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Frozen in time

entertainment Updated: Sep 18, 2010 00:41 IST
Mayank Austen Soofi
Mayank Austen Soofi
Hindustan Times
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You should never walk in Gole Market after dark. They say that peepal trees are the natural habitat of ghosts and many peepal trees are to be found here. Lining the avenues.

Guarding the parks. Leaning over the temple walls. Blocking the view of Nirula’s. Everywhere. Oddly, the here residents do not seem to be scared of these trees. We saw an old lady sleeping under its afternoon shade. A Punjab Kesari reader reclined against its trunk. And a young man peeing on it.

The market’s most visible historical artifact, the circular building, was a part of Edwin Lutyen’s design for New Delhi. Developed by the British in the early 20th century, Gole Market had senior government officials as its earliest occupants. Many happened to be Bengalis. No wonder there are shops selling a wide variety of Bengali products from Jamdani sarees to the Ganashakti newspaper.

The Saraswati Book Depot, on Bhagat Singh Marg, has a Bengali flavour. Its owner, Hari Pada Das, is like a side character of Satyajit Ray’s Feluda mysteries. All day long he sits in the darkness of his ill-lit store selling Bengali-language books and journals.

It is eerie in the shop: dusty shelves, old books, and a disconcerting quietness. Das laments the dwindling population of Bengalis. “This place abounded with Bengalis once, but many have left now. The business has gone down. The one-way traffic has made bad things worse,” he says.

For the stomach
Most food lovers in the city must be familiar with Gole Market’s Kaleva and Bengal Sweet House. Try Karachi Halwa too. It belongs to the Khemani family who migrated from Sindh almost a decade before the Partition. If too much sweet proves to be unhealthy, then Ram Manohar and Lady Hardinge hospitals are close by. Many doctors used to live in the area. One neighbourhood is known as Doctor Lane.

There are also many places of worship in the immediate locality. In fact, the aptly named Mandir Marg is lined with several houses of worship such as Valmiki Mandir, Birla Mandir, Kali Mandir, Arya Samaj Mandir, and St. Thomas’ Church.

Alongside religion, education is also a top draw here. And so, no dearth of schools — from Shahrukh Khan’s St. Columba’s to Kendriya Vidyalaya. Also don’t miss walking past the RM Arya Girls Primary School in Doctor Lane. It is housed in a most beautiful colonial-era mansion. With the city rapidly changing its visual look, Gole Market seems to have somehow frozen in time.