City Hangout – Meena Bazar, Old Delhi
The Other Chandni Chowk.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
These days people are composing new ballads for Chandni Chowk. The refurbished avenue has become more pedestrian-friendly for the Walled City aficionados. The change is believed to have accentuated the enjoyment of the district’s signature pleasures—the shops and eateries, the havelis and shrines, the idyllic view of the Red Fort on one side, and of the Fatehpuri Masjid on the facing side.
You’ll be surprised to discover that there’s another Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi. It is not called by this name, but the resemblance is like of a conjoined twin. Here also are very many shops. This too is very pedestrian-friendly (since a long time!). The signature pleasures include a view of the Red Fort on one side, and of Delhi’s greatest mosque on the facing side.
The Meena Bazar extends from Netaji Marg to the Jama Masjid (gate no. 2). It skirts past the garden-mausoleum of freedom fighter Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. The market bustles with a smorgasbord of distractions, diverse enough to give Chandni Chowk an inferiority complex. Consider the stuff on display in the pavement stalls today—jackets, coconuts, towels, wrist watches, chhole bhature, shawls, shoes, overcoats, camera chips, skirts, leggings, haleem, mobile phone screen protections, hats, dolls, laptop chargers, leather belts, peanut chikkis, suits, teddy bears, scarves, computer mouses, biryani, bed sheets, ear danglers, old coins, cassette recorders, channa jor garam, perfumes, machine ka thanda pani, ear phones, cotton candy, wigs… an exhaustive list might fill up at least half the page of a newspaper.
The bazaar also happens to be the only location in Old Delhi that showcases the frontal prospect of the Jama Masjid; this is the only side of the 17th century monument unencumbered by Walled City’s chaotic architecture. This market lane was the official route of the Mughal emperors to stage a royal procession from their residence in the Red Fort to the Jama Masjid. The area was then known as Khas Bazar, and in ordinary days it would teem with jugglers, dancers and magicians strutting their skills to the awestruck travellers.
This evening the lane is crowded with shoppers trying out sweater/jacket/sandal, etc. The red sandstone mosque is shrouded in winter smog, and appears grainy as if it were an apparition of golden dust. Even so, one can clearly identify the sweeping staircase, the doorway, the minarets, the dome, and the pigeons flying about the dome. Soon the sun starts to set behind the mosque. While a half-moon surfaces in another part of the sky.
Chandni Chowk’s name suggests that it glows with moonlight. Any nighttime visitor there will tell you that this is factually incorrect. But the bazaar here does glow in a full moon night. May be it is a truer Chandni Chowk.
The Mughal way