Mission Delhi – Naushe Bhai, Chitli Qabar Chowk
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
A wine-brown mongoose dashes off as a bow from an arrow, followed by a man with a bundle half his size, followed by a boy carrying a pigeon in each hand, followed by an E-rickshaw over-filled with giant cooking degs, followed by an old dog looking up to know whom to bark at and when, followed by a middle-aged man carrying a tray of chai glasses, followed by an elderly gent selling Jawahar cut jackets, followed by a cart puller hauling a plastic-wrapped mattress, followed by a scowling chacha in Kashmiri pheran, followed by a man dragging a tall goat by her flappy ear, followed by a knife sharpener with a bicycle, followed by a blind beggar crooning a tearjerker, followed by two school girls in red blazer, followed by a man carrying a cooking gas cylinder on his shoulder, followed by a man spitting out a red paan spray. And in this zigzagging fast-flowing river of eclectic humanity, one human is staying as steady as a lighthouse in a stormy sea.
Usman—everybody calls him Naushe Bhai—is a merchant of artificial jewellery in Old Delhi’s Chitli Qabar Chowk. His showroom comprises a portion of the street wall. This afternoon, the display on this small tiled patch includes chawal chain (because each little piece resembles chawal, or rice grain), dal chain, patta chain, jhumki, baliyan, kangan. All of this is gold-coloured, all comes from Rajkot and Mumbai. The display “window” is the outer wall of the dargah of Hazrat Chitli Qabar, the sufi shrine that gives its name to the busy chowk. The shrine is only slightly larger than the tiny button shop, nearby, of the super-amiable Buttonwale brothers. The plastic-wrapped chandelier inside the dargah emits a fuzzy white glow within the dark, musty tomb chamber. Naushe Bhai sits right at the shrine’s door, awaiting customers. Occasionally he bends sidewards to make way for a pilgrim wanting to enter. As the dargah’s unofficial caretaker, the quiet-natured trader possesses a “duplicate” key, and locks its door every night at 10, before walking back to home in Lal Kuan. (While winding down his stall at day’s end, he re-fills his metal trunk with his unsold merchandise, and keeps the trunk inside the shrine.)
Although Naushe Bhai’s establishment is intricately embroidered into the texture of Chitli Qabar’s daily life, it is not that old. He opened it 12 years ago. Earlier, he owned a tailoring “factory” in Karol Bagh, with a dozen “karigar” working for him. “I was betrayed in karobar,” he mutters in sadness.
By now, it is 3.30pm. Naushe Bhai leans inside the shrine, picks up his lunch box from a corner and settles down to kofte, aloo bhaji and rotis, prepared by wife, Mumtaz. The Chitli Qabar muggles continue to flood the street.
[This is the 526th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
Chitli’s Naushe Bhai