The Portals of Chandni Chowk

According to the Law that goes by many names, including Ganesha, every doorway requires something to be left behind and something new to be accepted. This is the human dilemma, and it is one that is not getting any easier as there are ever more of us in this world, all unsatisfied, desiring progress and development – wanting more. That is was on my mind on my most recent visit to Delhi’s folkloric neighborhood, probably the most famous in all of India, and a place so dear to my heart because it was within its ancient rambling kuchas, katras and galis that all of life’s roads had taken me over and over again to undergo a transformation, learning about things I had to leave behind and other things I would have to accept before emerging from the cocoon a very different-looking animal.

Ten years ago, I had already heard of the looming development program for what had once been called Shahjahanabad, after the Moghul Emperor’s daughter who designed the Moonlight Esplanade from Red Fort until the Fatehpuri Masjid. From what I had understood years ago, there had already been controversy regarding what to do about the choking and ungovernable neighborhood, which is also one of the most important wholesale markets in all of Asia. Upon my recent visit, I discovered that the courts had finally swung the hammer at the paralyzing fight among politicians, traders, developers and government, ordering the start of the redevelopment program that is to end the entanglement of traffic on the ground and electric lines in the air, as well as the persistent sewage and water problems.

There has been mention of historical heritage as one of the priorities of the program, although my intuition tells me this is hardly the case. I only hope a value for its history is able to save the original architecture of its remaining havelis and their alluring porticos as the neighborhood passes through the portal of development and must leave some things behind. The very first time I walked down those dark lanes to find those beautifully carved door frames and vivid colors seemed like I had been transported to a place I had always been. Ever since then, it has certainly been a place I never left.


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A native of Chicago, Ricky Toledano has lived in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for over twenty years as a writer, translator and teacher. [a]multipicity is multi-lingual collection of reflections through the humanities.

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