City Walk – Narrow Lane, Hazrat Khwaja Mir Dard Colony
A passage to life.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Delhi encompasses millions of us, nameless masses. But know better: our lives might be countless but they are as distinct, rich and profound as any epic. And they vividly play out on the city’s millions of streets.
Somehow this spirit of our city shines in a narrow lane where two women are sitting, soaking themselves in the warm November sunshine. This alley vividly showcases the minutiae of the relationship we citizens unconsciously strike with what is, basically, an infrastructural amenity, connecting our intimate hyperlocal neighbourhoods to the vast, baggy impersonal metropolis.
The lane starts on a broad pavement in central Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru Road. It faces the sprawling grounds of Ramilila Maidan but ends in a basti so constricted that sunlight is more or less blocked; definitely a benefit during the steamy summer months, definitely a liability in the chilly winter months.
With high walls topped by barbed wire, the straight passageway can be negotiated in a minute, leaving you in the maha-congested Hazrat Khwaja Mir Dard Colony. It is disorienting to be transported so swiftly from a totally open space into a totally packed place. Even so, all day long, the colony dwellers pass along the corridor—going out/coming in—sometimes halting for a chat with an acquaintance. The traffic varies with the hours. The afternoon is usually filled with the rushing footsteps of returning school children.
Of the two aforementioned women (see photo), Chhoti is massaging her hair with coconut oil. Ummida is motionless. They aren’t Mir Dard dwellers, and come daily from Jaffrabad to beg here. Chhoti says: “I have five daughters, and my leg has given up. There is no other way for me to earn.” Ummida says: “My son, the one who earned, is in jail. I have stomach cancer. I’m undergoing treatment at Rajiv Gandhi Cancer institute.”
Moments later, a woman passes by, without slowing down by Chhoti and Ummida. She is followed by a man carrying a stack of files on his shoulder, followed by a man in earphones, followed by a thin brown dog, ambling along aimlessly. Many residents, a colony grocer says, work as mechanics, waiters, cooks, and tailors.
The lane used to be decked with pink bougainvilleas, but today no blossoms are seen. They aren’t as missed as you think they’d be. A preoccupied passerby enters from the broad pavement, and hurriedly walks on, leaving behind the hugeness of Delhi to his destination in the cramped colony.