City Hangout – Hanuman Mandir Plaza, Connaught Place
The pandemic-era bustle.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The small room of Future Point Computer Horoscope is open for business. And so is Kakoo Kachori Wale, the snack shop beside it.
The other establishments here are more makeshift in nature—stalls are set up under the trees or by the pedestrian walkways.
In fact, it looks like a fair ground. It is late evening, the sky is dark, and since the place isn’t lit up generously with lamps, there lingers a sense of candle light atmosphere. The moving bodies of people look like silhouettes.
And it’s shocking to see so many people collected together in these times of pandemic.
But worry not. The feeling of dense crowd is an illusion, probably arising from the fact that one is hardly used to seeing people in large groups anymore. Actually, this open plaza outside Hanuman Mandir in Connaught Place would be peopled with ten times this number during the pre-corona era.
Here, one can feel the attempts of the metropolis to find its footing after many many months of corona-driven hibernation.
Old landmarks are back to functioning. Netaji chai stall is decked up with a wall of earthen cups, the stall owner is wearing a Gandhi cap, with his customers (masked, most of them) sitting in a semi-circle with their glasses of steaming hot adrak chai.
Some distance away the person manning the Sri Banke Bihari litti chokha stall is trying to hand over a fresh plate of his littis to a customer having a heated conversation on her mobile phone.
A mehendi walla is crying out to the passersby to dye their hands with henna.
And the air is filled up with the hushed sounds of various people. Everyone seems to be talking in a low whisper, as if being loud might shatter this fragile normalcy.
The raison d’être of the plaza, the Hanuman Mandir, is open to worshippers again. The sound of bells and prayers are streaming out from the temple and wafting across the place.
Meanwhile, here and there one can spot the solitary people in various stages of emotional and material despair. Each of them silent, sheltered in their own private refuges. In the BC (before corona) days, many would depend on donations by devotees heading to the temple. Many would sleep at night in the plaza itself. How has the life altered for them during these trying months, one wonders.
Suddenly, an elderly woman in white sari, who was so far sitting quietly on a bench, starts to shout. It is not clear what she is saying. Tattoo stall owners nearby look at her indulgently, without offering any word themselves, as if they were used to her rages.
Not far away stands a multiplex. The wall beside the closed ticket window is decked with a poster of the yet-to-be-released James Bond film. It was originally supposed to be screened in April. It is called No Time to Die.
New evening, with glimpses of old