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You may never have heard of Madangir, all of five minutes from the mall promenades of Saket. If you have, it may have been from a metro page brief, next to words like “murder,” “drugs,” “poverty” and “juvenile crime.” It’s true that all of these find a home in Madangir. But so does style -- oodles of it. 

Walk through the crowded lanes of the main Madangir market, near C-block, and you’ll find bustling shops, malls and hair salons offering the latest fits and cuts, all targeting young men, many of whom appear regularly in Delhi’s district courts, charged with crimes ranging from assault to selling drugs. Almost all of them dress like they’re going to be the next Zayn Malik. 

It’s true: nearly every “funky dude” (what they call themselves) in this hood has two things in common -- a rap sheet, and an adoration for the pop star’s style. It’s not because he has Gigi Hadid by his side. They’re more faithful to fashion than that; what they love are his side-swept locks and rolled-up skinny jeans.

What sets them apart from other adolescents playing dress-up is that, uniquely for men in south Delhi, they’re not just aspiring. Above all else, the boys of Madangir think they’ve made it. The chargesheets may spell mayhem, but the clothes exude cool control.

As soon as a boy turns 13, an interest in clothes is sparked, I’m told by Kartik Kumar, whose family has been living in Madangir for the last 50 years. All the kids in Madangir are very fashionable, he insists. He’s 16, newly dropped out of the tenth standard. When I see him this week, he’s wearing a blue Adidas tee shirt tight enough to show off his muscles, and a pair of grey skinny jeans rolled up at the ankles. Blue sneakers, worn sockless, complete the look.

His hair is styled in Malik’s 2015 signature Elvis pouf, called “the Zayn” in these lanes. He gets his hair done regularly at his favourite salon — Hair Garage By Sam. “There’s no one like Sam,” he says. Too young for Malik’s current bearded look, he’s trying to get the togs right for now.

Above all else, the boys of Madangir think they’ve made it. The rap sheets may spell mayhem, but the clothes exude cool control.

Nothing Kartik is wearing is authentic by his own admission. No item in his look costs more than Rs 300. The clothes are from Charlie Fashion, a Madangir go-to for stylish shoppers. The start of the week is the best time to go hunting for cool clothes, he says: Madangir shops get their stock in every Monday.

Kartik’s friend Mohit Sharma is a skinny 17-year-old studying BA Honours from Bhagat Singh College. He’s scared about his English exam this week, and his crinkled brow adds to his Harry Potter charm. His black skinny jeans — again, rolled at the ankles Malik-style— go with an azure shirt untucked and buttoned right to the top. He’s wearing spectacles this week. “Bas dikhane key liye hain, vaise I can see,” he explains -- the specs are just for show. The silver studs in both ears are his real obsession. “I shop once a month for clothes, but I go weekly to buy ear studs,” he says. His current baali-count is eight. The earrings show to good effect, thanks to another hairstyle by the infamous Sam of Madangir.

Neither boy is unique, but their generation seems to be. Older Madangir men enjoy their clothes -- which Delhi man doesn’t? -- but aren’t as trendy as their little brothers. Their style is more relaxed. Take Vishnu Kumar, 22, owner of a driver service, repelled by the thought of working for anyone but himself. Known in Madangir as the Model, Vishnu is obsessed with the gym, where he goes twice a day. “Ten times a week,” he says.

But buttons and bulges aren’t his thing. When I meet him most recently, he’s in “Reebok” sweats and classic Kolhapuris, kicking back in a chair like he hasn’t a care in the world. (He does: it’s his hair, fashioned after an old Arjun Rampal style, and the perpetual recipient of his careful attention. Just mention it, and his hand will flutter to fix a stray strand.)

“You know, if you ask anyone in Madangir, they say they buy their clothes from Sarojini Nagar,” says RK Paliwal, a venerable 32. “But actually everyone goes to the Madangir central market.” It’s the place to be on the last Tuesday of every month, he says. “The kind of export surplus you get here, Sarojini doesn’t even see.”

Hair is RK’s thing, too: the streaks are held back with a wired head-band, staying out of his eyes as he goes about his business as a plumber. As a kid, he spent a year in jail for robbery. Now, he says, several judges from the Saket district court are his clients. 

“The new generation is looking at artists, singers, actors — they look funky, they get the girls. Who wouldn’t want that?” RK says. 

Getting there: Charlie Fashion, BF-1, Dr Ambedkar Nagar, Sector 4, Madangir; Hair Garage by Sam, 255, G-1, Dr Ambedkar Nagar.

This story was contributed by Avantika Mehta, a legal reporter and independent journalist whose work has appeared in the Hindustan Times and Scroll. She is on Twitter and Instagram as bitingfriends.

Image by Sam of Hair Garage by Sam.


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