City Walk – Gali Sui Walan, Old Delhi
The street of the tailor’s needle.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Thickness of a hair; tiny opening at one end. It is the sui, the tailor’s needle, and this barely tangible thing lends its name to this super-bustling Old Delhi street.
But Gali Sui Walan ought to be called Gali Roti Wale. So many roti bakeries here: Bhaijaan Roti Wale, Bhoore Khan Roti Wale (the owner, Bhoore Khan, wears Lucknowi white kurtas), Raees Dhaba (it also serves nihari after 7.30pm), Babulal Hotel (unlike other roti places that make tandoori roti, it specialises in handkerchief-thin roomali roti). The last of these places bears the publicity banner of Bhai Yaseen Gusal Wale, a 24-hour funeral facility in Pahari Imli promising free service for “poor people and children.”
Or perhaps this street could have been named Gali Khane Wali. So many eateries for khana (no peena). Some of these places are Walled City icons: Abdul Ghaffar Nahari Wale, Abdul Ghaffar Chicken Biryani Wale, Al Arhaan Bakery, Bhai Kamil Paratha Wale, King of Paranthe, Mamu Javed Biryani, Kale Baba Kabab Waley, and Islam Hotel. The last of these prohibits diners to share from a single serving of gravy—“Ek saalan mein do aadmi ka khana mana hai.”
Sui or needle happens to be a tailor’s traditional tool. And it must be mentioned that Gali Sui Walan has four—only four—tailoring establishments—Malik New Fashion Tailoring House, Romana Ladies Tailor (beside Pathan Wali Masjid), Royal Tailors & Drapers, and Welcome Tailors. The last is manned by the venerable Arafeen (see photo) whose manners are as finely delicate as the best Dhakai malmal. This afternoon, though busy with his sewing machine, he condescends to disclose the story behind the street’s name, his version that is. “Gali Sui Walan acquired its name from a karkhana in the nearby Gali Takhat Wali that used to manufacture sui.”
In his 60s, Arafeen says his father Islamuddin had founded this tailoring enterprise more than 50 years ago. The shop looks ordinary until you notice its old hoarding— depicting the word ‘Welcome’ in Urdu calligraphy. Arafeen talks of the Sui Walan tailors of yesteryears, who, like his father, have departed. These were distinguished craftsmen extremely skilled in their art, he gently asserts, invoking the names of a few of those—Yaseen Master, Suleman Master, Babbu Master and Arif Master.
Amused on being photographed, Arafeen eventually returns his attention to the sewing machine, giving final touch to a customer’s “pleat wali” electric grey trousers. The machine’s droning sound is drowned out by the gali’s ear splitting cacophony.