City Life – Mirza Brothers’ Picnic Memories, Old Delhi & Mehrauli
Their tik tok days.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The yellow line Delhi metro connects historic Old Delhi to historic (and far older) Mehrauli. Long ago, horse-driven tongas routinely rattled between these two distant places. A tradition among the Walled City dwellers was to board a Mehrauli-bound tonga for the purpose of day-long picnics.
Such outings exclusively unfolded in the monsoon season, observe the Mirza brothers. In their 50s, Saeed (left) and Fareed are sitting in their building-material shop that overlooks a madly chaotic Walled City street. They exploit the easy-going evening hour to summon the tonga excursions of their childhood.
The brothers were among eight siblings. Father Muhammed Mirza was a desi ghee trader, and mother Malika Mahal Nigar administered the house. “In the rainy season, the sighting of a clear sky helped choose the day when we could go to Mehrauli… this is what Dehli ke log would do,” says Saeed. The night before the picnic, all the children would be too excited to sleep. By 7am, the party would reach the bar ka per, the neighbourhood banyan tree, under which the tongas used to be parked.
The picnic hamper always included three things: rawa maida paratha, hari mirch ka keema and sarauli mangoes, which would be crammed in a copper bucket lined with ice slabs.
Finally, the tonga would tik tok from Turkman Gate to Dilli Gate to ITO to Lodhi Road to Safdarjung’s Tomb to Hauz Khas to Adhchini to Mehrauli. “That New Delhi was not this New Delhi,” points out Fareed. “We passed through sunsan sarke (empty avenues) and were thrilled to spot an occasional car… on nearing Hauz Khas, the road cut through farm fields.”
In Mehrauli, the tonga would stop by the grassy ground at Jahaz Mahal, beside Shamsi lake. “We children would quickly tie our swings about the tree branches and play on the jhoola for hours. At some point the grownups would unroll the chandni, the cloth of pure white cotton, on the ground, and spread a dastarkhan over it,” recalls Saeed. Following the lunch, the family would hop on to the tonga, and stop to offer prayers at the Sufi shrine of Mehrauli’s Hazrat Khwaja Qutubbudin Bakhtiyar Kaki. “On the journey back, we would quickly fall asleep,” says Fareed.
As the evening lengthens, the brothers continue exchanging notes on their long-ago Mehrauli outings.