City Life – Gali Haveli Azam Khan, Old Delhi
Street out of a mansion.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The word is spreading along the galis and kuchas. A new eatery is rustling out unorthodox dishes like “chicken white sauce pasta” and “chicken red sauce pasta.” The modernistic Al-Umar Foods is fitted with metallic cooking panels and sleek white lighting. It opened a week back in Gali Haveli Azam Khan, replacing the old-fashioned Saeed Hair Cutting Saloon, which moved some lanes away to Kucha Mir Hashim.
Traditionalists need not fret. For now, most of Azam Khan is staying loyal to its golden era souvenirs. Khalil Bhai’s chai khana teems with hyperlocal poets dissecting chalu Hindi film songs as passionately as they do ghazals and nazms of our immortal poets. Raees Bhai’s pakori stall commands a cult following for its anda pakore and keeme ki goli. Ameer Sweet House is esteemed for its flaky khajlas. Impressive Hair Cut Salon enjoys its status as the preferred hangout of Maiku, the alley cat who walks stiffly with tail on high. Hakeem Mannan’s establishment too is thriving–right now the healer is treating street recycler Monis’s injured foot. Then there is Rahman Ali, the graceful gentleman in white kurta pajama, who sits by the stately sheesham door, attending to his minuscule machine-repair workshop. While footwear craftsmen Shyam is stationed just around the corner, mending the soles of Azam Khan citizens. And Firoz Akhlaq Zarrah circumcision clinic, directly opposite Noor Mahal Delicious Omelette Corner, turns heads because of the larger-than-life portrait of its founder, the late Akhlaq. This evening, his grandson, Zubi, is sitting under the portrait. See photo.
Without doubt, the star of the street is Shabrati Nihari Wale, since 1957. Loyalists from far-flung Gurgaon and Hapur make a pilgrimage to cramped Azam Khan solely for Shabrati’s Mughlai treats. (During the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, it shattered many hearts by briefly turning into a grocery)
The entire locality originally comprised of the sprawling haveli of Mughal-era noble Azam Khan. That mansion survive today mostly in fragments—-as orphaned doors, windows and balconies. These assertions are insisted upon by biryani cook Muhammed Anwar. (The elderly man’s easy smile is as calming as champi tel malish, at once making one forget all the anxieties.) He points to an aged building—it has 10 rooms, each housing a separate family. One of these is shared by 11 people—mother, father, three sons, three daughters and three grandchildren—plus a goat, a parrot, a refrigerator, a washing machine and a kerosene stove.
Another distinguished address in Azam Khan is an ordinary-seeming residence with an extraordinary name plate—Nawab Sehra Wale. He specialises in flower veils for dulha and dulhan, as well as “bed decoration” for the just-married.