City Landmark – Turkman Gate, Old Delhi
The world of a living monument.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Some beautiful places don’t have true beauty. Old Delhi’s Turkman Gate is that kind of a place. It is suffused with sadness.
Take this chilly evening. A man in torn shirt and pants is lying inert on the tiny paved plaza in front of the stone gateway. He is barefoot. Flies are perched on his closed eyelids. He suddenly stirs, turns to the other side, slowly opens his eyes. The flies fly away. He looks on, expressionlessly. Some steps away, another citizen—he is sitting on the dusty ground, his back resting against the gateway’s fence, his right leg entirely bandaged, except for the tips of his toes. He too is silent, his face expressionless.
Turkman Gate often becomes a daytime refuge to citizens without a home, or relations, or friends. The Mughal-era monument remains empty within, but its outside pulsates with many shades of life. Not all aspects are grim. Citizens from the vicinity at times sit on the low platform stretched along the gateway’s fence, chatting, cursing, laughing, texting, spitting, reading, smoking, sleeping, eating, waiting, watching. But the circumstances of the lonesome homeless citizens, who find a fleeting shelter in the facing plaza, represents a tragic reality of the city.
Old Delhi’s greatly diminished boundary wall originally had 14 gateways. Each was named for the direction it faced, except for one. This gate was named after the Sufi saint Hazrat Shah Turkman Bayabani. One of the four gateways to have survived, it is flanked by a police post, and stands at the border of Old and New Delhi, just like its surviving counterparts—Ajmeri Gate and Dilli Gate (the third, Kashmere Gate, is towards the north side). But Ajmeri Gate lies ignored outside the maniacally busy New Delhi railway station, Dilli Gate stands humiliated as a traffic island, and the secluded Kashmere Gate is tucked away at the far end of a corner yard.
At Turkman Gate, an elderly shoeshine man and a woman flower-seller used to set up their pavement stalls here every day. The shoeshine man is no longer seen, the flower seller has died. In the ongoing winter, however, a seasonal migrant from Kashmir sells dry fruit in the evening, while the other side of the gateway is lined by a group of beggars, one of whom is a woman with two children.
As the evening lengthens, the rush hour traffic intensifies. The air is smoggier. The sun, setting beyond the Ramlila Ground, is looking pale. A barefoot man comes over and sits by the fence, expressionlessly.