October 7, 2017

Past perfect in Old Delhi

If you want to see the Delhi of old books and stories, spend a day in Purani Dilli.

The life in the lanes of Old Delhi. (Below) A tea vendor; The happy coexistence; Mirza Ghalib ki haveli.


My first tryst with Old Delhi, its Chandni Chowk, and other lanes had ended in a mutual dislike. All of 10, its chaos, crowd and odours were all a bit too overwhelming or beyond comprehension for me. For the flag-bearers of Delhi-bred Gen X, like me, Delhi was New Delhi, with its broad roads, South Delhi malls and new markets. Old Delhi didn’t fit into my idea of the Capital.
Once I gained some wisdom with age and developed appreciating taste-buds, Old Delhi’s narrow maze-like streets and ways were no less than treasure tracks. From once promising myself to never set a foot in that place again, I gradually turned into a life-time admirer of this part of Delhi.
The trips to Old Delhi with my father became the breeding ground for many stories and experiences. The food elsewhere after that was never to be had without drawing a comparison with the same from Old Delhi.
I still remember that shop in Khari Baoli (Asia's largest wholesale Spice market selling all kinds of herbs, lentils, rice and tea ) where my father and I would go to for buying our annual dose of saffron for kheer and other sweets. To reach his shop we had to climb up two levels of stairs. On the first floor, the Nepalese saffron-seller’s family would ask us a lot of questions to ascertain we were mere buyers and no one else. We would then be allowed to ascend to the second floor and wait for him in a room. He would then come with a lot of keys and open his big safe.
The sheer process of him taking out small plastic containers filled with saffron from around the world, sitting wrapped in cotton beds, would make me feel like living in a fictional world of secrets and unknown places. Armed with enough knowledge about saffron, just when I would think I have become ‘Miss know-it-all’, this largest spice market of Asia would stump me. I would righty guess the aroma of cloves, cardamom or cinnamon in that highly fragrant air. Then suddenly I would find myself standing dumbfounded at some shop. There was always a spice or two that I had never seen. That place introduced me to star anise. A live school beyond comparison! Perhaps why famous poet Mohammad Ibrahim Zauq said:
In dinon garche dakkan mai hai badi qadr-e-sukhan
Kaun Jaye ‘Zauq’ par Dilli ki galiyan chhod kar

Those Dilli ki galiyan would then treat me the most authentic of recipes and freshest of flavours. For me, no one can still match up to Natraj ke dahi-bade, Chawri Bazaar ki chaat, Nai Sarak ki kachori, Fatehpuri ki kulfi and the rest. Those serpentine lanes and bylanes of Old Delhi might be a chaotic setup for many, for others like me they were and still are a place for exploration. No doubt, even large number of foreigners can be found exploring this charming spot of Delhi. Perhaps there is no other Purani Dilli on this earth.
You just need to visit Mirza Ghalib's haveli, spend some hours wandering in those lanes, soaking in the music that I always found in that commotion, and you would also get mesmerised by Old Delhi. A walk through the rooms where Ghalib spent last days of his life would make you also fall in love with this place all over again.
Mirza Asadullah Beg Khan, famously know as Mirza Ghalib, made romantics out of many with his ghazals and shayari. Though born in Agra in 1797, it was Delhi that saw the best of him after he moved here which was soon post his marriage at the age of 13. His residence in Gali Qasim Jan, Balli Maran, is a heritage site not only for the archaeologists but almost a pilgrimage for his fans and followers. The sheer Mughal era look of the place, with bricks, sandstones and a huge wooden gate, Ghalib's couplets and literature for the company, is a perfect way to end a day at Old Delhi. You can almost imagine the Delhi of Ghalib through his ghazal:
Ballimaraan ke mahalle ki wo pecheeda daleelon ki si wo galiyan,
Saamne taal ke nukkad pe batero ke qaseede,
Gurhgurhati hui paan ki peekon mein wo daad wo wah-wah,
Chand darwaaze par latke huye boshida se kuch taat ke parde,
ek bakri ke mamiyaane ki awaaz,
Aur dhoondhlayi hui shaam ke be-noor andhere,
Aise deewaron se moonh jor kar chalte hai yahan,
Churi-waalan ke katri ki bari bee jaise,
Apni bujhti hui aankhon se darwaaze tatole,
Isee be-noor andheri see gali qaasim se,
Ek tarteeb charaghon ki shuru hoti hai,
Ek quran-e-sukhan ka safa khulta hai,
Asadullah Khan ‘Ghalib’ ka pata milta hai.

And, who knows if you are paying attention you might even find yourself in these lanes, just like these poets did.




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1 comment:

  1. Old Delhi will be a great place for many people to discover more of the great stuff of the ancient times and can have a great knowledge too about them.

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