It’s something we decide to do every year, but often miss out on. This year, we pushed to catch the tail end of the Ramzan nocturnal revelries at the Jama Masjid in Shahjahanabad, Old Delhi. For Rahul, the food is the primary attraction; for me, it is the vibrant street life and an opportunity to wield my camera and simply see a life so unlike mine!
We went in a group of eight, some who had never been to the old city before. I savored the sights and smells, enjoyed the feeling of being lost in a crowd, the feeling of being welcomed by those who knew we were coming in from the outside to partake in their celebration. There is always an element of nostalgia for me, during these trips. Memories of early explorations of Shahjahanabad when I studied in SPA in the ’90s as well as memories of childhood trips to the older parts of Lucknow, which are similar in feel though not in architecture.
I feel, not merely discomfort, but a profound sense of sadness when Hindu friends make veiled derogatory references to Islam in the context of visits such as these. What we experienced last evening was the vibrant expression of a culture, that extends beyond the mere boundaries of religion. It is akin to being absorbed by the Kumbh or the Pushkar Mela. It is living heritage, one that is constantly under threat from change, yet one that is constantly evolving to absorb change.
The evening progressed. Food and plenty of laughter, random meanderings amid families shopping in a frenzy before Eid, watching a mobile phone thief being caught and mobbed and led away, children manning parantha stalls, youngsters looking for the best food deals, the homeless sleeping on the pavements oblivious of the ruckus all around, and then, a crazy taxi ride back home listening to the non-stop entertaining chatter of a Vijay Singh Rajput, our cabbie who had an opinion on everything and a certain way with words! An evening well spent indeed!
Sharing some images, so you can also take a sneek peek!
A balmy breeze blows at me as I stand at Chandni Chowk watching the world go by. Some of the world is rushing back home, for others the job of unloading and loading goods still goes on and others seem to have just stepped out of home to sample the pleasures of the day. Shouting, bargaining, laughing and daydreaming people all co-exist in this place that is chaotic and timeless at the same time!
We have spent a few hours in Kuncha Mahajani parlaying with a wholesale diamond and gold jewellery merchant. Before that, we meandered through Kinari Bazaar, buying odds and ends. Grand old buildings, dilapidated and yet in better shape, outshine the newer monstrosities here. Glimpses of decently preserved streets tantalise me, but there is a momentum I am loathe to break to the human and non-human traffic that flows through the gales, kunchas and katras of Shahjahanabad.
An empty road in Gurgaon feels stressful, I thought, while a chock full bust full gali here feels restful, so measured and practised is the pace of life here. Even the contractor who stands beside me shouted at his labourer, a wizened old man, with practised ease, ordering him back to work because he stole a few moments of rest.
I imagined the street in its original glory, with a water body running down the centre. In my mind’s eye, I hear the sounds of the Azan, the tinkling of ghungroos and the whispered murmurings of a time long gone by, smell the fragrance of fresh flowers and ittar. I return to the present and smile. My city is beautiful still.
I am always up for a jaunt to Old Delhi. Today’s trip was made possible by an opportunity to interact with third year students of architecture in Guru Gobind Singh University that is located inside the Ambedkar University campus at Kashmiri Gate.
Perched atop a cycle ricksha from the Metro station to the campus, I took in this quaint part of the city with unabashed curiosity. St James Church, sections of the old city wall, run down but still beautiful buildings replete with rounded edges and the wrought iron details stared back.
Inside the campus, I saw structures that are quainter still. Including the building that houses the archaeology department and the Dara Shukoh library that had a colonial facade and Shahjahani cusped arches inside!
The interaction with the kids was invigorating and layered, and I was satisfied that I could provide some valuable inputs. The walk back to the station through back lanes revealed some decaying structures, the underbelly of the city and some interesting stray dogs! All in an afternoon’s work!
On the ride back, interestingly, I struck up a conversation with a European lady who had lived in this city for six years. We discussed whether Old Delhi would get gentrified soon, how the redevelopment process could be managed to conserve its unique character and how lucrative property values could simply ruin its fabric once the old structures started falling down! Urban redevelopment is what the kids I had just spoken to were also addressing in their studio project. How complex and unresolvable the problems appear and yet, there is a need to take a stand, have a vision for different parts of the city. The sheer enjoyment of the experience of the trip to Kashmiri Gate today and the sharp contrast from the urban fabric of Gurgaon underlines the need for us to conserve older and historic parts of the city. So we can experience the past in the present and take pride in our ability to enjoy multiple slices of time in our city.