Thursday, September 15, 2011

Hauz Rani

As experienced on the walk back home from the Metro station

I’ve lived in my present home for 17 years. The Hauz Rani urban village has always been right next door, but I didn’t really become aware of it until my brother discovered Avon Video Selection, where we could rent movie DVDs for as little as 50 rupees. Suddenly we were going to Hauz Rani every other day, at least until that guy started home delivery/ pickup.

Then the metro started. The Malviya Nagar station is actually on the edge of Hauz Rani and Saket, and the closest to home, about 15 minutes away. For some time I took the long way home, along Press Enclave road. I don’t even remember how I discover the shortcut –I think I saw some people going along it and decided to follow- but I now go via the village.

There is a steep stairway (going up) which open out onto a very large piece of undeveloped land where weeds and shrubs and urinating men reign supreme, though there are some trees. On the right is a high wall, behind which, on a slightly higher level, I assume, are houses. In the past month a couple of food and paan shops have cropped up here, and they very conveniently use the wall top as their sill.  

The path bends right and the wall continues, though the paving does not. Suddenly you have to battle through mud, kitchad and water logged holes. A little further away, and due to the benign grace of some enterprising fellow (or a cow gone crazy, because the villagers do keep cattle) there appears, literally, a hole in the wall, portal to the Hauz Rani I know. The wall is now on my left, and on the right are bright turquoise and pink painted 2-3 storey narrow houses. This lane, about 2 metres wide, is literally their front yard, and since many keep their doors open, I’ve often caught glimpses of old men reclining on charpais and of women doing pochcha, squatting with their sarees hiked up. Most houses also have their toilets opening onto the streets, small 1m square compartment-like rooms with only enough space for a Indian style WC. I always feel compelled to look the other way whenever I see anyone entering or exiting, as if I’m invading their privacy.

This is something I very often wonder: do the villagers mind the sudden influx of passersby through their previously anonymous galli? Or are they happy, seeing opportunity for enterprise? I’ve already mentioned the new khana-peena-paan shops, and there also a couple of small grocery shops on the galli, though I don’t know if they came up only after the Metro did.

I also never feel awkward when passing through, however short my shorts are, unlike on the latter leg of my journey when I have to go via a part of Malviya Nagar I like to call the Sardar Colony (no offence intended), since the whole neighbourhood seems to be populated by Sikhs (and I’m not joking, houses have quaint names like Pahalwan Niwas and the colony gates have very prominent shield-and-kirpan embellishments).

I think it’s because the Hauz Rani villagers are so busy working or cleaning or playing (in the case of children), and there are always youth in Malviya Nagar who seemingly have nothing to do, or are at least busy taking a break whenever I pass through. As a result -and I’m not saying that they misbehave, because they don’t, but they are obviously people-watching- suddenly I feel as if all eyes are on me, walking alone on a very quiet (especially after the hustle-bustle of the Hauz Rani lane) and wide 5 metre road (this short-cut is not as busy, but I see new people discovering it every day –yahan se bhi gol chakkar aayega kya?).

The part of Hauz Rani that I’ve just described, the face of the galli, is all I associate with Hauz Rani. So whenever I find out something new, I’m always very surprised. For example, recently a small group of us decided to design an intervention in the area for a competition, and I discovered that the village is actually much larger, going all the way up to Khirki and the Saket malls, and that is has a over-700-year long history. I found it so very disconcerting- I felt as if I would now have to alter the image I had rendered in my head. In fact, when I say Hauz Rani I still mean this area, even though this is almost definitely an extension of the original village.

(I also found out why there’s a Hauz in the name, even though there’s no evidence of a lake or water body nearby, which I had previously wondered about.  Click here to go to a very interesting essay -'Perceiving ‘your’ land: neighbourhood settlements and the Hauz-i Rani'- by historian Sunil Kumar on the hitherto lake and the changing relationship between the village and affluent Saket.)

Below is my mental map of Hauz Rani and the Google Earth image of the same area. I've also marked out the route I take on another Google Earth image.


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