Delhi photographer Pallavi sees all of Delhi as a series of candid shots: just call her Lois Lane. For the last couple of years, she’s been conducting walks through the city with a focus on its everyday urbanity, its side-lanes, its small, quiet beauties — and its night-time avatars.
She’s just the person to call if you’re nervous about walking through the city after dark. Pallavi’s new project is called Delhi Galiyara, and takes walkers through familiar parts of Delhi — Chandni Chowk and her favourite Mehrauli — after sunset, but not as part of a history tour or extended brunch exercise. At night, the focus shifts to freedom.
“Mehrauli Archaeological Park by night, for example, is a totally different beast,” she explains. “But Mehrauli comes with its own set of stereotypes. It’s considered unsafe, unsavoury. Part of the reason to do this walk is to tell a different story, to stop beliefs in rumours about these places.” Part of the goal is to collapse the arbitrary boundaries Delhi residents often draw between “safe” and “unsafe.”
Pallavi conducted night walks for the Hidden Pockets community organisation before she set out to do her own thing; she’s currently leading rambles for students and associates of South Asian University as part of their event ‘Ghumakkari: Gender, City and Loitre’ (“They wanted some French fervour,” she smiles.)
“I’m interested in gender and the urban space,” she says. “For me these walks bring theories taught in class to practice, through the way we as women experience the city.”
Part of the reason to do this walk is to tell a different story, to stop beliefs in rumours about these places.” Part of the goal is to collapse the arbitrary boundaries Delhi residents often draw between “safe” and “unsafe.”
Pallavi’s walks meander through tourist-friendly neighbourhoods, but “there are enough people focusing on heritage or food, and I won’t be doing that,” she says. Instead she wants to pay attention to and celebrate these neighbourhoods as lived-in places, where the weight of the past gives way to the flow and surge of the present.
So on her Mehrauli trail, she’ll take you from Adam Khan’s tomb through the night market and to the dargah. Along the way, her companions get to see part of the the Archaeological Park under the stars, in a group and with a guide that won’t make it scary or strange for you. And Pallavi knows the ‘chor raastas,’ or small, casual slip-roads by which locals and villagers navigate the sprawl of neighbourhoods after colony gates close and street lights fade away.
The word ‘galiyara’ is almost giddily poetic, and Pallavi’s inspiration comes from how sweetly it sits in between mundanity and magic. “‘Kaun jaye Zauq, Dilli ki galiyaan chhod kar,’” as she reminds us — the Delhi flaneur’s slogan, borrowed from a Shahjahanabad darling, that implies that no one would be foolish enough to leave the lanes of Delhi. “From Chandni Chowk to Mehrauli,” she says, “it’s just a maze of lanes, narrow and broad. ‘Dilli’ and ‘galiyara’ go hand in hand.” Let go of that Mace for a moment to put your hand in hers.
Image credit: Pallavi / Delhi Galiyara.
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