Mission Delhi – Immortal Rooster, Chitli Qabar Chowk
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[By Mayank Austen Soofi]
Times change. But things remain. Just like Old Delhi’s nameless but immortal rooster.
Until before the pandemic arrived in early 2020, this rooster’s world had an unremarkable routine. Everyday, Muhammed Aijaz “Chickenwale” would run his knife through some 50 chickens in his busy meat shop in Chitli Qabar Chowk, while this wooden rooster, beautifully polished, would grace a pride-of-place spot in a corner, like a drawing-room showpiece.
The rooster was actually destined for Paris. Some years ago, a French student at Delhi University received it as a gift from her philosophy professor. It was meant for the student’s mother in Montparnasse, Paris, who collected wooden roosters from around the world. But the night before her departure from Delhi, the student realised that the rooster just wouldn’t fit into her luggage. She guiltily left it behind with a friend in the Walled City. He tossed it into garbage, but his neighbour retrieved it, and gifted it to the friendly “Bhai Aijaz”.
And so the rooster, intended to adorn a Parisian apartment, instead passed its days at the Walled City shop, perched atop cages packed with chickens.
The second pivotal event concerning the rooster took place last year in June when the meat shop’s owner died from heart failure, aged 56. The business was taken over by his son, Muhammed Shariq, but the shop never regained its pre-pandemic buzz. The young man would be seen sitting idle with a few chickens hopping inside the cages. Meanwhile, the rooster disappeared from view.
A month ago, the wind of change blew again. The enterprising Shariq, who once convinced his father to turn the paan shop into a meat shop, now converted the meat shop into a grocery, and had it inaugurated by the local municipal councillor. This afternoon, the place is looking completely transformed, gleaming with a new wallpaper. The chicken cages have given way to packets of KricKket (sic) chocolates, Maggi noodles, Nihari masala… but where’s the old rooster?
Shariq instantly stretches his arm towards an upper shelf. The next moment, he is holding the rooster, coated in dust, which wafts towards the street like slow-moving winter mist. The new grocer now gladly poses with his late father’s prized possession, a souvenir of lasting continuity in his rapidly changing world.
[This is the 456th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
Woman on the bench