Mission Delhi – Isak Ali, Basant Lok Market
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
See the top photo, clicked a decade ago. See the photo below. Snapped this week, same place.
Then there was a bookstore, Fact & Fiction. A shoe showroom stands on its place.
Note the same man in both pictures.
Isak Ali endures as a longtime living landmark of Basant Lok. Almost everything has changed in this south Delhi market during the time elapsed between the two photos. “At night, I sleep in this same corridor,” he mutters, explaining vaguely that he gets by with the “generosity” of people.
Isak Ali recalls that in the old times he would often spend his day sitting outside Fact & Fiction. “I knew the face of almost every bookstore regular.” Back then, Basant Lok bustled with great crowds, he remarks. Long queues formed up outside the Priya cinema at the start of each show. Shops and cafés were packed from noon to night. “The market was like a mall before there was any mall in Delhi.” Isak Ali particularly misses the bouncers of a daytime disco that stood close to the bookstore. “Those bouncers were my friends.”
A native of Badayun, he visits his parents twice a year, “but Basant Lok is my true home.” He waves towards the nearby McDonald’s—the burger chain’s first outlet in India. “That building is being renovated.”
Isak Ali now falls silent, his lingering presence a source of steadiness in our furiously altering world.
[This is the 511th portrait of Mission Delhi project]