Shooting Stories : A Photography Walk + Workshop through the Ruins of Jahanpanah

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Register Here! https://getfbpay.in/delhidallyingshootingstories/

The City of Jahanpanah is probably the most obscure of Delhi’s seven older cities. What remains of it today is unassumingly nestled in the heart of South Delhi and it’s state of ruin is both charming and heart wrenching. Imagining the stories that inhabited these spaces and capturing them on camera is what we are doing this November. Spread over two days, this Photography Walk + Workshop gives you a chance to explore the ruins of Jahan panah while documenting it through photography and building your own unique narrative around it.

On the first day, we take you on a curated tour through Begumpur village and the Bijay Mandal park and monument complex, accompanied by professional photographer Pavan Mehta of Mahatta & Co. The guided photo-walk will meander through a contemporary city park, a 400 year old village, the 600 year old mosque after which the village is named, and a curious and overgrown 700 year old monument complex. While participants take in some of the fascinating history and development of the village, they will be encouraged to look for their own stories and capture them on camera.

Over the next 29 hours, participants will develop their photo-stories by independently shooting on site, selecting photographs and establishing a narrative, which would be reviewed and critiqued by at the Mahatta & Co. studio in Connaught Place on the second day. This would also be followed by a masterclass in architectural photography and post-processing.

Session 1
Curated walk in and around Bijay Mandal and Begumpur Village with stories from the area, and Photo-Ops and Tips along the way
Saturday 22nd November: 8am to 11am

Session 2
Review and Post-Processing Workshop
Sunday 23rd November: 4pm to 5.30pm

Requirements
DSLR camera and a basic knowledge of how it works.

Charges
INR 2000 per person (includes both sessions)
(Registration charges of INR 500 to be paid online + Balance payment of INR 1500 to be made on the event day)
All participants will receive a handcrafted Delhi Dallying package. We will also be serving water, tea and snacks.

We urge you to register soon as we have limited spots (10 participants). If you have any questions about the walk and the registration process, please email us at hello@delhidallying.com

Independent: Celebrations and Myth-Busting in the Old City

In the monsoon of 2012 we visited Old Delhi almost every week for a group research project at architecture school. We were trying to understand the Old City’s complexity and see how it was different from the Delhi that we lived in. Over many visits to the same mohalla (neighbourhood), we had effectively invited ourselves over to the home of a family we had befriended, for iftaar and flying kites. Our families remained skeptical about us going there on Independence Day – perhaps it is human nature to be wary of what one doesn’t understand.

Although, not too eager to sacrifice a holiday for what seemed like work, our curiosities still got the better of us and we pushed ourselves to just go. From the moment we emerged out of the ground from the metro station at Hauz Qazi Chowk (popular as Chawri Bazaar Metro Station), we realized that it was indeed a special day. This Chowk, where the crowds were usually dizzying, was almost deserted. We hopped on to a cycle rickshaw and started making our way to Sharif Manzil in Ballimaran, a place we had frequented ever so often over the summer.

As we entered Ballimaran, we realized that the streets that were usually bursting with people and commerce were silent – just long rows of closed shutters.  Some men were selling goats for sacrifice – Eid was coming up in a few days. For a fleeting moment one assumed that with Ramzaan going on, all shops being shut and the weather being sultry, most people would be indoors- just another holiday like it was for most of ‘New’ Delhi. Little did we know.

The emptier-than-usual lanes near Hauz Qazi Chowk. Photograph by Varun Bajaj ©

Crossing Ghalib’s haveli, we ventured into the gate of Sharif Manzil. We spotted our friend and host, 27 year old Amir and his cousins on the terrace, five floors above us, from the chowk in front of their building. Amir’s ground floor garment shop that also sold kites during the season and the neighbouring cyber cafe were both shut. Amir had asked us to make our way up to the chhat. The first flight of steep and long stairs took us directly to a generous balcony on the second floor. We went up the rickety spiral staircase, passed through a passage and climbed a ladder to reach the fourth floor. Finally we walked up a narrow staircase to the terrace and we were engulfed with sounds and color.

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The courtyard at Sharif Manzil. Photograph by Varun Bajaj ©

 The terrace itself was not so much a flat plane but a collection of distinct rooftops connected to each other. The highest of these had been appropriated by the patangbaaz. We arrived just as the motley crew of boys and young men were helping Amir set up a kite, thread the ribs and roll the manja on to the pin. Their undeclared captain wielded the huge kite, maybe five times the size of a normal one, tugging at it, waiting for it to catch the wind. Middle aged uncles looked on endearingly, calling out advice as they deemed fit. It was a grand production.

Amid the shouts of “kati, kati, KATI!” , we could hear some Bollywood music playing in the distance. Amir told us that mohalla usually hired a DJ and it was almost an open air terrace party on Independence Day. However, with the month of Ramzaan being observed, it was only correct to be respectful. Most of these people hadn’t eaten or even had a sip of water the whole day and still they were flying kites, shouting out to each other and just generally, being happy. There was an electric buzz in the air. The sky was a brilliant blue canvas against which hundreds of kites were painted. The emotion was building up like the heavy humidity that was so common this time of the year, though Amir pronounced it a clear afternoon. “As long as it’s windy, and kites are flying, it won’t rain.”

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Dotted with Kites. Photograph by Varun Bajaj ©

Interactions with Amir and his family, who have been residents of the mohalla for generations, revealed that even though the closeness between neighbours had reduced over the years, there remained an implicit feeling of mohalledari. Children were jumping across parapets from chhat to chhat , and everyone was a chacha, tau or bhai – there was an overwhelming sense of familiarity.

The visual connection across terraces enhanced the interaction, both within and between mohallas, at a scale which is not imaginable on the street. Though the terraces belonged to individual families, they were not distinct from each other, making them a common resource for the mohalla. The chatt was a whole new realm of public space.

Hop, skip, jump! Photograph by Varun Bajaj ©

Occasionally, one would see, a flock of pigeons collide with another and then circle back to their masters. The sport of kabutarbaazi is still prevalent in many neighbourhoods in the Old City, where a kabutarbaaz trains his pigeons to not only come back on call but also steal a few from other flocks on the way! The Khans themselves had many pigeons, some of whom were bought at prices as high as 20,000 rupees a pair.

The sky was mesmerizing as the sun started to set – the tricolor, backlit by the waning sun and the approaching clouds, and was fluttering against a sea of terraces. In that light, even the monstrous MCD building suddenly looked quite harmless. The patangbaazi was starting to wind up and Amir’s kite, which had soared high up and attacked fiercely at first, had met its end as the winds changed.

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Symbolism at its best. Photograph by Varun Bajaj ©
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From Jama Masjid on the left to the slightly obscured MCD Tower on the right. Photograph by Varun Bajaj ©

Soon the azaan was called, one mosque after the other. There were fireworks at the Jama Masjid as the sky went pink. We helped spread some mats and bring out the food and sat with the entire family on the chhat. They opened their fast (roza) with dates and fruit. It felt private, but they were genuinely warm and welcoming. We joined in the feast of hot pakoras and gulped down some Fanta for good measure.

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Fireworks at Jama Masjid – time for Iftaar. Photograph by Varun Bajaj ©

 Being a part of that spirit made us realize that in this part of the city, 15th August is so much more than just another holiday, it is truly a celebration, not just of our independence but also the monsoons, the winds and togetherness. This day was all about collectively appropriating the sky, which belongs to all of us, with hundreds of kites and flags, by people, young and old. And there is a strange sense of freedom in just this awareness.

This post is co-written by Bhavika Aggarwal, Rohan Patankar and Varun Bajaj. It is a recollection of their visit to Old Delhi on 15th August, 2012 as part of a research project with Ammani Nair and Vani Sood. Their research paper ‘By the People : Complexity in the Commonplace’ can be found here.

A version of this post appeared on the August 15, 2014 issue of The Scribbler.

Walk 3.0 – St.ART Shahpur Jat – Walking and talking while gawking!

Our time in Shahpur Jat with St.ART Delhi has been great. We especially enjoyed taking people on walks around the village, weaving together narratives around the art as well as the history of the village. We did a total of 5 walks, 4 of which were open to the public and 1 which was for guests from the various embassies and institutes affiliated with the festival.

We took a meandering path in and around the village, starting at Bikaner Sweets, near August Kranti Marg and ending with some chai and pakoras at the terrace of the lovely Potbelly restaurant on the northern edge of the village. Each participant was given a lovingly crafted ‘St.ART Delhi Dallying Kit’, which had a lot of goodies including maps of the village, postcards with some of the artwork, information cards about the village and the festival, the very useful Moving Delhi cards and probably the most exciting of all – stencils! At the end of each walk, our participants could leave their mark by painting on Delhi Dallying’s very own graffiti wall!

While the festival is now over, the art remains and the urban village of Shahpur Jat is still as fascinating. We can’t wait to be back with a new walk and new theme! Until then, here are some photographs!

Walk 1

September 8th, 2012

Walk 1

It’s a fairly pleasant Saturday morning. All of us gather at exit number 2 of the Chandni Chowk Metro Station. Rohan is late (as usual) and we can’t start the walk until he comes because he’s got the route maps printed for everyone. Friends from college, their friends from outside college, and some new friends who read about us online, join us on our very first walk of the Delhi Dallying Walk Series. 30 people, brimming nervous energy. And we begin with Walk 1.

Walk 1 is interesting because it takes you through the residential pockets around Chandni Chowk, sharing with you a slice of the vernacular life in Old Delhi. It consciously misses the touristy spots, to introduce you to the more everyday things of Shahjahanabad. While moving from the eastern end of Chandni Chowk towards the west, through the galis, it loosely weaves together a chronologically sound narrative, with bits of lip-smackingly good food thrown in.

Summarizing, from the treasurers’ haveli in Gali Khazanchi  to the beautiful Jain mohalla of Naughara, we explored the 17th century grandeur of Shahjahan’s reign (along with some 21st century jalebis and samosas). While moving through Maliwara towards Nai Sadak, the remnants of the Maratha siege and the mutiny of 1857 became apparent. Ballimaran and Mirza Ghalib’s Haveli are a testament to the days after the revolt, and also home to the famous Hakims of the Sharifkhani clan, which made for some very interesting haveli hopping.

Coming back onto Chandni chowk, after a small breakfast of kachouri-aloo and the elusive Nagori Halwa, we explored a part of Lala Chunamal’s stunning haveli (a little hushed as we did not seek permission from the current tenants!), who happened to be one of the most influential characters during the revolt. Entering the bustle of Khari Baoli, we went up to the hidden flower market of Fatehpuri, explored the fascinating view from the eerily enchanting  Garodia spice market, and concluded at the recently completed, austerely modern Polyclinic for the Destitute at Lahori Gate, leaving everyone to ponder about what modernity really means for the contemporary old city.

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Walk 1 is a great way to start a conversation with Shahjahanabad, which is a city within a city – one which we tend to be oblivious to, but one which enchants and entices.

Of ‘hang-out’ places and pigeon droppings!

Sort-of in the center of  Central Delhi, just off Hailey Road (which in turn, is just off Barakhamba Road), ‘Agrasen ki Baoli’ is one of those places which you wouldn’t typically chance upon. You can’t spot it from far away cause its cozily tucked in,  and surrounded by buildings which are many times its depth, in height. If you’re there, you’ve probably heard of it from a friend, or maybe seen a photograph. It is one of those (many) monuments of Delhi, which don’t usually find a place in history books or travel guides.

So when I actually went there for the first time, I was a little shocked to see people; mostly youngsters and quite a few of them at that. I guess one should be happy about that; after all, don’t we keep saying that people in our city need to look at monuments as more than just mere blackboards for scribbling ‘Pinky ❤ Rinku’? Instead I felt a tinge of disappointment because I’d expected it to be deserted and would rather have seen it with fewer people dotting my field of vision! Anyhow, the Baoli has a rustic charm, to put it simply. The steps, leading down to the water (almost non-existent except on very rainy days),  in exposed stone masonry are an obvious result of time and weather at work. One can spend hours just sitting there and listening to the pigeons rustle and flutter, while absorbing the tension between the zenith and the nadir – shards of high-rises rising behind the plunging depths (ok, that’s a bit of an  exaggeration) of the baoli. Thanks to its ‘protected monument’ status, ASI had put up a much-needed historical overview of the place, which is believed to have been built by Maharaja Agrasen during the Mahabharat era and rebuilt by the Agrawal community in the14th century. Another addition by the ASI, is a prefabricated security cabin (in reflective glass X-/), annoyingly placed right at the top of the Baoli.

A few weeks back, I made my third visit to the baoli. As mentioned in the previous post, 2/3rds of Delhi Dallying was in Bangalore for the last many months and I had found myself feel immensely proud talking about my city (I know I live in NCR but whatever!) to my Bangalorean friends. Some of them happened to be in town for the day and I thought I ought to show (off) Delhi to them, in its full summer glory. This started with breakfast at Bengali Market followed by a walk past my school (Modern School, Barakhamba Road) across the road to this beautiful baoli. Despite the summer heat, there were a couple of youngsters  ‘hanging out’. There were about a dozen plastic chairs stacked up at the broken mosque on the south-west corner of the baoli which got me wondering if this place could actually hold events. Another addition was a visitor’s book displayed proudly right in front of the security cabin.

Now, this book is brilliant! It is  an honest reflection of what the people of the city really feel about such monuments, the sarcasm comes out poignantly in most of the comments and the language is just SO Delhi. At first glance, I couldn’t stop laughing at the ridiculous ‘Nice, Good to Smooch!’ comment. But on reading further, it was clear that some people were genuinely concerned about the baoli. There is rightful criticism about the lack of drinking water and ‘the wonderful aroma of bat shit and pigeon droppings’ as well as some interesting suggestions like ‘jhule hone chahiye’!

The visitor’s book is definitely a step towards involving people (rather making people feel involved)  in managing public places but will these suggestions and concerns result in improvements? Time shall tell. Till then, enjoy the comments!

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Photo Credits: Our ‘Bangalorean friend’ Alkananda Yeshwanth

Our tryst with the DDA!

A few days back a friend and I went to the DDA office, which happens to be right opposite our college’s planning block. We were looking for some information about one of their projects in Dilshad Garden. It was then that we got our second taste of how government offices work (the first is our college’s administration itself). The tallest in Delhi at one point of time, it is quite an imposing building. From the inside it reminded me of the ministry of magic from Harry Potter’s 7th movie (part A), with a core of 6 elevators going to certain floors only, spewing out a variety of people every time the lift doors opened. The place stank like a toilet, tube lights didn’t work and ofcourse, paan stains, everywhere. To get hold of the right person to talk to, we were made to hop around from one lazy ‘Madam’ to the other bored ‘Sir’ and so on, only to be told that the chap who knows where the records are kept hadn’t come to office.

Studying at SPA, back in second year , a bunch of us created a ‘utopian’ (we like to call anything remotely whimsical, that!) character – Archiman. Armed with a parallel bar, transparent string and lethally pointy set-squares, he was to fight the ever-loathsome Dr.DDA (flanked by his secretary Miss Pencil, ofcourse!). Mr. DDA was touted as the biggest architectural kill-joy ever, forcing the entire fraternity to water down any  creativity and stick to its by-laws (Oh, we wrote a song about that too!).

Two years hence, in fourth year, we are at a stage in our design studio, where we have no option but to read the ‘wretched bylaws’ and basically, play by the book (Hence, the visit to the DDA office). Initially its all such a strain; why do we have to provide 15% housing for the EWS? Do we have to leave a 6 meter setback? Can’t we exceed this height limit? But the more I think about it, I see the logic. Apart from certain climatological and safety reasons for providing setbacks and minimum sizes, there are manifestations of an overall vision for the country, the city and the neighborhood, which need to trickle down right to the individual building. These manifestations could have social goals, such as providing housing for all or visual ones, such as maintaining the greenery of Delhi, the one thing which probably all of us are proud of.

However, this is not to say that all of these laws are justified. Looking at Delhi today, its apparent that it is an inverted city. The center is so sparsely populated and the peripheries are packed. This is directly linked to by-laws, FAR and density limits etc, decided by the DDA. Similarly, the minimum standards for housing and slum resettlement are things which have been quite the same for years. With the kind of progress that flexible architecture has made in recent years, it is surprising that the authorities have not  adopted more economical and space  efficient designs, to counter the huge pressure of  migration.

These are just some observations I have made over the past few months. These are my opinions and I might be getting some facts wrong. But what is important is, that as students, we realize that following certain building laws is actually in our interest but at the same time, we should have the audacity to challenge the law, if we can justify it.

One of the many avtaars of Archiman!

(credits: Akshay Khurana)

The DDA building at ITO

(courtesy: http://www.skyscrapercity.com)

Delhi Dallying: Seminar I [18.02.2011]

Delhi Dallying held a seminar on 18th February 2011, as a part of Utopia 2011, the annual festival of SPA, Delhi. We had 4 expert panelists who came together to discuss the imageability of Delhi.

Question raised: If ‘New York : Skyscrapers, then Delhi:?’?

Bharati Chaturvedi, Environmentalist + Editor

Ms. Chaturvedi drew our attention to an aspect of the city which we tend to be oblivious to, often unaware of. She spoke about the informal sector of Delhi which is an integral part of Delhi’s ecological chain and also its economy, but is still unrecognized, and often banned. Delhi is a city of ‘walas’ like the neighbourhood fruit vendor, press-wala and maid, who form a large chunk of Delhi’s population.

Himanshu Verma,  Art Curator + Activist

Mr. Verma is passionate about the traditional flower markets of Delhi (like the ones near mehrauli and Baba Khadak Singh Marg) and has been heading the ‘Genda Phool’ campaign to prevent them from being shifted to a dedicated depot on the city periphery. He raised some very valid arguments explaining how these markets were actually ‘activity generators’ and enlivened an other-wise dead space, for the few hours that they are functional everyday.

Madhav Raman, Architect

Mr. Raman is currently involved with the Delhi Ring Rail project and went on to explain the twisted identity that Delhi is headed towards. We often aspire for Delhi to be like Shanghai or New York but that is where the problem lies. The whole point is that Delhi has its unique identity. Infact, it has multiple identities owing to the influx of migrants from all over the country, which makes it a diverse melting pot. He stressed on the promotion of sustainable models of development like the promotion of low cost public transport and indigenous, site specific development.

Narayani Gupta, Historian + Professor

Ms. Gupta concluded the seminar by sharing her experiences of Delhi. She spoke about a protest which she had undertaken in the 1980s wherein they protested against the demolition of the King George V monument, saying that British buildings too, were an inherent part of Delhi’s image as well and one cannot and should not try and erase them from history. She explained the transition of Delhi from a post-independence, nascent city to the rapidly growing metropolis that it is today.

Conclusions:

The discussion led us to conclude that Delhi has the potential of being truly cosmopolitan, as it has multiple images, not just one. Their is so much diversity in the city, that it actually adds to the character of the city.

(This was just a start and we hope to have many more Delhi Dallying seminars soon!)

Begumpur ka ‘Qila’!

Bhavika: Bhaiyya, yahan par hi rok dijiye

Rohan: I think this’ll be really cool!

(Car stops, parks in what could be a dug up construction site, but is actually a parking lot)

Me: I can smell a source of methane!

(looks at the cowdung next to his feet)

And so we walked, from house no. 1A (4 floors,tacky painted plaster) to 173, Begumpur(wood clad, metal plated, furniture boutique, which we aren’t allowed to enter, because the doorman says “Aap kya hi khareed loge?!”)

Begumpur doesn’t strike you as a village. You would probably call it a dilapidated colony, with its closely packed 3-4 story RCC structures and ‘sanitized’ neighborhood parks. A sweet and talkative lady told us, that 10 years back this place was full of single story dwellings with arched entrances. She proudly showed us the ‘solitary arch’ that her family had preserved, unlike the others, sadly pointing out the cracks that had developed due to the metro passing under it. The population mostly consists of Jaats, Baniyas and Punjabis, and some Muslims too. What exists today is obviously a very heterogeneous society, unlike what had existed during the Tuglaq rule.

When we asked around about the famous Begumpuri Masjid, we were answered with perplexed faces, “Yahan toh bas ek qila hai!”. Due to the dilution of the original residents, today the old masjid, which was the prototype for most mosques on Indian soil, is not even known to the people who dwell around it.

Thankfully, the ASI has done its bit to preserve the monument. As we climbed up the awe-inspiring steps of the masjid, we all realized why people chose this over the Khidki masjid as the basis for subsequent mosque design. The shear proportions of this structure were magical. It wasn’t that big, but it looked huge. Multiple domes on the side cloisters added an element of detail to an otherwise plain design. I must admit, it probably looked even more charming due to the weeds and greens that had engulfed bits of the mosque.

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We went on to see the Vijay Mandal, which is surrounded by overgrown greens all around, quite charming, till you see a man rising out of the greens wiping his posterior!

As we walked back to the car, I felt a tinge of sadness about the neglect and oblivion towards these spaces. And so I am writing about it, hoping that others too, go there realize how awesome these places are!