City Landmark – Phool Mandi, Daryaganj
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Parisian Cobblestones, shot in 1931. It is one of the most iconic photographs by Brassai, the celebrated chronicler of nighttime Paris.
Our Delhi is not Brassai’s Paris. But this place in our city comes very close to that great photo. Here, on the ground beneath your feet, you shall find the exact pattern of Brassai’s cobblestones (Google it). This is Daryaganj, at the Phool Mandi.
The name suggests that the Mandi, market, must be selling phool, flowers. But very many Old Delhi dwellers flock to the Mandi early in the morning to get fresh vegetables, which arrive straight from the Azadpur Subzi Mandi in the north of the city, where they arrive daily from various parts of the country. Busy in the transactions, neither the sellers nor the shoppers take any note of the exceptionally beautiful cobbled ground.
“These stones?” exclaims Naeem. A trader, his stall is the first one at the Mandi. “I have heard from our elderly that these stones are more than a hundred years old.” Naeem confirms that, originally, this was a market for flowers. “But there is more money in vegetables… flowers haven’t been seen here for 60 years.”
Cobbled pathways exist elsewhere in the city too, such as in the newly redeveloped circle at the Mandi House, and along the fashionable back-lane of Khan Market. But only in Phool Mandi these cobblestones look so rooted to the soil, like an integral part of the landscape, showing no sign that they were put up to produce some artificial beauty.
The place fascinates even without the cobblestones. The entrance as narrow as a chicken neck abruptly opens into an airy plaza with a great view of the sky, a rarity in the cramped Walled City.
This afternoon, the busiest time of the bazar’s day is over. Most merchants are sitting idle, beside tall mounds of onions and potatoes. A labourer is hauling a gigantic sack of garlic on his back. The cobblestones are encrusted here and there with the crushed remains of stray vegetables, run over many times by the hurry-hurry feet of the Mandi people.
Photographer Brassai was an ardent devotee of French writer Marcel Proust. The cobblestones of Paris hold a special place in Proust’s famous book, In Search of Lost Time. In one scene, towards the end of the 7-volume novel, the narrator stumbles on the crooked cobblestones of a courtyard, has an epiphany with the release of involuntary memories, which triggers him to finally start writing his novel — essentially, Proust’s novel.
So when you walk on the cobbled ground of Phool Mandi, you are at once connected to Paris, to Proust, to Brassai and to Old Delhi.
Proust, Brassai, Paris, Delhi