Old Delhi and Its Inhabitants

Jamia Masjid from a rooftop. Photo: Mayank Austen Soofi

Slaughter- houses, orange jalebis frying in hot, burning oil; shiny, colourful bangles hanging from stalls, vendors naming prices, burqa-clad women bargaining with them, the crowded lane of Kareem’s restaurant, men chewing and spitting pan, narrow lanes lit up with small twinkly lights, Abhishek Bachan in Delhi-6, Chandni Chowk, Paranthe wali Gali and the thronging, bustling crowds.

But what we term as ‘Old Delhi’ is not all about meat and sweets and paan. Perhaps, we oversee the condition of the original inhabitants of this place- mostly, Muslims. They don’t eat biryani for breakfast and kebabs for dinner, nor do they chew paan and wear expensive fur caps, they don’t live in Mughal-architecture houses, nor do they wear green silk and eat delicacies on Eid. Like Old Delhi itself, the average Muslim living here is almost made to look like a caricature.

The truth is, Muslims in Old Delhi mostly belong to the working class- their income depends upon small-time tradesman ship, shop keeping, butchering. Usually, they don’t have a regular fixed income. In fact, most of the homeless shelters and workhouses in Old Delhi are filled with deprived Muslims.
The women of Old Delhi too suffer the ignominy of being stereotyped. The general belief is that they are all (without exclusion) repressed, and that their visions are not allowed to go beyond their burqas. What we sometimes ignore is; their burqas are only a part of their belief system, their faith. Their lack of education and financial dependence is the reason for their lack of freedom.

Even the wealthy class of Old Delhi that lives in two-storied houses in narrow , uneven streets are unable to enjoy the best educational facilities and career opportunities because of their ‘inconvenient’ location: simply because the Old Delhi is treated like an old garment kept in the corner of the closet, looked at but not often used, it has been, over the years , isolated , and elbowed out of the new , competent metropolitan Delhi. The globe has somewhat shrunk, and the world is acknowledged now as a global village, yet somehow this area is so disconnected from the main city that public schools like DPS and Sardar Patel are too far for its young Muslim inhabitants to reach.

Even those who struggle and reach these places are given a sense of Other-isation, and a certain alienation from the regular 21st century Delhiite. Their rustic accents are made fun of, they are expected to play a specific role in a social circle-that of providing paans and authentic Muslim sweets, they are expected to know the best place for butter chicken and the list goes on and on. The young Muslim striving hard to break the contours of stereotype, defy convention and set a new example is the image of a solitary worm-squirming its way through layers of earth, but the layers keep on increasing. A vicious circle is hence created- those who want to break free and excel are not competent enough due to deprivations, and those who break free are eventually pushed back into their shells by their competitors.

Old Delhi- the original, authentic Delhi created by Kings and Emperors, is far from its former glory today. The area that was once a kingdom, is now merely a pin code of 110006, a dark and dirty contrast to the gleaming, technologically advanced, westernized New Delhi. The lanes that were home to young princesses are now heaped with garbage, cluttered with unauthorized shops and blocked by traffic.

And behind all these walls- the marginalized community of Muslims, working their way through life.



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