City Walk – Old Houses of Jangpura, Central Delhi
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The door is stained with tiny shreds of old peeling paint. The latch is entwined into a small lock so rusty that it has gone red. Green plants are growing uncut right on the front. Studded with unshining brasses, this is a traditional wood door you might chance upon in Old Delhi, or in any other historic neighbourhood such as Mehrauli. But this is the more modern Jangpura, where the closest thing to a monument is perhaps the Eros Cinema (since 1956).
The door adorns a ramshackle wall, and is flanked by objects of utmost artlessness. On the left is a window blocked with plywoods. On the right is a metallic door.
The lane otherwise consists of low altitude multi-storey housing. The worlds of these flats are typical Jangpura scenes, giving the neighbourhood its cozy domesticity. Clothes on the washing lines, and elderlies sitting on balconies with cups of chai or slices of cucumbers. Here and there the ho-hum sequence of friendly homes is punctuated with a beauty parlour or a grocery. But the fascinating door stands out like a misfit. The silent building appears to be uninhabited, until an ordinary door on the far side of the wall opens and a man emerges. He is wearing a large heart-shaped locket. “I live here… I’m a musician.” Offering no other detail, he disappears again. The encounter is like a fairy tale, as unreal as the doorway.
But this edifice is an integral element of the Jangpura reality. A casual walk along the alleys takes the visitor to a few other similar samples of derelict architecture. All other such houses this reporter saw happen to be vacant and weedy. No living thing to be seen except lizards and ants. Who lived in these places? When were they built? Where do their inheritors live now? The story of each of these places seems as endangered as the barely existing structures standing on these sites. One particular turning leads to a mansion with a most beautiful window, completely cobwebbed. The building is screened off from the street by a blue metallic barrier. A passerby informs that it is to be replaced by an apartment complex.
You ought to make a pilgrimage to these timeworn beauties. They already look like they have lost the ‘jang’ to time, no longer belonging to this world.
Jangpura’s disappearing beauties