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Down Memory Lane

Sucharita Sengupta

By S.Y. Quraishi
Shubhi Publications, Gurgaon, 2012, pp.144, Rs. 1975.00


What is it about the lanes of Old Delhi that has every 'authentic' Dilliwalla preferring to live in their memories than in present-day Delhi? If only one had a time-machine, perhaps the mystery could be resolved. In the absence of such a mechanism, those of us who are bewitched by this city have only our imagination to rely on, with lots of help from accounts of those indivi-duals for whom Dilli was not a fable, but a lived reality. S.Y. Quraishi, the author of Old Delhi, Living Traditions, is one of those individuals. Hailing from a family that has lived in Dilli for about 500 years, he is well placed to recount life and traditions as they were. Dr. Quraishi announces right at the outset that the book is not intended to be a history book, but more on the lines of a trip down memory lane. The text may not be written according to the rules of history-writing, but the historical value of the insights cannot be disputed. The book is divided into seven sections, one each dealing with the markets, profes-sions, religious buildings, festivals, house-hold life, recreation and the monuments of Dilli. This is a refreshing addition to the many texts that dwell on the built heritage of the old city, bringing the original Dilli to life. Useful as the present-day shopping malls may be, they cannot beat the charm of trudging through markets, and particularly those with such antiquity. From the main street of Chandni Chowk, to the many bylanes that skim off it, each road is a full-fledged market catering to, usually, a single category of produce. Khari Baoli houses the most luscious spices in all of Delhi, and Dariba Kalan, with its finely crafted gold and silver jewellery, is a mecca of sorts for women till date. Chawri Bazar dealt not only in paper products and brass and copper utensils, but also to the old-est profession in the world. It was not merely prostitutes who were housed here, but also nautch girls, women schooled in high culture, poetry, music and dance. Adding life to the city streets were haw-kers who would sell wares as varied as expen-sive carpets to the humble kulfi. What was dis-tinct about the hawkers was that their sales-pitch was not a mundane announcement, but poetry and ditties. Also part of the econo-mic network of the city were water-carriers, bar-bers, ear-cleaners, tonga-drivers, ...

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