Old Delhi’s Haveli Azam Khan street. The purdah is actually looking ok, the giveaway is the derelict doorway on which it hangs. The arched portal is made of long-ago lakhori, its damaged portions patched up with modern bricks, the blue paint severely discoloured.

Haveli Azam Khan is said to have been the site of the haveli of a Mughal-era noble called Azam Khan. Nobody today remembers the haveli. A new world has emerged sphinx-like from the ashes of the past, turning what must have been a sprawling haveli into a cluster of houses, groceries, eateries, circumcision clinics, chai shops, roti bakeries, meat shops, and mosques (one of which is called Bombay Wali Masjid—built by a Bombay wala!).

While a cook living in the vicinity insists that Azam Khan’s legendary mansion survives in fragments as orphaned doors, windows and balconies, the area indeed is sprinkled with an unusually large number of stately doorways, each of which looks like an entrance to some spacious residence. One such building turns out to be merely a congestion of windowless rooms, each room being an individual household packed with very many family members, plus pets like goats and cats. Another impressive doorway leads to similarly grim interiors–a kitchen in the courtyard is sheltered from the elements by a sheet of blue canvas.

No longer a mansion, Haveli Azam Khan nevertheless continues to be a metaphoric mansion with an endless series of rooms and attics. Every turn of the gaze throws up something unique—a sunken chai stall, a wave-shaped balcony, a window with floral motifs, a shop with the remains of PCO telephone booths, a tea house crammed with hyperlocal poets. Like a river with many tributaries, this is a grand gali encompassing many smaller galis.—Gali Peerji Wali, Gali Godo Wali, Gali School Wali, Gali Mochiyan, all of which have been sequentially featured in The Delhi Walla pages (except for one blind gali so short that it has no name).

The street climaxes into an intersecting chowk bearing the same name. This lethargic Ramzan afternoon, the place is unusually quiet. The venerable Raeesuddin is asleep by Bhai Salauddin Pan Wale’s stall (closed for the day). See photo.