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Excursion into the British-built district.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
You should never walk in Gole Market after dark. They say that peepal trees are the natural habitat of ghosts and many peepal trees are to be found here. Lining the avenues. Guarding the parks. Leaning over the temple walls. Blocking the view of Nirula's. Everywhere. Oddly, residents do not seem to be scared of these trees. I saw an old lady sleeping under its afternoon shade. A Punjab Kesari reader reclined against its trunk. And a young man peeing on it.
At ground zero of Gole Market, the constituency of Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit. I'm surrounded by the peeling wall of the historic circular building. Surrounded by a traffic roundabout. Surrounded by a circle of colonnaded market. Its veins reaching out to more shops, bungalows and CPWD apartments. Connaught Place, Paharganj, Rajendra Nagar and Talkatora Garden touch its border.
Back to ground zero. It would be a good setting for horror flicks: an abandoned lamp post, animal offal, and a good number of hashish addicts and diseased dogs. The front of the circular exterior brings no relief. It is equally grim with rundown restaurants (like Sagar and Galina), and fly-infested meat and fish shops.
The outer circle, however, is cheery with its saree showrooms, mithai shops, liquor stores, and hair-cutting salons. Walk deeper to discover more life. Inside the by lanes, bored shopkeepers congregate in semi-circles and talk politics (CPI headquarters is close).
The Bengali stores
But Saraswati Book Depot, on Bhagat Singh Marg, has a different flavour. Its owner, Hari Pada Das, is like a side character of Satyajit Ray's Feluda mysteries. All day long he sits in the freezing darkness of his ill-lit store selling Bengali-language books and journals. It is eerie in the shop: dusty shelves, scanty books, and a disconcerting quietness. Das laments the dwindling population of Bengalis. "This place abounded with Bengalis but many have left now. The business has gone down. The one-way traffic has made bad things worse," he says.
But some are happy. The renowned sitar maker, Sanjay Rikhiram, has his establishment in neighboring Bhagat Singh Market. "Gole Market is quiet and easily accessible. It also suits our foreign clientele. There are travel agencies and inexpensive hotels nearby and transaction is quick due to several ATMs," he says.
Developed by the British in the twenties, Gole Market had senior government officials as its earliest occupants. Many happened to be Bengalis. No wonder there are shops selling a wide variety of Bengali products from Jamdani sarees to the Ganashakti newspaper.
The market's most visible historical artifact, the circular building, was a part of Edwin Lutyen's design for New Delhi. It has been added by the Ministry of Urban Development to the 'A' category of Indian heritage buildings. This is a reason to panic for many. NDMC, with grand plans for restoration, has deemed the structure dangerous and wants an immediate closure of the shops there. The grapevine says that the corporation wants a community center there. In one stroke, old eateries, meat shops, and the livelihoods of many will be swept away. Gole Market will lose its gole.
Gole Market landmarks
Most food lovers are familiar with Kaleva and Bengal Sweet House. Try Karachi Halwa too. It belongs to the Khemani family who migrated from Sindh almost a decade before the partition. If too much sweet proves to be unhealthy, then Ram Manohar and Lady Hardinge hospitals are close by. Many doctors used to live in the area. One neighbourhood is actually known as Doctor Lane.
There are many Gods in the locality. In fact, the aptly named Mandir Marg is lined with several houses of worship such as Valmiki Mandir, Birla Mandir, Kali Mandir, Arya Samaj Mandir, and St. Thomas' Church. There is also no dearth of schools – from Shahrukh Khan's St. Columba's to Kendriya Vidyalaya. Also don't miss walking past the R.M. Arya Girls Primary School in Doctor Lane. It is housed in a most beautiful colonial-era mansion.
He died 59 years and 11 months ago. Mahatma Gandhi lived in a small room in Valmiki Basti, at Mandir Marg, for a total of 214 days during 1946-1947. He pointedly chose this place so as to live along side 'untouchables'. This small room is historic - Gandhi hosted several crucial meetings of the Congress party here. The members of the Cripps Mission came here to meet him. Today a visitor can still feel Gandhi's presence in the room. Indeed, Gandhiana, with all its paraphernalia - b/w pictures, writing table, ink pot, and the inevitable charka – runs smooth here.
Information you can use
According to property dealer R C Malhotra (9873452245), there are hardly any privately owned apartments in Gole Market. But government officers do discreetly rent out their allocated flats. The monthly rent of a 2-room flat ranges from Rs 4,000 to Rs 5,000, while a 3-room apartment can be had for Rs 8000.