City Walk – Ghamand Sarai Street, Gurgaon
True paradise is the paradise lost.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Some believe a land becomes our own only after its soil grows fertile with our memories. A city too begins to truly belong to us only after our beloved places in it cease to exist. Such disappeared markers (cafés, cinema halls, bargain stores) eventually fade out of Google maps, but never from our private biography. Here is a lane in the megapolis that throbs with similar absences—in this case, of two chai stalls, and of an elderly citizen.
The street lies in Gurgaon’s Sadar Bazar, adorned with the old Ghamand Sarai gateway.
The most striking aspect of Raja Tea Stall was the silbatta, the grinder to crush the ginger. It looked like one of those polished stones children pick up from river banks. The other eye catcher was an account pad scrawled with the chai man’’s handwriting. The stall’s only furniture was a chair. Random passers-by settled down on it unconsciously, sometimes while talking on their mobiles, like passengers drifting towards an unoccupied chair in an airport lounge.
The chai here was onion-scented. Because the unnnamed tea stall shared its space with an onion warehouse. The young owner proudly boasted that his UP village lay between the great pilgrimages of Kashi and Prayagraji,—“I’m from a place where Sita mayya went under the earth.” A small wooden temple was clamped on the blue wall behind the counter; the presiding idol of Durga was consoling, as if the smiling goddess were here to annihilate all the anxieties of our daily life.
Budhram was as much the street’s living landmark, as the street’s Ghamand Sarai gateway. He ram a stall of secondhand men’s dhotis right under the weatherbeaten edifice. Greatly resembling the fatherly figure of late actor Om Prakash, the aged man would talk in awe of the street’s aged gateway, saying that it neither had cement, nor any sariya to support it, but that it was all stone. Budhram inherited the stall from his father. Maujilal, who was from Delhi’s Paharganj, and had settled in Gurgaon before the independence in 1947. Budhram died shortly before the coronavirus entered our world.