Do gaz zamin ku-e-yaar mein

After being lost in Dwarka for aeons Gaya and I managed to get to the Chandni Chowk heritage walk yesterday at 8.30 am. Gaya, her two friends and I were among the few natives taking the tour. The rest were mostly phirangs and NRIs, so the group was in turn a tourist attraction, stopping traffic across Chandni Chowk and earning many droll, eye-rolling comments from the publicks. Two seconds after we joined the group, an elderly white gent turned to me and said something about how he could not hear himself think. I said that it was enough to be semi-conscious and Gaya reprimanded me for being rude. But what's it about some people, that the moment they arrive at places like Chandni Chowk, which they have come, hundreds of miles to see, they run through a thesaurus full of words meaning 'not like home'? (There was once a nice young software engineer who went with me to Laad Bazaar near Char Minar, turned to me in dismay and said, " Oh! I thought it would be like Shoppers' Stop!")

Our guide was not too thrilled by our propensity to wander off to buy food every two minutes. But civilization was not built on an empty stomach and the food in that neighbourhood is irresistible. And if you like your food to have noble pedigree, ooh this is the right place. There was Ghantewala's mithai, oldest sweet shop in Delhi. 1790 is what the sign says. There is also some story that one of the Mughal emperor's elephants was a frequent customer at Ghantewala's and would come to the shop and ring the bell around its neck to be fed.. One of the Americans in the group, whose calorie counter was whirring in his eyes, when he saw the ghee, muttered something about customers turning into elephants. A little past Ghantewala's after we had taken in the sights on the main road we turned into Parathewala gali and did not emerge into sunlight for an hour or so. I want to go back to look at Kinari Bazaar (pretty with yards of tassles and trimmings and beads hanging from every shopfront) and Dariba which has been the place to buy jewellery since the Mughals.And also the lovely Naughara Gali which has a Jain temple, a couple of beautiful havelis draped in vines and flowers, a little performance space where tawaifs danced in better times,  all of which goes back several hundred years. The guide said that the houses are occupied by large Jain families.

Then we were taken to an old haveli where the guide says St.Stephen's college began. Everybody got some strange schadenfreude out of that because the rooms of the haveli are now tiny tailor shops with names like Maa Padmashree .

The guide was strange as I suppose most guides are strange. One rarely reads about the brilliance of guides. If Tony Perottet is to be believed then guides have always been strange, even among the ancient Romans who invented this whole tourism business. My major objection to the chap was his casual prejudices about Muslims, expressed in a banal manner while talking about anything from architecture to language. One of Gaya's friends asked me, do you want him to be as bland and colourless as American guides? I know political correctness is deadening but there really has to be a better alternative to a fairly bright young man, who has the good sense to weave quiet moments into his tour, sounding like an idiot.

The banality of his spiel was useful in one sense. At one moment he was blithely talking of the incredible trials of Guru Tegh Bhadur who was first forced to watched his companions tortured to death and was then beheaded by Aurangzeb. He was uninspiring and the group was standing precariously on two inches of footpath, thinking of lunch or perhaps already planning what to say to people who asked us what the trip was like. It occured to me that this is exactly how historical events happen surrounded by bored people thinking of lunch, too blind to see what is happening in front of their faces.

The guide showed us a library where he said the revolutionaries of 1857 used to meet. Next door was the Imperial Bank, which is now a SBI. When I suggested that they should have robbed the bank, Gaya responded that the presence of a Mallu would have helped the Mutiny quite a bit.

The tour ended in Jama Masjid, where I have been many times before. After the guide left and the group disbanded, four of us walked around in the courtyard. I was thinking of scenes from Black Friday and the sense of desperation and solace that Badshah feels at the Jama Masjid. I have always lacked the necessary equipment to yearn for God, like other people lack a sense of rhythm or colour, but for a couple of seconds I yearned to be young and Muslim and male, kneeling in spotless white with hundreds of others. Then one of the others said something wistfully about congregational prayer. I told her how similiar Jacobite church services are similiar to low-impact aerobics lessons, everyone laughed and the moment was gone.

I I wish Madhulika Liddle had been there. Her Muzaffar Jang, the Mughal detective would have been a blast to have along.


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