City Hangout – Bird Feeding Pilgrimage, Hamdard Chowk
To the communion.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It’s a hot muggy morning and these three supplicants are devoutly praying. Not in a temple but at a Central Delhi traffic island teeming with pigeons.
The devotees now open their eyes and hurl grains to the awaiting birds: A typical morning at Hamdard Chowk. The area is home to hundreds of homeless labourers and rickshaw pullers who usually live and sleep on pavements.
People are quietly coming over at this early hour. They are purchasing the grain from a seller sitting beside the circle and walking on to feed the fat birds. One of the gentlemen, a rickshaw puller, describes the chowk itself as a mandir “where serving the birds is like performing prayers to our devis and devtas.”
And now a biker stops and gets off with his little daughter dressed in a school uniform. He helps the hesitant child throw the grains towards the pigeons “so that she can be blessed by the gods.”
The chowk takes its name from a legendary company headquartered here. Hamdard Laboratories is best known for its rose drink Rooh Afza, a Persian name meaning “the elixir of the soul.” But, for the bird-feeding devotees at the Chowk, the true elixir is to provide an ample breakfast for the winged creatures. Best to turn up before 7am to witness or participate in the quiet communion between birds and humans that unfolds in a metropolis denounced for having a hard-hearted soul.
Later, the city awakens—and the magic somehow evaporates.
Feeding the soul