Delhiwale: Ghosts of Khan Market
No clacker-clacker of high heels on the front lane pavement. No one saying, “My daughter, who is doing her MBA in New York...” No famous face is to be seen—no litfest author, no foreign ambassador, not even a has-been politician. It’s all empty.
What’s the point, then, of coming to Khan Market?
One of Delhi’s most upscale shopping destinations, it has been for years a place to see and be seen. But these days, it is as quiet and unhappening as the adjacent Jewish graveyard.
“Never thought I’ll see such a thing,” exclaims Abhinav Bamhi, one of the very rare Delhiwallas who happen to live in Khan Market. On his way to a vegetable shop, he is walking along the front lane. He’s the only one there.
His family have been running one of the area’s longest surviving shops, Faqir Chand and Sons. When Khan Market was founded in 1951 to rehabilitate Partition refugees, it was designed to have shops downstairs and houses upstairs. Today, only four homes survive; the others have been turned into cafés and restaurants. The Bamhis live at No. 59.
Mr Bamhi’s house shares its wall with the Town Hall restaurant, which, in BC (Before Corona) era, would teem with Sushi-loving crowds. His kitchen window looks to Cafe Turtle, where a cup of masala chai is priced 155 rupees plus taxes. The young man —he is 22—is conscious of having an extraordinary address. His Instagram handle is called @myhomeiskhan.
“Each time I come out of the house to get groceries, I walk along the lanes, looking at the shuttered shops,” he says, chatting on WhatsApp. “I see the notices announcing ‘Closed due to COVID-19 alert’.”
Mr Bamhi stops by a cake shop and turns his phone camera lens towards its locked glass door. The counter inside, that was once filled with whole portions of carrot cake, chocolate hazelnut cake, blueberry cake, salted caramel brownie, chocolate gooey cake and red velvet pastry, is now empty. Many will remember how this place used to be super-crowded at all times — now, it is looking like a relic from a previous civilisation.
As the Khan Market Instagrammer takes a round of the area, showing the middle lane and the back lane through the phone screen that connects him to this reporter, the surreal aspects of the coronavirus-triggered lockdown become starker. Here, on these lanes, would walk some of the country’s most powerful and rich. Even the world of those super-privileged haven’t been spared by the pandemic. Nothing living is to be seen except for the market’s much-cherished stray dogs. “A lady who lives in (nearby) Sujan Singh Park used to send food for the strays,” Mr Bamhi explains. “She is still sending the food daily.”
Further ahead, a showroom’s security guard in blue uniform is sitting cross-legged on the floor, his eyes focused on his mobile phone.
Gazing upon the haunting emptiness in front of him, Mr Bamhi talks of missing the so-called Khan Market people—“the dignified elderly women in handicraft saris, politicians with bodyguards, young people passionately discussing democracy and fascism, journalists and activists...”
He heads towards the middle lane, turns left into a staircase and returns to the flat that he shares with his parents, brother, sister-in-law and niece, Aradhana. At 19 months, she is Khan Market’s youngest resident.