City Landmark – Agrawal Sari Emporium, Chirag Delhi Village
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Delhi, a city of monuments. One gets tired of the adage. But its true. So many forts, so many tombs. More thrilling is when you land into a place that looks cent percent contemporary, yet contains too much past.
Agrawal Sari Emporium epitomises such a landmark. It is on an ordinary lane in Chirag Delhi village, crammed with hundreds of saris and a dozen mannequins. The couple running the shop—Neeraj Agrawal and wife Rekha—chat with customers as cordially as distant relatives encountered in a wedding. This afternoon they guide their visitor into the small “kotha” at the showroom’s far-end—a small store crammed with sari packages. Neeraj looks up at the ceiling: “Its daab ki chhat, the ceiling is not made of stone or cement, but of choona, and dates from my grandfather’s grandfather’s time.” He taps on the wall: “This too is of choona, 24 inches thick. You don’t see such walls now.”
The Chirag Delhi village is choc-a-block with history, but most buildings bear an everyday modernity. This couple exercised a different choice by not tempering with the old structure. Neeraj explains. “Our elders built a more sensible relationship with the architecture. Why should we destroy that?” He notes that the shop’s original construct is respectful to Delhi’s extreme climate. “No AC here, yet it doesn’t get hot even in the peak summer. In extreme cold, the shop stays less cold.”
Even so, the place has undergone changes over the centuries. The sari showroom came up in the 1990s, Neeraj says. His father was a maths teacher in a government school, and his grandfather was a Persian teacher in a madrasa. “Earlier, our family ran a dairy here, buffaloes would be tied to stakes right where I’m sitting… we also sold tobacco.” Further back in time, the place was full of camels. “My forefathers were grain merchants, they employed the camels to get the grains from Gurgaon and Tauru.”
Digging deep into the history of his showroom’s site, Neeraj lists the names of its previous owners. He starts from his great-grandfather’s great-grandfather’s father: “Kuramal, Muralidhar, Ballemal, Moolchand, Shiv Chand, Naresh Agrawal, myself Neeraj Agrawal, and my sons, Kshitij and Anant, are the next inheritors.”