City Hangout – Secret Passageways, Connaught Place
Less seen spots.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Ducked in light and shade, some parts are refreshingly cool, some parts are on slow-roast. This arched passageway is breathtaking, evocative of the legendary arched bridge of Isfahan. Yet the place is the least explored aspect of Connaught Place (CP). It is among the four secretive alleys that punctuate the colonial-era colonnade of the Outer Circle, connecting the long market corridor to the Middle Circle within. These passages stay deserted however; the shoppers prefer crisscrossing the interstices of CP circles through more commerce-friendly courses, dense with showrooms and restaurants.
Even so, each passageway harbours a unique world. The one in N block has the landmark 60-year-old establishment of pavement barber Bengali Babu. He himself is 80. The 3pm sun today is blindingly white, but the arched portal is submerged in a relaxing darkness, as if it were an underground vault for summertime retreat. Clothed in white kurta-pajama, the white-haired barber is smoking a beedi with two other passageway entrepreneurs—“chabhi walla” Shamim and battery repairer Abbas. Their low-voiced gupshup is full of protracted pauses.
The passageway in M block is feeling more like an illusionist’s trick. At this hour, the tangible concrete of the place has vaporised into a sensation of light and shadows. The two shops on the side are barely noticeable: Rameshwar Dass & Sons General Merchants is fully shuttered, and Rameshwar Das Arun Kumar Stationery Electrics General Goods etc. (sic) is semi-shuttered. Now, four women stray into this secluded zone of chiaroscuro exhibit, and gamely agree to be snapped (Lavanya, Chahal, Manya and Urvita, all are students of Delhi University’s Kalindi College).
The unnamed kiosk at J block passageway always look buzzy, dishing out tea, coffee, juices and ice-cream shakes to Outer Circle loiterers. More distracting is the handwritten flier taped on an adjacent pillar. Its hand-drawn arrows point to a “sarkari sharab ki shop 25 steps away.” The same handwriting is also scrawled on the facing wall, but there it warns that “drinking is not allowed here.” Underneath, a mattress with pillow and blanket.
The final passageway, in G block, flaunts a souvenir of the pre-mobile era. A rusting MTNL plaque is engraved with the drawing of a landline telephone, paired with this piece of museum-grade info: “You can make local calls here.”