City Life - Ramjas Path, Daryaganj

City Life – Ramjas Path, Daryaganj

City Life - Ramjas Path, Daryaganj

Of silence and song

[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]

The lane is steeped in ‘pin drop silence,’ just the thing the teachers at the school ahead might expect from their students.

The short Ramjas Paath in Daryaganj is lined with a handful of enormous pilkhans, whose thick brown branches gently spread upon the lane, colonising the upper altitudes, hiding much of the sky from the earth. A pair of vessels are hanging from a branch high up in the air; one of those is said to filled with grains for the birds, another is filled with water. Aam Panna seller Yameen shows a rope-and-pulley apparatus equipped around the tree’s wrinkled trunk. “It brings down the vessels to our level for us to refill them every two days.”

This unbearably hot, humid afternoon, scores of rickshaws are parked on both sides of the lane. Some of these rickshaws are draped over with shirts and towels; the passenger seats claimed by their pullers; the legs dangling. One of them turns in his half-sleep, sighing, “Jai Siya Ram.” The murmur dissolves into the street’s concentrated silence. Another puller calls out in a similar tone—“Arre mere sarkar.”

Meanwhile, ensconced under a tree, ice seller “Maharaj ji” is sleepily sitting beside the sheeted slabs of his “baraf-factory” ice. Fanning himself slowly with a haath ka punkah, his head bobs down, chin almost touching the chest. He resolutely lifts the head, only for it to bob down again.

The shelved wall in the lane’s only chai stall is arrayed out with dozens of mobile phones, plugged to a switchboard with many sockets. These are phones of the street’s rickshaw pullers. Tea man Deepak charges ten rupees to charge a mobile to full capacity. His late father’s garlanded portrait hangs beside the soft drink refrigerator. The stall dates from 1965. The Ramjas Girls Senior Secondary School at the end of the street is from 1961.

Now white-haired rickshaw puller Bhola walks over to the tea stall, muttering, “I’m from Kashi, land of the Ganga.” In a voice full on passion, he breaks into the mid-portion of an old film song:
Ladakpan khel mein khoya
Jawani neend bhar soya
Budhapa dekh kar roya
(Boyhood lost in mischief
Youth gone in a snooze
Now weeping in old age)

Waving at the empty lane, he predicts the immediate future. “The school is opening tomorrow after the long summer break, you will not find a spot to even stand.”