All India Radio’s series on the galis of the old city sheds light on their rich heritage, says R. V. Smith
“Par Kaun Jaye Zauq Dilli ki gallian chhod kar.” How true this observation was by the ustad of Bahadur Shah Zafar (when he declined an invitation from the Nizam to settle down in Hyderabad) is manifest even today. People working on good jobs in New Delhi prefer to stay in the galis and kutchas of the Walled City, rather than moving out to the posh colonies, despite the dirt and squalor surrounding them. To bring home this point and focus on the historical aspects of these places, All India Radio’s FM channel has started a programme, Gali Gali Gold. The first to be covered was Kucha Patriram in Sitaram Bazar. Patriam is believed to have been a wealthy trader and astrologer who gave his name to the locality, which has as its neighbourhood Koocha Pandit— where the Kashmiris settled down during the reign of Shah Jahan after he moved his capital to the newly-built Shahjahanabad.
The Pandits earlier used to live in Agra’s Kashmiri Bazar, before moving to Chillint Ghatia (when dancing girls took over that place) where the Rainas, Kauls, Kunzrus, Dars and Nehrus made their abode. Motilal Nehru was in fact born in nearby Maithan after his father moved there from Delhi in the aftermath of the war of 1857. Later the family went away to Allahabad where Jawaharlal Nehru was born in Anand Bhavan. The Kashmiris rubbed shoulders in Chillint (so named as most of the houses in it were built of small chiselled bricks) with resident families like the Kakkers, Mathurs and Sarins. The latter two were families of hereditary medical practitioners (like the Bagchis) the most famous among them being Dr. Mukand Lal, the first MBBS of Agra, who was appointed assistant civil surgeon after he had taken his degree from then distant Calcutta. Dr. Mukand Lal was a fascinating person. He was standing in front of his clinic one day when he saw a woman being taken for cremation. On inquiring the cause of her death, he was told that she had died before delivering her child while still in the pangs of labour. That set him thinking and taking his gun he accompanied the mourners to Taj Ganj Ghat where just before the body could be set alight, he fired his gun. The “dead woman” gave a shriek and delivered her baby. The mourners returned home singing and dancing with the revived woman and her bonny child.
Another incident relating to him was the opening of a grave, supposed to be of the family of Abul Fazl, in Bagh Ladli Begum. When the grave was opened a body wrapped in green cloth was discovered but soon disintegrated on contact with fresh air. In the succeeding days several members of the family of the Seths of Mathura, who had bought the deserted bagh died one by one. The incident was reported in The Pioneer, then published from Allahabad, with Rudyard Kipling on its staff and later Winston Churchill as its war correspondent. Mukand Lal’s son was Dr. Bhupendra Shankar, who is still remembered as the mercurial “Dr. Bhup”— an ardent Shikari to boot.
Nehru got married in Sitaram Bazar, Old Delhi. The AIR team of Archana Ralhan Shefali, Vijay Singh and five others has also covered Suiwalan, where needles were once made for zari work; Masjid Khajoor got its name from a Khajoor (date palm) tree planted in a mosque by a man who had returned from Haj after seeing such trees in Arabia and; Gali Imli was named because of the big tamarind tree in it. Katra Khushal Rai was the place where St. Stephen’s College was first opened and where the famous playback singer Mukesh is said to have been born before his family moved to Daryaganj.
Besides Bhowani Shanker (Namak Haram) ki kutcheri, there are more galis still to be covered, among them Gali Imam Wali or Imamia where the Bokhari family came and settled down from Bokhara during Shah Jahan’s time and took over the hereditary imamship of the Jama Masjid. Then there is Gali Pahari which leads to Bhojla Pahari— an inhabited hill, Gali Dhobian— the abode of washermen, Paranthewali gali, Gali Telian— where oil sellers lived and Gali Cheetian in Sadar Bazaar (probably the lane was plagued by too many ants). More famous however are Gali Saqqewali — where the watersellers, who sold water filled in skin mashaqs, reside; Gali Kababian— or lane of kabab sellers, where the original Karim restaurant is situated and, the gali of royal cooks (Shahi bawarchis) in Matia Mahal who take orders for weddings now but were earlier attached to the royal kitchen in the Red Fort. Other galis abound too, the names of some of which are lost in antiquity.
According to the AIR survey, which will presumably cover the kutchas (like Katra Neel, Katra Ustad Hamid and Ustad Hira) of Chandni Chowk, “The residents of the localities are losing interest in their past. They are not sure how their street got its name… But they are nevertheless conscious that the old city is fast losing its charm because of the ‘builder mafia’ and the sorry state of civic amenities. However, religious harmony is one thing that is still vibrant in Purani Dilli along with its delicious khana.” Last Saturday the team covered Naughara. The programme is fast picking up on the popularity chart and you could tune in to AIR FM Gold (radio frequency 106.4 MHz) every Saturday from 7.10 to 8.00 pm to get an insight into Old Delhi life and manners.