City Walk – Gali Nawab Mirza, Old Delhi
A secretive lane.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The door is half-open. Inside, bright daylight is descending chup-chaap from the steep staircase, fading into a cooling darkness on nearing the floor. A young man is standing mutely by the stairs.
Also silent, this empty lane. Gali Nawab Mirza is an impasse, culminating into a residential block.
The March afternoon is sunny, but the sunshine is struggling to penetrate into the gali’s tunnel-like narrowness. The high walls on both sides are speckled with shuttered storefronts and doorways. One store is open. “Lathe machine” man Abdul Wahid is sitting inside, fiddling about his iron things. Springing up from his squatting position on the greased floor, his face bursts into a bright smile. He returns to his original posture an instant later, solemnly explaining the street-name of Nawab Mirza as an honorary title used for any “respectable rich man.”
It might be argued that the gali doesn’t really end in an impasse. The last doorway, opening into a multi-storey, extends the street into a dark musty corridor, which stretches out into a long, cobwebbed, windowless staircase that goes up through many dimly lit floors. The cloistered air is smelling of daal, dust, detergent, and damp towels. Each landing is crammed with a series of one-room flats. Outside the door of each flat: huge numbers of shoes and chappals, indicating the crowded nature of every household. Finally, after much huff and puff, the staircase ends at a rickety door, which creaks open into welcoming breeze and warm sunlight. This is a small roof, but so packed. Babu Kabutarbaaz is whistling and waving in a corner with hundreds of pigeons around him. Every inch of the floor is claimed by his birds. Like a practiced society host, he gamely introduces some of his pets: Kala Bhoora, Qasim Chowkidar, Kala Kalkotiya, Kagra, Latban, Sabas Khera, Chandna, and Kala Billa. “I feed them dry fruit daily,” he says.
Some time later, down in the street, a few schoolboys in blue shirts and grey pants raid Gali Nawab Mirza, disrupting its brittle peace with the clamour of their shoes and tongues. They soon disappear, swallowed by their homes. The gali is again enlivened with its lifelessness.