Ramzan is over, but its raunaq remains. The bunting is hanging upon the street like an expired blessing (see photo). This weekday afternoon, Old Delhi’s Matia Mahal Bazar is as packed as the Nauchandi Mela.
Even in the worst days of the pandemic, Matia Mahal bustled with people, but the fear of yet another lockdown or Covid-19 wave looms over the market like an ominous dark cloud. That’s gone with the masks. It’s now like the carefree pre-2020 times.
For 30 years, one-armed Salim Bhai has been begging at the start of the market, beside Kallan Sweets, across the road from Jama Masjid. He is back after spending the lockdowns in his native town in Ahmedabad.
Danedar Shikanji seller Noor Ahmad, just 14 and with parents back home in a UP village, is counting the day’s sale — it’s a thousand rupees. Behind him, two Kashmiri nun chai traders, Khushnaseeb and Abdul Ghaffar, hurriedly waddled down the narrow stairs of ‘Govt. approved’ Al-Ahad Holiday Home, and melt into the street congestion on a sultry day.
Bombay Saloon is houseful — all four chairs are occupied, and two customers are waiting at the glass door.
Fourth-generation dates seller Arif Khajoor Wale guides a customer through his stacks of dates: “This is from Iran…this is also from Iran…this is from Saudi…this is from Medina…”
Outside Salim Tea House, 67-year-old rickshaw puller Subedin is badgering a foreigner to board his rickshaw for the Old Delhi tour (“Sir, sir — Spice Market, Kinari Bazar, Red Fort”). 20-rupee notes are sticking out from the gusset of his sweating vest. Explaining why he is working in his old age, he yells — “I’ve only daughters, no sons!”
Young Shabdam plods by, carrying an uncovered vessel filled with steaming yellow dal. “Taking it to Gharib Nawaz hotel!”
Outside the Old Famous Khoya Jalebi, a small island devoid of traffic has surfaced. A man is lying sprawled on the street. Nobody bothers to know who he is. A ‘Mohabbat ka Sherbet’ hawker mumbles the man is drunk and will get up on regaining hoshoawaas (consciousness).
The distracted crowd is automatically steering its way about him. Matia Mahal has regained its normalcy.