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The alley’s private life.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Walking through Delhi’s bylanes is like being in a surreal art-house movie: peeled walls, closed doors, musty air, entangled wires, clouds of dust, dark corners and dead ends. Pratap Street, behind Golcha Cinema in Daryaganj, is no different. Spending a day here is like secretly flipping through somebody’s family photo album — you get to see the city’s private life.
The 100-metre-long strip of road has a rich life. Young men make love-talk on mobile phones, girls in salwar suits walk without making eye contact, men spit and women gossip. There’s a presswalla, a bookstore, and a workshop that repairs car axles.
“This street is so narrow,” says Mr Owais, who works in the axle workshop with his brother. “It’s difficult to bring in a rickshaw.” Mr Owais’s brother, the silent Mr Adeem, has a more personal problem. He is recovering from a break-up with his girlfriend. “We had a fight before Bakra Eid, when she refused to hang out with me,” he says.
A little distance from their shop, Malti Devi is warming her hands on a coal iron. A resident of Lakshmi Nagar, a trans-Yamuna neighbourhood, she has been ironing clothes here for 25 years.
Why does she come this far for work? “People here give me love, respect and business,” she says. In winters, Ms Malti’s income plummets. “You don’t change too many times in the cold,” she says, “In summers, I get 150 clothes a day but in December, it is down to 70.” Ms Malti has home-cooked lunch in the backyard of a neighbouring house. Her friend, 80-year-old Tulsi Devi, often joins her.
“I came to Delhi when I got married at 15,” says Ms Tulsi. “Since then, the sky hasn’t changed, this street hasn’t changed, but the people have changed.”
Malti Devi agrees. “These days, if you’ve money, you’ve everything,” she says. Both women spend the day together. Ms Malti irons, Ms Tulsi talks.
A few steps away, Dheeraj Bhai is chatting on a mobile phone with his girlfriend in Dakshin Puri. “Pinky has natural beauty like Shahnaz Husain,” he says, comparing his girlfriend to the well-known beauty expert. “But Pinky is so simple that she doesn’t even put on lipstick.”
Dheeraj Bhai likes driving around Daryaganj lanes on his bike, wearing branded clothes. He loves Pratap Street. “It’s a place where you find both Hindus and Muslims,” he says, “and they live like brothers.” Dheeraj Bhai is a sweeper in Chawri Bazaar. “It’s hard work,” he says. “It’s like working out in the gym. Before I start, I need a paan to gear up.”
Up the alley, a young man called Varun Sharma, is busy talking business (he is a ‘liason officer’) on his first floor terrace. “This street is lively,” he shouts. “Be it 3 pm or 3 am, you’ll always see people here.”
Goats, too. Mr Abdul, a resident, is tying a 20-days-old kid in a sunny spot. “Right now, my goat only survives on milk,” he says. In another nine months, it will be ready to become good meat curry.
All of a sudden, a red-grilled gate opens. Ms Sahiban, 50, is leaving for the market. “I’ve been living here since I was born,” she says. Doesn’t the street get limiting after a while? “Oh, why,” she laughs, “I’ve been to many cities but I always come back. It's home."
The street scene
Mr Adeem (right), and Mr Owais
Ms Malti Devi
Ms Tulsi Devi
Mr Varun Sharma