City Street - Gali Surkh Poshan, Old Delhi

City Street – Gali Surkh Poshan, Old Delhi

City Street - Gali Surkh Poshan, Old Delhi

Red lane.

[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]

The fakeer’s deep-throated singing voice is wafting probingly along the weathered walls of the narrow cul-de-sac. The other much younger fakeer is silent, holding a small polythene thaila filled with surkh-red tomatoes. Both men are attired in white.

Gali Surkh Poshan must have its share of dwellers, but nobody else can be seen this afternoon. No matter, the fakeer continues to sing with feeling.

Dur hoon Medine se,
Aur isliye udasi hain.
(Being far from Medina,
Is the cause for sadness.)

Meanwhile, it is unbearably hot, but it is so outside the lane, where the lane merges into the open expanse of Gali Choori Walan. Within the cramped Surkh Poshan, it is like being in cool February. The daylight certainly is infiltrating into the winding alley, its heat isn’t.

An elderly man lounging outside the lane, in front of Unchi Masjid, says that Surkh Poshan is home to “only 8-10 households.” The gali’s name means “lal kapre (red clothes)” in Persian, he says. A long time ago, the man explains, one of the houses belonged to a merchant of red fabrics.

The claim isn’t universally shared. The soft-spoken butcher Karimuddin Shah, resting in his meat shop within the lane (see photo), gives another version. “Tthe walls here used to be surkh, or red.”

No red wall is to be sighted today. (Although some walls appear to be very old; they are not even of old-fashioned lakhori bricks, but of rough-hewn stones).

Next moment, a creaking sound tears through the alley, as if a long-closed window somewhere has flapped open. The fakeer stops singing. A woman’s cry descends from some multi-storey’s high altitude, politely urging the fakeers to come further up along the lane, towards its last house. The men hastily move to the vaguely indicated place, their raised heads trying to spot the source of the voice. Just then something hits the ground with a sudden dull thud. It is a 10-rupee coin.

The older fakeer unhurriedly keeps the coin in his pajama pocket, uttering aloud a blessing—“May you and your family live long and happily.” He again resumes his song. The other fakeer relaxes, and leans his back against a wall, beside a flier advertising matchmaking “all over India and around the world in every caste and category.”

Soon, a door around the corner opens, a little boy steps out and shyly hands over a coin to the singing fakeer.

Hours later, in the evening, the lane is teeming with children playing hide-and-seek.