Thoughts from the lanes of Puraani Dilli

Puraani Dilli, also known as Old Delhi. This is the third time that I’ve stayed here. And even now I get overwhelmed by this place. I’m a fan of walks along the narrow lanes of markets. The sights and smells intrigue me. I enjoy looking at the people selling their wares and the innumerable commuters walking to nowhere and everywhere. And yet, Old Delhi has this capacity for infinite chaos that I don’t comprehend. The sheer volume of possibilities here makes me feel like it’s a universe in itself.

Today I went out into the lanes and the by-lanes. The weather wasn’t oppressive. The sun was hidden behind the lingering monsoon clouds and this made for a pleasant walk. Walking along the narrow lanes, I started to wonder what life must be like for those living and working here.

For me, this is one of the highlights of the walks - to become the people I see for a few micro seconds. Let me explain. When I walk through these crowded markets, I try to become the people I see. I try to feel what the shopkeeper might be feeling right at that moment - looking at the people passing by, thinking about the goods he/she needs to buy, worrying about the school fees of the kids(?), enjoying the cup of tea that’s freshly served from the neighbouring chai shop... now these are of course my interpretations or my imaginations of what the person might be feeling. But this gives me immense joy. To become someone else. Or to pretend that I’m them. I keep shifting from one person to the other. From the wholesale shopkeeper to the rickshaw puller to the bargaining customers. The possibilities are endless. It makes me curious about the place. It makes me get a feeling of the place.

Puraani Dilli is an absolute joy when it comes to this exercise of mine.

What I find charming about this place is the rhythm in this chaos. The lanes are so narrow that it looks impossible that any vehicle could possibly pass by, and yet they do. There are hand pulled rickshaws, electric rickshaws, hand pulled goods carts, bikes, cycles all going somewhere. That’s along with the multitude of pedestrians walking on the same roads. The traffic flows like water in a rivulet. It seems unstoppable. It makes its own way.

Then there are these small by-lanes that are too small even for the rickshaws. These are exclusively used by the two wheelers and the pedestrians. If you think that that would reduce the chaos, you are mistaken. The two wheelers try to whizz past. Honking along the way hoping for the roads to clear up magically. And the pedestrians walk as if they hear nothing. They walk defiantly and the bikers swirl around the people to overtake them. These aren’t one way lanes. So you have bikers doing an obstacle course ride from both the sides. It’s terrifying and yet entertaining. In the midst of all of this, people somehow avoid crashing into each other. It’s quite an achievement.

Space is a luxury here. Both on the streets and around it. Every lane is lined up with shops. Every inch is occupied. I cannot fathom how anyone makes any money here. Everyone seems to be competing with everyone else. And the pedestrians always seem to be walking away to somewhere else. It feels quite a struggle to survive.

In the midst of so many things, you see human beings persisting. Somehow this mishmash of people continue to live. Somehow, they bring life to these narrow streets. They make this city what it is.

Puraani Delhi will continue to fascinate me. It’ll always overwhelm me. But more than anything else, it’ll always give me a sense of hope. It’ll always make me appreciate life.

A few pics from the streets: