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Monday, Oct 21, 2019

Delhiwale: Romancing the grand old staircases

Metallic or spiral, glamorous or rusty — step on to some remarkable staircases in Delhi for perspective and beauty

delhi Updated: May 30, 2018 10:25 IST
Mayan Austen Soofi
Mayan Austen Soofi
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Elevators and escalators are gradually taking over, downgrading staircases to mere fire escapes.
Elevators and escalators are gradually taking over, downgrading staircases to mere fire escapes. (HT photo)

Grand old staircases haven’t yet suffered the fate of the bird dodo — extinction — but they are few and far between. Elevators and escalators are gradually taking over, downgrading staircases to mere fire escapes. For instance, a famous staircase in Delhi is, alas, no longer available for the viewing. Old patrons of The Book Worm at Connaught Place — that closed years ago — still fondly recall that sinuous spiral staircase ascending to the mezzanine floor stacked with books about cinema.

Even then, a few gorgeous staircases can still be found in some old colonial-era buildings in the capital such as the Teen Murti Bhawan. The next time the Israeli ambassador invites you around, do take a moment to admire the majestic flight leading to private quarters… to say nothing about the winding staircase at the Polish ambassador’s residence.

Far more accessible is the gorgeous staircase at the market corridor in Janpath, close on Ajanta Photo Studio. Leading up to a bookstore, these stairs feature patterned metallic balusters in the same shade. On sunny afternoons they cast vivid shadows on the wall, appearing more profound than the balusters themselves.

The staircase is so cleverly and artistically constructed that if you stand on the bottom floor and gaze upwards you’ll not only get a direct view of the roof but you can also follow the angular path of the rusty handrails all the way to the top, as if it’s a piece of gradually unfolding music.

Bunched into a neat set of small flights, the staircase becomes more poignant when you compare it with the worn-out character of the building itself, with its empty halls, dust-covered floors and cobwebbed corners. Somewhat like Delhi itself where patches of profound beauty survive in grim squalor.


The little girl introduces herself in English. It is early evening but half of the family is already done with the day. Sanya’s two younger brothers are deep in dreams — slumped by the road, inches away from the evening traffic.

The young girl lives at a south Delhi pavement. Her mother is a homemaker. The father, a papad seller, is awaited home though Sanya must soon go to sleep.

“Mummy wakes me up at 6am with anda and doodh and then I walk to the school... all by myself,” she says in Hindi, shyly, all the time being prompted by her equally shy mother.

The girl is barely eight but has already planned a career. “I want to be a teacher... a teacher teaches everybody, and everybody likes a teacher including everybody’s mummy papa.”

Sanya’s ambitions are even more specific. She wants to teach English to her future students.

That may become possible one day though for now she can speak only a single sentence in that language — the one in which she introduced herself.

“My English is bad,” she says, looking at her mother who protectively places her arms around Sanya’s shoulders.

Soon afterwards the girl picks up her slumbering siblings one by one and moves them to a mattress her mother has laid on the safer end of the pavement.

First Published: May 30, 2018 10:25 IST

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