City Hangout – Ghost Street Stalls, South Delhi
The life in lockdown.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The yellowing leaves fallen from the tree above have carpeted the dusty ground, turning it into a padded mattress of golden-yellow. A large wooden chest is stacked against the red brick wall. It is covered with two layers of plastic sheet. Leaves have fallen upon it, too. Huge chunks of stone are lying on the plastic, probably to prevent it from being blown away in case of a strong breeze.
The wooden chest is shut closed with a huge lock. A foot-operated Gold sewing machine stands beside the chest. The top body of the machine is tied with a sheet of red plastic—this also has become a receptacle for yellowing leaves.
Other signs of possessions include a framed portrait of Lakshmi and Ganesh, a pack of agarbatti, an empty plastic bottle, and a black metallic chair.
There is nobody around. It is afternoon.
This spot in south Delhi is obviously a pavement tailor’s stall. His name must be Dinesh, for that’s the name drawn on the facing wall with a white chalk, along with a mobile phone number.
Delhi has been in lockdown for weeks. The crowds have disappeared. The streets lie lifeless all day long. And yet, next time you venture to get grocery, look about the pavements and you shall spot residues of the once lovely street life, abruptly frozen into mute exhibits, much like the people and homes of Pompeii as the volcano suddenly exploded and swallowed the Roman town, ending its world in an instant and yet preserving everything as it was.
This pavement lane in south Delhi is marked with stalls of florists, kulcha wallas, tea shacks and mat stalls. Each establishment is marked most distinctively with the name of the stall
owner and his or her mobile number, either painted on a board or simply drawn along the surface of the adjacent wall. It is surprising that something as ramshackle as a street stall could end up being so visible in the times of complete lockdown.
One of the most poignant sights among these ghost stalls is that of a flower shop—a bouquet of flowers still under the table, its flowers rotting. Where is that florist? At his house in Delhi, or has he been left stranded, with no easy means to go back to his family in some distant state? Has he enough money to survive from one day to the other?
And what about tailor Dinesh?
A call to the mobile number indicated on the wall goes unattended.
Perhaps the pandemic shall end sooner than later. The city’s street will then return to life. And Dinesh, the tailor, will be back on this spot. He will sweep away the dry leaves, untie the plastic from his sewing machine, unlock his trunk, and get back to life as it were.
For now, it’s all silence.
Street sans life