City Neighbourhood - Gali School Wali, Old Delhi

City Neighbourhood – Gali School Wali, Old Delhi

Lane of doorways.

[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Standing outside an archaic blue doorway, a man in blue (see photo) is singing a tragically worded lullaby, pleading for alms. He pauses, stands silently for some time, and walks away, going past a pink doorway, similarly patterned, past a green doorway, similarly patterned, past… oh well, this Walled City lane is extraordinary for being full of arched doorways. Each is an intricately detailed piece of art, many revealing a skeletal frame of slim narrow lakhori bricks, the building material of yesteryears.

The only structure in Gali School Wali that looks contemporary—meaning, as grey and featureless as any building—is the municipality-run school from which the gali gets its name. On a more considered appraisal, M.C.D Co-Ed Primary School’s gateway is the most alive building around, its monolithic metallic gate painted with images of boys in shorts and girls in frock, the educational slogans drawn in Hindi, Urdu and English. The school is much older than the building, an elderly passer-by remarks, calling himself a merchant of wedding cards.

Otherwise every second doorway in Gali School Wali is like an autonomous republic, permeated with its unique synthesis of virtues, wisdom, habits, containing a whole secret system of snug domesticated life, familiar only to the people living in the interiors behind. But not all houses appear inhabited. One latched doorway is covered with so much dust that it certainly hasn’t been touched for years. Another is sheathed with a maheen film of silken cobweb, reflecting rainbow colours under the afternoon sunshine.

On entering one of these grand doorways, the view turns out to be underwhelming, much like a traveller exiting out of a grandiose railway station only to find a small, dull, nondescript town. Perhaps not much of the original mansion survived the years. A long narrow corridor is lined on both sides with a series of rooms, each room being a separate residence, informs a man peeking out of a tatty threadbare curtain.

The gali goes past an ironing stall, a roti bakery, a grocery, a tailor’s establishment, a nihari eatery, and ends at Haveli Azam Khan Chowk. There, in Modern Tea House, poetry lover Ayub is smoking, the smoke-rings floating upwards slantingly, dissolving in the milk-scented air.