Friday, October 23, 2009

Special Feature – Why is Old Delhi So Dirty?

The Delhi walla's pretension in writing makes me want to lodge a bullet in his balls - Blogger Nimpipi, the woodchuck chucks
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Why is Old Delhi So Dirty?

The existential question.

[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]

The old quarters of any ‘World Class City’, say, like Madrid, are always beautiful and clean. Then why is the touristy Old Delhi, also called Delhi-6 due to its pin code, so chaotic and dirty?

The Delhi Walla is at Chitli Qabar chowk, the heart of the walled city, the one-time Capital of the Mughal Empire. From this intersection, one lane leads to Matia Mahal bazaar, another to Daryaganj, the third to Turkman Gate.

Instead of a cop, there is a fishmonger at the intersection – not managing traffic, but selling his catch. The result: jam. Rickshaws, scooters, bikes, pedestrians. Honking. Rickshaw bells ringing. Drains overflowing. Banana peels on roadsides. Paan stains on walls. Electric wires blocking the sky.

Three boys are hanging around at one side of the chowk. “Why is Old Delhi so dirty?” I ask them. “Yes, there’s filth for sure,” says 20-year-old Kamran Khan, a school dropout. “But there are things that make you love this place.”

And what are those?

“Come during Eid,” he says. “You would see hundreds of us hugging each other and exchanging festive greetings. It’s great to watch so many Muslims together.”

I then cross the lane to talk to a man called Raja. He has been selling Bollywood postcards at this spot for more than 20 years. “Why is this place so dirty?” I repeat the question. “Too many people live here and municipal workers are too careless,” he says.

I jump over the open drain to enter Mansoor Ahmad’s readymade garment store, called Taj Fashion. He too says, “Too many people.”

I then look up at a four-storey mansion. It is said that in the 19th century this was the residence of a popular dastango, an oral storyteller in Urdu. That art is now lost. The entrance is from a side lane. I enter. Silence, peace. Unlit stairs going up to a first floor courtyard. On one side, an open door. Inside, a drawing room. A middle-aged man lounging in white kurta pajama.

“Sir, why is Old Delhi so dirty?”

“Do you know there are around eight lakh people living in a radius of 1.5 km?” the man says in flawless English. An alumnus of Delhi's uppity St Stephen’s College, Nasirul Hassan Jhinjiaani owns this beautiful house, including the pigeons on the rooftop. He takes me up to show the Delhi-6 skyline. It is a zigzag line of concrete structures on all sides, looking as if invading army is closing in. No view of the grand Jama Masjid, though. Even now you can see its dome from Connaught Place L block, but not from its own neighbourhood. “No parks here, no sports complexes, no banquet halls,” Mr Hassan says. “Here, people live like mosquitoes.”

But do they have to live like that? Does this place have to be so dirty? “It’s corruption,” he shakes his head. “If this place still resonates with beauty, it is because of its heritage, though we have spared no efforts to ruin it.”

In 1990, Mr Hassan’s father, an Urdu poet, suffered a heart attack. Since there was a traffic jam outside, there was a delay in taking him to the hospital. He died on the way. “People don’t have space to walk,” he says. “Encroaching shops have eaten up the roads.”

Back in his drawing room, Mr Hassan reflects on the neighbourhood’s past glory. “Before the Partition, before many Muslims went to Pakistan, the cream lived here,” he said. “Sir Syed Ahmad, the founder of Aligarh Muslim University, had a house here. So did barrister Asaf Ali.”

“Still, why is Old Delhi so dirty?”

“You know, there are also nice things about Purani Dilli,” Mr Hassan says. “There is tehzeeb, mohabbat, traditions. We haven’t lost all of that.”

Perhaps. But why is Old Delhi... ?

Is this beautiful?

Why is Old Delhi So Dirty?

Is it modern art?

Why is Old Delhi So Dirty?

Is it romantic?

Why is Old Delhi So Dirty?

The quiet bubble

Why is Old Delhi So Dirty?

Mr Hassan at his drawing room

Why is Old Delhi So Dirty?

Is this pretty?

Why is Old Delhi So Dirty?

Is it World Class?

Why is Old Delhi So Dirty?

Are we indifferent?

Why is Old Delhi So Dirty?

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi,
Atleast the Paharganj area is going to be spruced up by the govt, because it has hotels where tourists are expected during the Commonwealth games (in today's newspaper).
Mayank, why don't you do a 'before and after' photo essay of the area.....it'll be interesting!

As far as the old Delhi area is concerned, what can we say, residents have to wake up and take the initiative.

Mervyn Naidoo said...

Why? Perhaps lack of community, lack of education, lack of resources. Cleanliness is a learned habit; it is not innate. We learn (or don't learn) at school that throwing litter not only looks bad but destroys our environment. Sometimes we have the will to keep a place beautiful but the sheer pressure of human numbers makes this difficult. Sometimes we say "why should I pick up after someone else?" Teaching our children to love one another, and the larger community, and the environment is a start.

Magnus Linde said...

"Instead of a cop, there is a fishmonger at the intersection – not managing traffic, but selling his catch. The result: jam." What a magnificent sentence, Mayank! I laughed and laughed!

Vivian Tedder said...

The "sprucing up" that will take place before the Games is likely to be piecemeal and superficial. And spending money to get "unsightly" beggars off the streets is not going to solve the social issues that put them there in the first place.

Vimesh said...

“There is tehzeeb, mohabbat, traditions. We haven’t lost all of that.”

Yes thats so true ,like word of wisdom...even if we live in the poshest and the toniest of the neighborhood if there is no tehzeeb,love between the residents then whats the use...people living like a bunch of snobs ....

Atleast an hungry and lost person if he comes to old delhi or any where else where such traditions are still maintained,he would get food and a place to sleep if he asks ...go to the so called high society areas,giving food and water would be one thing the poor chap would be given to police for trespassing.. :) :)

Rajiv said...

waaaaahh if u want to see real dirty delhi,thn go to any kachi colony in Delhi thn yeah to bahut hi jyada saaf lage gi bhaaaaaaiiiiiii

Anonymous said...

coz muslims live like that...in a dirty way...and pollute the area

Magnus Linde said...

Anonymous, your mind is polluted with filthy prejudice.

Abdusalaam al-Hindi said...

Old Delhi is dirty for the same reason India is a dirty country. The reason: a relaxed sense of law and order due to corruption. It doesn't pay to be clean in a system so weak that it lets some people get away by being dirty.

I'll give you a personal example. During my college years I used to share a two room apartment with three of my college friends. We used to do a lot of stuff together as a group in a very democratic manner. We'd discuss an issue and then reach a consensus on a course of action. We never voted. It was never majority rules. Everybody had to be on board. If we were all not on the same page then that thing did not get done. It was not so because we were anarchists and rejected authority. It was for the simple reason that nobody had the authority to enforce a group decision on those who were in opposition to an idea.

House keeping was one of those ideas. We all had a different standard of cleanliness. What was clean for one was dirty for the other and vice versa. So a person with a higher standard of cleanliness had to be the one to keep the apartment at his level of clean, because others with a lower benchmark waited for the dirt to get to their level of dirty before they would do anything about it. So naturally, the lowest common denominator became the group standard.

As I said earlier, things only got done when we were all in agreement. No one could be coerced into doing something that one didn't want to do. There was no authority to enforce a decision on every member of the group.

On the other hand, in my own home, like in most homes, my mother was the person who set the bar on cleanliness. And she made sure everybody followed it. She had uncontested authority on the subject. And she used that authority to enforce her standard of cleanliness without exception.

And it is for this same reason why Singapore is a cleaner country then India. Unlike our government, their government has set a benchmark for cleanliness and they enforce the law with an iron fist.

So as long as people believe those who break the law can get away with it; places like Old Delhi and oh-not-so-old Delhi will remain dirty.

Ramit said...

Abdusalaam al-Hindi has said it all. I agree with him.

It is dirty because we make it dirty. Simple fact.

Dwight D. Eisenhower said...

Dirt does not generate itself. Another way of phrasing the question could be: why don't the people clean it up?

About Paharganj: are they seriously thinking of lodging Commonwealth games tourists there? Oh my God.

Anonymous said...

Yes, we Muslims are dirty and live like that! Our litter is visible in across the globe: from Saudi Arabia to Spain and India.

But, correct me if I'm wrong, filth on the street is any day better than filth in the mind.

Yes, the streets in old Delhi - a designated slum - are dirty and are lined with haphazard construction. But pray tell me how new buildings spring up in the area where construction is banned.

An efficient waste-disposal mechanism was never the capital's biggest strength. If, you're a delhiite, you would know.

It pays to delve deeper into the history of a city we profess to belong to, and love without which we would end up deep on the shallow list.

As for the kind of life Muslims lived, visit the Red Fort, or hit your head on any tree in the city and you'll find it to be one of the fruit-bearing varieties planted, long before the British arrived.

Anonymous said...

hey.........
just love it.......you know kashmir used to be like this only full of people, full of pollution,now its developed and its called city now,but thank god we still have our traditions alive.............development in brains is important not development in city........god bless Delhi