City Walk - An Alley, Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti

City Walk – An Alley, Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti

Midnight’s street.

[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]

The groceries, the veggie stalls, the lazy dogs, the cats, the rats, and us people. Everything’s ordinary along the street. Until it isn’t. The dull spell is broken on spotting a side-lane, intoxicated in a moody mix of light and shadow, concrete and colours.

It is midnight in central Delhi’s Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti. The 14th century enclave is crammed with historical as well as contemporary curiosities. The shrines, the tombs, the bakeries, and the perfumeries. This short narrow lane is not one of those. It is just another passage in the neighbourhood, flanked by doorways on one side and a bunch of water pipes on the other. The pièce de résistance is the short flight of stairs at the end of the lane, under a pink arch. The space beyond the staircase is flooded with pale white light. This light is streaming through the gateway, drawing a glowing pattern on the ground that mirrors the outline of the arched gateway. The pool of light is hypnotising, as if some sad spirit were waiting for redemption. Suddenly, a cool breeze rushes through the alley. A doorway curtain billows.

The alley is not the only one of its kind in the basti. The congested enclave is a warren of lanes where unusual panoramas pop up in the most common locales—a latched doorway walled with bricks, a niched taak laced with silken cobwebs, a tiny cemetery ringed by houses, a blind alley crisscrossed with intersecting facades, a calligraphed board warning of pickpockets, a wall-sized street mural depicting red roses, fading fast.

Truth be told, these isolated puddles of arresting scenes lie dispersed throughout the megapolis, stranded within everyday settings. All you have to do is step out for a stroll, and look around aimlessly. In Gurugram, one such scene is the cumulous sky reflecting off the glass windows of Golf Course Road high-rises. In Ghaziabad, it is a shepherd herding a multitude of wooly sheep through a housing sector lined with gated multistories.

Meanwhile, the passage beyond the mystical pool of light turns out to be ordinary. But it ends at a yard of stone graves, littered with empty cough syrup bottles and cigarette packs. This sight too stirs curiosity, making the passerby stop and study the surreal surroundings.