City Monument - Magical Balconies, Kalan Mahal

City Monument – Magical Balconies, Kalan Mahal

City Monument - Magical Balconies, Kalan Mahal

The upper floor saudade.

[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]

The bazar is cinematic in a flamboyant Old Delhi way. A jumble of bakeries and bone-setting clinics, groceries and pharmacies, meat shops and chai shops, appended with residential side-alleys. That said, the locality possesses something more special. Along a part of the stretch, a short series of most ethereal balconies are strung one after another, as if through a thread.

The congested Kalan Mahal is a mahal only in name. Neither are these balconies palatial; they however bear traces of an old architectural style that has become increasingly rare. To be sure, the balconies boast of no significant history, they find no mention in travel books, they are never included in the guided tours. But then some of the most beautiful aspects of Purani Dilli lie pickled in genteel anonymity.

Sadly, many of these structures are in varying levels of dereliction. A particularly long balcony is decked with a screen of wooden panes. Some panes are missing, exposing the vacant interiors. An elderly passer-by in a metal walker stops, and gazes at the balcony. His mouth is full of paan, the red beetle-juice dribbling down from the corner of his lips. He mumbles something in a dismissive tone, his words aren’t clear.

Another passer-by, emerging out of the adjoining Katra Dhobian, cranes up his neck towards the balconies, his cloudy, cataract eyes constricting. The man remarks that the buildings up there were inhabited by “families like ours” until the turn of the century. Waving an arm towards a pair of brown towels strung over a lace-like balustrade, he says: “Bakery wale labour (sic) live there.”

The dereliction of these graceful leftovers have suffused them with a faint sense of loss and longing. Something that was a part of our ordinary world and which—on retrospect—was worth preserving would never again be back. The Portuguese sometimes labels such a sentiment as saudade. The word belongs to the Walled City as well. It inadvertently formed the essence of Ahmad Ali’s Twilight in Delhi, the classic novel chronicling an irreversible shift in the Mughal-era quarter’s original temperament.

Some steps ahead is a balcony fenced with a metal jaali. The afternoon sunlight claims a portion for some time. See photo.