Chandni Chowk, a popular part of old Delhi, stands for much more than just a renowned market or a place of historical significance. It finds mention in the books on modern history of Delhi, the stories of grannies, the must-visit destination in travel books and the list of favorite markets of most women, teenagers as well as ‘aunties’. It’s a must-visit and often-frequented market of the pre-shopping malls era. It symbolizes the streets of old (or ancient) Delhi. It’s still a home to Delhi’s favourite foods. And before all this, it was the main road that led to the palace of The Ruler of India; it was the street graced by the kings and the queens. Chandni Chowk is nothing short of a ‘legend’.
Having established its significance, I have to admit that no one or nothing played a bigger role in celebrating and promoting Chandni Chowk like Hindi films. The crowded streets studded with tiny shops and wire mesh hanging between buildings with a background of a color riot… some of its most visible features have been extensively explored and captured by Indian filmmakers.
Yesterday I visited Chandni Chowk on another shopping expedition in search of the right fabric for my latest project. I have been there many times before but yesterday’s visit happened after a really long time. It reminded me of all those movies based in Chandni Chowk. When I was walking down those confusing, twisted and narrow streets, I felt like I was on a movie set. I almost forgot what it felt like to shop around in cloth market of Chandni Chowk.
Most of the vivid characteristics of Chandni Chowk are so astounding that the place almost felt unreal… it felt movie-like. Even though recently I have seen the place more in movies than in real life, I have known it a little more than a regular movie-audience because I grew up in the city where the legend lingers amongst its inhabitants. However, yesterday the place almost felt like Disneyland created artificially for a film shoot or audience’s entertainment. Either the sets of all those movies were really good or I am watching too many movies. Or maybe it’s just that I haven’t visited Chandni Chowk enough. In any case, the place didn’t feel real and it set me thinking about Chandni Chowk, its lost splendor and current status.
Chandni Chowk may have been royal and magnificent once; but today it’s a cluster of crammed streets covered in dust and trash, a few dilapidated buildings and some patchwork form of basic modern amenities. It’s as regal and old as the ‘Moguls’ and the ‘Lal Quila’. It has grown so old and tattered for today’s times that it has simply acquired the status of an archaic and antique legend. The uncanny thing, however, is that it’s still not obsolete; it’s still relevant and in demand. Though the malls, multiplexes and new generation have made it appear and feel older than ever, its value as an important destination and market for Delhi’s citizens and visitors shows little signs of complete extinction. It’s one of the best Delhi markets and enjoys a historic significance. Any passing thoughts or concrete plans to revive it borders on absurdity. Not only the buzzing trader market and the regular patchwork over the years have now made its renovation and facelift next to impossible, any practical attempts to restore it would simply strip it of the true value it commands in the city as one of the grand legends of Delhi.