City Walk – Phatak Ram Kishan Dass, Old Delhi
A cold alley
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The air is stale and damp, like bathroom towel during the monsoon.
Phatak Ram Kishan Dass comprises of a dimly lit lane with no existing phatak, or gateway. The alley stretches inwards from the main street of Chitli Qabar Bazar, climaxing deep within its belly into two cul de sacs.
This afternoon, the lane is empty. The sunlit market outside appears as fantastical as a fairy tale scene. With a few exceptions, both sides of the passageway are lined with a series of shuttered fronts. Cobwebs have spawned out like a pandemic; their laceworks joining the walls, the windows and the electric meters into a single tapestry.
Stepping out of his workshop, silversmith Bashiruddin is dismissive of his street. “Go to Jama Masjid or Chandni Chowk. Nothing is here. We don’t even know who was Ram Kishan Dass.” He pauses, and resumes after a few moments, saying scornfully that “the new generation is totally ignorant.” In his workshop within, two men are crouched on the floor busy at work, while a young man is sitting on a chair, staring at his mobile phone screen.
Further along the lane, a dressing mirror is lying discarded by the side. The mirror is covered in dust. Elsewhere, a cook is fussing over a steaming cauldron. Beside him, a man in yellow track pants is half-lying on a scooter. He points to a window. “My nana started this (professional) kitchen in 1947.” He says his name is Sajid Bawarchi, and his cook’s name is also Sajid. The two Sajids laugh. Sajid, the owner, says he has no idea about the man who gave his name to the Phatak, but informs that the street is also known as Galli Kheerwali “because a shop used to make kheer.” That kheer place closed down long ago but the kheer walla’s descendants continue to live in the Phatak, he says.
Some steps away, a tethered little goat is watching the cauldron (see photo). A little girl walks to the goat, and pats the head. The goat jumps. The girl giggles.
This way to Phatak Ram Kishan Dass