Delhi of My Mother’s ChildhoodYusra Hadi
Delhi of my mother’s childhood
My mother, Farzana hails from Budaun in Uttar Pradesh. Her father earned his living in Delhi, so she used to visit him twice or thrice in a year. My Nana (grandfather) was a munim (accountant) at Bakra mandi and lived opposite the corporate office in Sadar. Their arrival in Delhi occurred via train that stopped at Old Delhi railway station outside of which there used to be a commotion of tongawallas who would then drop them to the Sadar.
In free time, she would tag along with her uncle to watch amusing and entertaining fights of chickens or any other animals in Eidgah maidan. The crowd generally picked a favourite side and cheered them likewise. Sometimes, fights would break out among the owners themselves as they bet for money. Once an animal was exhausted from the fight took a flight which was hilarious as a large chunk of the crowd took it as their responsibility to secure the animal.
Nana’s work usually kept him busy throughout the day. So, mostly in the evenings, he would take his daughters for a stroll. They covered Chandni Chowk which had its charm. It was embellished with colourful red and green lights, had a huge crowd and old buildings. Relishing on lemonade of famous Shikanjiwalla, opposite to the Townhall, was a daily routine; not so surprisingly, it is still one of her favourite things.
I once asked her how Chandni Chowk had changed over the years. She pointed out that it used to be more crowded than it is now. A vast phad market (a market on the footpath) used to attract a massive amount of people, unlike big showrooms today. She recalled big phad markets in Connaught Place too. Occasionally, they bought fruits from the Fatehpuri market. On their way back to the home in Sadar, they would enjoy sugarcane juice from a shop in Khari Bawli.
She also visited Red Fort and Jama Masjid with Nana. “This park in front of Red fort did not exist then and the Yamuna flowed attached to its walls which could be spotted from the train”, she said. “There used to be an enormous Jamna Bazaar beginning from the backside of red fort offering antique items, books, clothes, spices, furniture, utensils, etc.”
The Jannat Nishaan (near Jama Masjid) did not exist but there was an open field. A bus stop stood near it. One could board red-coloured double-decker buses as well. At Gate Number 1, tongawallas were available. The backside of Jama masjid was full of Keekar trees(Gum Arabic trees). Meena Bazaar was quite an extended one with a variety of goods and food items, filled with people.
My mother once accompanied her uncle to Shahdara once. He had to meet his friend who had a small ice cream factory there. It manufactured very famous milk flavoured ice cream which was two paise and later got five paise per piece. Ice cream manufacturing took place in a huge box-like machine which contained moulds. After that, workers would put a blue wrapper around it. She got to eat four pieces free of cost since her uncle was friends with the owner. Shahdara was neither developed nor this populated, it was almost a jungle with few scattered houses having roofs of tins and some factories. Near the Yamuna, agricultural fields flourished from where they would generally buy watermelons and vegetables.
A friend of Nana had a housing quarter somewhere in Safdarjung. From his roof, they watched an aeroplane which toured around Delhi for fifteen paise. She went to Qutub Minar the next day and at that time, it was allowed to climb two stories of Qutub Minar. As a young person, this was certainly an exciting thing for her because people and cars they were looking so tiny from that height. It was like the whole of Delhi was in front of her eyes. Unfortunately, by the time they could afford the aeroplane journey, it got banned due to a tragedy.
Even today, these small evocations of her childhood’s Delhi are etched in her heart which she associates with the memory of her loving father and uncle. Although Delhi has tremendously changed now over the years, in my mother’s heart, it is still the same and it is still hers.
Photos by Maryam Khan