#Walktober

walktober headerAs the weather becomes favourable for exploring the city, Delhi Dallying shares some of its favourite stories from Old Delhi, every Saturday this October. Join us as we explore the obvious (read food) and beyond – the mohallas, the gallis and the markets – to understand what makes this medieval city tick today.

We’re looking at the extra-ordinary in the everyday Shahjahanabad through two lenses – take your pick!


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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!

Notes from St.ART Delhi @Shahpur Jat

shahpur card collage (rohanpatankar)

street (noun)

a public road in a city or town, typically with houses and buildings on one or both sides.

art (noun)

the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.

street art

an umbrella term defining forms of visual art created in public locations, usually unsanctioned artwork executed outside of the context of traditional art venues

St.ART Delhi is the India’s largest Street Art Festival, that in early 2014 invited over twenty artists from around the world to come and paint the town red, quite literally so. The 6 week long festival’s first stop was at the urban village of Shahpur Jat. The folks at St.ART gave us the opportunity to string together narratives from various facets of the festival into a curated walk, . Excited much, we began by going back to our ‘history of architecture’ lessons from architecture school and simultaneously, began speaking to the artists ‘on site’ to get their perspectives.

The peeps at the festival really meant it when they said they were intervening in Shahpur Jat, in the thick of the urban village. This is not the area that most people who are reading this post have seen; not the Fender Academy, not the Wishing Chair, not the Dada Jungi House lane. This was the much larger yet hidden ‘hinterland’, bustling and complex, strikingly different from the world outside it. The ‘outside’ is merely 200 metres beyond, marked by the August Kranti Marg, of the fairly new Delhi (especially in comparison to this 600 year old settlement). To the closely knit village community, this became a starting point for many a conversation- within itself and with the world outside.

Layers and intervention

While the street art became one more layer among the many layers that made the experience of the place, it also initiated a process that unearthed other buried layers. We began our wanderings and meanderings; understanding the workings and internal relationships between these many layers. The most visible among them are the ruined fortifications of the 14th century city of Siri and, in contrast, the many designer boutiques that have popped up along the outer periphery of the village, not so long ago.

We were equally curious about the ones less apparent, about why most of these houses have the title Panwar written on them, about how a certain specific corner shop selling tea and snacks would have all its signage and music playing  in Bangla, about the staggering number of sequins shops on every street and also about just how many prachin shiv mandirs there were in this village. In our two weeks of frequent study-on-ground (after our day jobs, of course), we slowly began to absorb these observations and aberrations and also began to understand that street art was intervening with these layers in ways beyond the obvious.

Landmarks

The traditional landmarks of the village also became navigational anchors for us and the St.ART team to go about town. One such landmark, albeit a forgotten one, is the anonymous Baradari, the epicenter, where the story of this settlement began. Today the baradari doesn’t quite exist. The shadows of this 14th century monument are buried under and surrounded by many generations of ambitious building all around it. The Rainbow Project gives this ‘non-place’ another anonymous anchor that unites it with the hundreds of other such anonymous places across the globe that host the rainbow.

While the village gave the festival some landmarks thanks to its geography and multi-layered history, the festival also reciprocated with a few anchors. German artist Tofu’s piece of the striped lines at the Nayi Chaupal was one of the first pieces of the festival, also one of the most memorable, perhaps because of its central location. It became the torch-bearing reference for any artist who went to seek permission for doing a wall.

The massive cat drawn by Indian artist Anpu Varkey was also part of the first wave of festival interventions, and it quickly grew to be a neighbourhood icon. It also earned Anpu many friends and assistants in the week that she spent drawing the massive piece. The January air was cold and damp, the wall was huge and the scaffolding looked fragile. The neighbourhood aunties and uncles were amazed at this petite-looking girl’s skill, and also somewhere in their hearts, proud – of Anpu as well as the cat!

Haan, aapne woh billi toh dekhi hai na? Bas wahin se dayeen taraf janaa hai.’(Yes, you must have seen that cat, right? Just turn right from there.)

Conversation

While Anpu was one of many women artists who participated in the festival and painted walls that were possibly much more challenging to paint than the ones done by their male counterparts, the commentary on feminism was taken to another level altogether by artists like Ranjit Dahiya and Sé Cordeiro. Dahiya’s monumental mural of fearless Nadira (the infamous rebellious seductress from the 1950s) cleverly gets us thinking about how a woman’s smoking and drinking fixation has been automatically branding her as the vamp on the Indian screen and outside it since forever. Se Cordeiro’s beautiful woman warrior from the Gulab Gang is as powerful as she is spunky, armed to pin down all of those men who disrespect her. Adding charm to the quaint village setting are also Alina Vergnano’s graceful murals of women, almost softening the mood of this somewhat aggressive setting.

The festival generated quite a stir in the neighbourhood. People were intrigued about the organization that was just going around painting on walls without even taking money for it.

Achha, aap bhi company ke hi saath aaye ho? Yeh ho kya raha hai?” (Are you also with these people the company? Just what is happening here?) “Yeh log sab jageh drawing kar rahe hain, par phir yeh festival kahaan ho raha hai?” (These people are just painting everywhere, but where is this festival happening then?)

This is exactly what even many visitors wondered walking right through this village, not realizing that, in fact,  ‘they’ were the festival! The fact they were there, looking and talking and moving around seeing this place, made the festival. This real experience was only complimented by the sea of people who saw all of these pieces online, not in relation to each other but in relation to the worldwide scene. Delhi, India had just popped up on the street art map, and so had Shahpur Jat village as this neighbourhood bursting with art!

On ground, the festival was thriving, really, on conversation between the artists and local people, often only through gestures and body language and bits of broken English (and in the case of a few curious characters among the village folk, some surprisingly eloquent exchanges in English). While traditionally, street art would be relinquished as vandalism, in this case, all of it was legitimate and carried out in broad daylight (and sometimes, in the night too, ofcourse), with police permissions et al in place. With no economic transaction at play, it was just about finding the right wall and seeking permission from the owners and soon enough, being flooded with requests for commissioned art pieces too. Well, these conversations have only just begun. And we are sure we’ll be listening intently!

AFTERNOTES:

  • We learnt about various styles of street art, from Graffiti to paste ups and murals.

  • We began to appreciate the immense amount of skill required to draw on walls (that turn very cold in the winters) and how different it is from drawing on paper in terms of scale.

  • We realized we really do like taking people out and showing them around places : )

  • We met Daku. (It was kickass!) No, we’re not telling you who s/he is.

And the countdown begins!

St.Art Shahpur Jat Walk

Walk 3.0Delhi Dallying is very, very excited to be collaborating with the incredible St.ART Delhi Festival 2014. We will lead a curated walk through Shahpur Jat next Sunday, where we expect to initiate conversation about the many historical and social layers of Shahpur Jat and its ongoing encounter with international street art, weaving a contemporary narrative of this urban village in Delhi today.

Join us!

Find the facebook event page right here.

 

From sky high to down under – well, sort of!

The Museum Series / Day 1

We are ashamed. It has been close to a year since we posted on our beloved blog, and no excuse is justified. The clutches of laziness and procrastination are unrelenting, and they’re precisely what caught us post-thesis.

However, two weeks ago we decided to rein in on our indolence and kick start our museum series, something we have been very excited about for a while now.

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The idea behind the series is quite simple really: Why do we go gaga over museums all over the world and not even bother visiting our very own ones before writing them off? Maybe they aren’t designed by a Hadid or a Foster, maybe they aren’t the most interactive, but how do we form an opinion without even giving them a chance? Well, we’ve learnt our lesson, and don’t quite fancy having to eat our words again (they’re not very appetising, surely you understand.)

Before we begin our adventure, a disclaimer: this series is not about us leading guided walks through the museums of Delhi. In this case we find ourselves as clueless as you (perhaps even more so). We will continue to create events and everyone is invited (we don’t bite), but this is more about exploring together, and (hopefully) busting some myths and having a great time even if the subject of our exploration smells of rat poop.

So, we began.

The day was a Saturday (now that we are slaves to work), the time 12pm (and sleep), and the places: in Palam, far far away, the Sulabh International Toilet Museum and the Indian Air Force Museum. We chose two museums which are close by- as the crow flies, that is. Sadly we are not crows, and would have to endure the perils of not having wings later in the day.

delhidallying 22We started off excited, and though they tried the best, the rain gods couldn’t dampen our spirits so early on in our adventure. Finding our way to the Sulabh Museum was not that hard, with edge enabled phones to our rescue. Now imagine the irony when you get to a toilet museum that prides itself in its plumbing prowess and find that its clogged and overflowing! We braved the rain (thanks to our trusty raincoat and umbrella) and waded through muddy water, pants rolled up and shoes in hand, to emerge on the other side: a large hall with a lot of middle aged men and some very cheery signage.

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However, we soon realized that in this case, a rainy day might not necessarily equal a museum day. Part of the museum was outdoors, in the spirit of true blue Indian habits. We couldn’t really explore the many types of pit toilets, examples of which were dug up in an open forecourt. We darted inside to the main museum, a medium sized hall with wall-mounted exhibits on the history of toilets and the habits of sanitation.

We were given a ‘short’ guided tour by one of the employees and were unabashedly told how we must not be embarrassed to talk about defecation and genitalia. When we broke into sheepish grins, he assumed an even more serious tone and told us how this was Mahatma Gandhi’s idea (of course). Gandhi spoke about  the idea of cleaning one’s own mess, which was basically taboo for higher castes in Indian society and the reason for the harijan (untouchable) community being treated the way they were. Sulabh takes that belief forward by providing easy sanitation solutions which makes waste disposal hassle-free and hygienic.

We saw some quirky exhibits like dried poop balls, biodegradable poop bags, victorian poop seats and poopy poems too!

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So was the museum (honestly) worth the hassle? We’re not sure. It’s clear that the proprietors have the best of intentions and our guide at least was very passionate about public sanitation. Maybe we have high standards because of our design education, but, honestly, the exhibits themselves weren’t very impressive and we spent a lot of time furtively critiquing the presentation. They have a strong base and a truckload potful of interesting information, but really need to amp up the wow. Still, as the only toilet museum on the world, it has major novelty value.
On a scale of ‘thumbs down’ to ‘awesome’ we give it a ‘passable’.

2013-07-20 13.00.09After the first half, we had a Dwarka lunch experience (read ‘no eateries’). With a hard-to-find Mcdonalds’s meal in our stomachs, we were quite happy to be heading to our second destination, the Air-Force Museum. Now this is the part where we wished ‘Wingardium Leviosa’ was for real. 3 hours, not a minute less, is what we took to cover a distance which would typically take half an hour. Adding to the traffic woes was our inability to actually locate the museum on ground – and not just on google maps. It was quite an experience: drowned cars, drowned cattle, drowned paan shops and their poor vendors – and then our car started smoking! There was smoke coming out of the bonnet, literally; apparently the engine was so hot that the rainwater vaporized. That bit had us worried and we had to waive the white flag and admit the second half of the day was a shitty effort (still not as much as the first half, though!).

So, we might have lost this particular skirmish but there’s a lot more ground to cover still! As they’re bound to say in the high seas of Delhi: Onwards ahoy!

Name: Sulabh International Toilet Museum

Address: Sulabh Bhawan, Mahavir Enclave,Palam Dabri Marg

Entry: Free

Thumb-o-meter: Passable (mostly for novelty)

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PS: Thanks Nivedita for making the effort of reaching the Sulabh museum in that horrid rain and we are sorry for being late! All you guys who missed DD’s first edition of the museum series, we hope to see you next time! 🙂

This post was co-written by Bhavika and Varun.