ZEESHAN NOFIL

Photographing Delhi is not easy. It only lets you understand bits of its daily life.

AN outsider invariably ends up revisiting the explicit pile of numerous opinions, which prowl unattended and ignored today as they did then, to best understand the chronology of several histories that is Delhi.Do these histories allow the average Dilliwala to lay his life back on the terrace charpoy to catch the silhouette of the historic Jama Masjid against the sultry North Indian sunset? Are they reflected in his attitude towards social communities? Do they allow them to love their city or own it, if only in ambivalence?

In the city's lanes

If you want answers more convincing than a simple yes or no, you have to explore documented Delhi's idealism, socialise with people more common than those who sit in the conditioned air of steel and glass enclosures. While many look for answers on the pages of photographic coffee table accounts, others walk disowned city lanes.Delhi does not lend itself to be slotted easily. It extends a panorama of romantic and contrasting views. The overlooked graves of the legendary Amir Khusro and Mirza Ghalib. The graduate students carrying their morning tea in polythene packets. The doodhwala bragging about the purity of the milk in the tree-canopied DDA colonies. The sugarcane juice seller outside the Kendriya Lok Nirman Bibhaag who renegades through two more factory jobs in the sprawling industrial estates before getting back to a dinner of chapatti and achaar. The shami kebab stalls in the lanes of Zakir Nagar or around Purani Dilli frequented for a snack by multitudes as they discuss their business or the weather. The langar served in the Gurudwara. The folk artists who drum and dance at Surajkund near Delhi.This extensive repertory also has a Ram Dularejee of Nai Sarak who has been offering drinking water to commuters on the street for the last 35 years for free; carrying the water all the way from the Municipal Provision and perching on a tiled confine the rest of the day. It has alleys that smoke of chai and smell of jalebis. Gali Paranthe Wali, the one-time hangout of personalities that framed the country's political presence, with its familiar sounds of frothing ghee used to fry the paranthas, draws an onlooker to savour one of its various offerings and down everything with a tall steel glass of lassi. A round of ventures into the shops that dot the numerous alleys in Chandni Chowk that sell everything from silk to bolts, visibly exhausts observations for the day.Delhi answers all your questions by letting you in, by letting you understand bits of its daily life. You want to visit it again, perhaps to taste that sumptuous khichda offered every Friday afternoon at the Mehrauli Road Dargah of Hazrat Mai Sahib, the mother of Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia; or to shop at the Sarojini Nagar or Khan markets; or may be to just sit unperturbed in one of the various 500-year-old structures that dot the city, watching pigeons flutter off the ground; or may be for the Mughal cuisine at the aangan of Karim's; or may be to meditate in the secluded silence of the Baha'i temple.

On the move

And all this while, Delhi itself is on the move, blending the new, assimilating everything that global exposure throws at it. But then, that is Delhi: memory-loads of histories, cultures and refuges, with a desire to have its vulnerability made ubiquitous.