City Walk – Kaka Nagar, Central Delhi
A neighbourhood stroll.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The serene and privileged world of government housing seems nigh unto dead in this sweltering mid-afternoon, here in Central Delhi. Finding a single fellow human walking about in the Kaka Nagar neighbourhood can be almost a vain search. This locality of apartment blocks — reportedly built on a graveyard— is home, sweet home for countless bureaucrats presumably still at work in their sarkarifiles filled offices.
Solitude reigns in every block, built largely in the 1970s, that features virtually self-contained social eco-systems — complete with private balconies, clotheslines, endless dish antennas and black paani tankis. Some bits of the snaking pathways are like a paradise. Dense leafy trees are lined on both the sides, at times their branches lean over to meet each other, blocking the view of the resentful summer sun.
The only real signs of life are discovered in the occasional shanties that are just about everywhere beside the quiet lanes. One has a mother sitting on a string bed, picking lice from her baby’s hair. “I’m a labour (sic) woman,” she says, “cleaning up in the big people’s apartments,” gesturing towards the blocks.
Further along is a deserted mud track lined with old wooden closets for some reason. At length appears an old guy—“Raj Mistri” Sohan Lal– who explains they belong to the Central Public Works Department: “their offices are full, so they keep them here.” A woman now approaches, bearing a basket of toys on her head. She explains that her customers “are labour-class children who buy them.”
She waves a pleasant goodbye and disappears down the lane, that is once again devoid of human presence.
The most beautiful part of Kaka Nagar is a small building not far from the Social Education Department’s Sewing Centre— actually the lovely portion is the building’s series of cobwebbed windows. Perhaps not been touched by any human hand for decades, they have reached such a profound stage of dilapidation that they look like a work of great art. A sight not to be missed.
Life on an ex-graveyard
I think that window from Image no.1 has been featured on the cover of Harsh Mander’s latest book ‘Between Memory and Forgetting’.
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