I call it the Law of Ganesha, whereby passing through any 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 what was on my mind on my most recent visit to Delhi’s folkloric neighborhood, Chandni Chowk, called Old Delhi or Delhi 6. It had once been called Shahjahanabad, after the Moghul Emperor’s daughter, who designed the “Moonlight Esplanade” that would extend from Red Fort until the Fatehpuri Masjid. It may be the most famous neighborhood in all of India.
Chandni Chowk is certainly the most famous neighborhood in my heart, because it is where I had entered India many years ago. It is a place inside me no matter where I go. All of life’s road had led me to its ancient, rambling kuchas, katras and galis, where I underwent a transformation, learning about things I had to leave behind and other things I would have to accept. I emerged from its cocoon a very different animal.
Years ago, I had already heard of the looming development program for Chandni Chowk. There remains controversy until today about what to do with 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, having ordered 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 enters 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.