City Neighbourhood - Pratap Street, Old Delhi

City Neighbourhood – Pratap Street, Old Delhi

City Neighbourhood - Pratap Street, Old Delhi

Backstreet world.

[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Deserted alleys, defaced walls, cobwebby windows, rusting doors, loopy cables, dead rats and unexpected dead-ends. Strolling through certain Old Delhi passageways is like being abandoned inside some spooky documentary on municipal surrealism: Pratap Street, behind Golcha Cinema building in Daryaganj, is even more surreal. This afternoon—the day of Eid—the lane is completely empty. Totally silent. All shop fronts shuttered.

In some time, a handful of citizens emerge, including a man in white kurta-pajamas (see photo). Property dealer Suhail explains that most residents had stayed awake the whole night celebrating the festival, and after offering the Eid prayers in the morning, they are at home, resting, probably asleep.

Nevertheless, the walls on both sides of the narrow lane contain clues on its daily life. A tatty beauty parlour poster offers “chocolate full arm waxing” and “chocolate full leg waxing.” Another poster offers pest control services. While multiple copies of the same flier warn of the all-seeing CCTV cameras ready to catch anybody littering the place. (A black garbage bag containing a rotting bouquet is lying dumped underneath one such flier.)

Some of the partially opened doorways along the straight path hints of suburban style housing—ground floor parking lot with elevator shaft for the upper-floor flats. Indeed, on looking up, you do not see the Walled City’s jharokhas and taaks, but sharp-angled geometry of modern balconies.

Years ago, the street had its own living landmark. Malti Devi had been ironing clothes here for more than 25 years with her coal-fired iron. During a long-ago encounter, she gave her reason for commuting daily from her home outside the Walled City—“people of this gali give me love, respect and business.”

More than a decade has passed since that chat, and Malti Devi has become a myth. Some residents, encountered here a few weeks ago, showed ignorance of her. Others claimed she comes only on select days. A few asserted she no longer comes due to her advanced age. Additionally, nobody of these people could offer anything authoritative on the story behind Pratap Street’s name, which means ‘’majesty’ in Hindi. The aforementioned Suhail did however remark that “this gali is just Golcha (cinema) ki backside.”