“We used to take pride that we were living in an area with such a rich past,” says Sanjay Sharma, resident of Masjid Khajoor in Kinari Bazaar, Chandni Chowk, with a sad smile.
But rich as the past of his neighbourhood — established in 1650 — may have been, its bankrupt present has cost Sharma in many ways.
“I could not send my children to a good school in central Delhi because of my address,” he says. “You see, most school buses don’t even want to come here.”
Buses from most schools — weary of battling the virtually navigation-resistant traffic congestion here — drop children at the Red Fort.
“How could I let my children walk the filthy, crowded lanes back home?”
Even so, Sharma stayed on at his Delhi 6 address.
But many others have not, abandoning their ancestral homes and havelis for more comfortable and civic-friendly, if anonymous, confines. As the number of commercial establishments in the Walled City has grown by 1000 per cent in the last 50 years, its population has dwindled, from 4.2 lakh in 1961 to 2.35 lakh in 2001.
“The Walled City is not a place for families now,” says Anwar Ahmed, who shifted out of his ancestral house in Ballimaran to south delhi in 2005.
Civic agencies have been promising embattled residents for years that their hellish living conditions will improve. But as they say, talk's cheap.
“They are talking about sprucing up this area for tourists ahead of the Commonwealth Games, says Vihans Gupta of Nai Sarak. “They should first make it liveable for the residents.”
The twist in the knife: Chandni Chowk — where poet Mirza Ghalib once lived — has been labelled an ‘urban slum’ in the Slum Areas [Improvement and Clearance] Act of 1956.
“The factors that qualify it as a slum officially are – degraded quality of life; lack of infrastructure, including sewerage, water and electricity problems; collapsing buildings and overall filth. Even the 2001 Master Plan does not recognize it as ‘heritage area’, but as a ‘special area’, says INTACH Delhi Chapter chief A G K Menon.
But no one asks: was it not official apathy that turned moonlight square into a slum in the first place?