City Neighbourhood – Ganj Meer Khan, Old Delhi
A place-name in the Walled City.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The suburbs are wild with five-storied housings, dwarfed by even taller multistories. But this five-storey is looming Everest-like in Old Delhi’s cramped, narrow Ganj Meer Khan, where it came up some years ago. Oddly, the modern-day stalagmite looks rooted to the centuries-old neighbourhood, its ground level hosting the services of a butcher, a cook, a pharmacist.
Some distance ahead the street-side debris of an old house, which locals say fell some years ago, too looks rooted to the land, a part of the texture of Ganj Meer Khan’s daily life. This afternoon, passers-by are passing by with no one looking at the surreal sight of an entire house in heap. See photo.
Located close to the Walled City’s vanished city wall, Ganj Meer Khan is crammed with buildings rich in minute detailing. One brick wall is rendered extraordinary by its tiny curtained door paired with a tiny curtained window. One building has its gateway crisscrossed with open-ended wooden boxes, each box a house for pigeon. One street-facing workshop looks utterly unremarkable, but the interiors are exceptionally serene. The dimly lit room is filled neatly with discarded car spares parts, the air is scented with the perfume of agarbatti. Two young machine repairers are at work. The workshop’s walls are of unpainted raw bricks; each wall is bearing a large cemented taak, that old-fashioned niche to keep household stuff, a disappearing element in hyperlocal architecture.
There must actually be many taaks in Ganj Meer Khan, for the entire street is lined with very many old houses. At least one of these has the scope of a mansion. It also has a courtyard. It belonged to great Persian scholar Yunus Jaffery. After his passing, his thoughtful generous family, instead of hoarding the scholar’s many super-precious books, donated them to the city’s college libraries.
Not far from the late scholar’s house, a veteran street dweller is perched on a parked scooter, watching the street life. He asserts that Ganj Meer Khan was named after a Mughal-era noble, and that the area was originally a village that happened to sit on the Walled City’s sarhad, or border. “It was like Shahjahanbad’s suburb,” he remarks casually. The argument makes the aforementioned five-storey—the kind so common in Delhi suburbs—-looks even more at home in Meer Khan.