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Old Delhi in new light

Old Delhi in new light
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First Published: Fri, May 01 2009. 09 22 PM IST

 In technicolor: Apart from marigolds, plastic flowers find takers at the flower market at Fatehpuri Chowk (top); spices on sale at Pul Mithai (bottom); from utensils to vegetables, the spice market h
In technicolor: Apart from marigolds, plastic flowers find takers at the flower market at Fatehpuri Chowk (top); spices on sale at Pul Mithai (bottom); from utensils to vegetables, the spice market h
Updated: Fri, May 01 2009. 09 22 PM IST
Waking up at 6am on a Sunday is not my idea of fun but when a two-in-one opportunity beckons—a chance to explore Delhi and brush up my less than stellar photography skills—it is not so easy to ignore the persistent ring of the alarm. I had signed up for the recce trip of the first workshop of Dilli 6—a six-part photography workshop series organized by Fuschia Tree, a New Delhi-based Web gallery. The objective is to encourage amateur photographers to explore six aspects that represent the essence of Delhi. From history, culture and monuments, to food and fashion, all six journeys through Delhi have been envisioned through four (two on-site and two studio) sessions per workshop, with each journey being led by a professional photographer.
In technicolor: Apart from marigolds, plastic flowers find takers at the flower market at Fatehpuri Chowk (top); spices on sale at Pul Mithai (bottom); from utensils to vegetables, the spice market has it all (right). Photographs by Nagendra Chhikara and Seema Chowdhry / Mint
The first workshop, which ends today, was about “Purani Dilli (Old Delhi)”. Nagendra Chhikara, a Delhi-based freelance commercial photographer who also specializes in travel photography, led this particular workshop. He picked the flower market outside Fatehpuri Masjid, and the spice market at Pili Kothi Chowk (also known as Pul Mithai).
Growing up in Delhi, I have visited Chandni Chowk many times but never so early in the day. It has always been during the hustle-bustle hours, for the usual trousseau shopping or to gorge on parathas at Paranthewali Gali.
I met Chhikara outside the Chandni Chowk Metro station. Though the shops were shut, making our way through this area even so early in the day was a bit of a struggle. The bylanes had woken up a while ago and were way past their first shot of morning caffeine. There was already a pile of used donas (bowls made from dry leaves) strewn around the cart of the hawker selling halwa at the mouth of the street. The rickshaws, which ferry people through the narrowing bylanes of Kinari Bazaar, Khari Baoli and Dariba Kalan during the day, were loaded with cardboard boxes. The asymmetrical line-up of rickshaws was the subject of my first photograph of the day—and earned me the first lesson in photography. “A picture must tell a story and the way to do that is to compose a picture in your mind first. Learn to visualize what the picture will look like before clicking and try to add depth or motion in a static shot,” said Chhikara.
Further up the street, the same rickshaws became carriers of sacks full of red chillies. As I tried to photograph a loaded “chilli rickshaw” from about a foot away, I couldn’t help but sneeze continuously, much to the amusement of the porters lugging the sacks nonchalantly. My second photography nugget of the day: “Watch the light. If you can’t control it, then don’t waste a frame on a shot that will be overexposed.”
By 7.20am, the flower market outside the Fatehpuri Masjid was winding up for the day. Unlike the flower markets at Mehrauli and opposite Hanuman Mandir, where flowers such as carnations, gladioli and orchids are available, here marigolds in fiery oranges and golden yellows and magenta desi gulab (roses) seemed to be the favoured blooms. Strings of betel leaves were strewn all around. A few hawkers sold jasmine flowers but there were not many takers. Good old genda (marigolds) had the market cornered.
As we moved towards Pul Mithai (or the Pili Kothi Chowk area), the rickshaws made a reappearance, this time stacked with steel trunks. After 20 photographs or so, this was the first frame that met with Chhikara’s approval. “The smattering of blue on the frame of (the) rickshaw, the signboard in (the) background and on the trunks give this picture a sense of symmetry.”
By 7.45am, the spice market was already chaotic. People were bargaining over spices and dry fruits. From the more organized shops along the periphery of the bridge to the hundreds of hawkers who were setting up their patri (roadside) shops, the area was awash with flashes of red, yellow and green.
I had never seen dhania (coriander) powder in such a peculiar shade of lime green, or jeera (cumin) powder which was more ochre than brown. Cashew nuts, almonds, raisins, copra, melon seeds, bay leaves—there was no edible seed, fruit, root, bark, leaf that could not be found here.
On the bridge divider sat women selling fresh vegetables, and as I walked along, stacks of spices gave way to pulses, which then made way for mundane items such as reels of colourful thread, cooking vessels, waterproof watches, fancy sunglasses and even old cycle tyres.
As I tried to take a few pictures, some of the more savvy hawkers demanded as much as Rs100 for posing, and for a shot of their wares. Thankfully there were others who wanted nothing more than a peek at the picture on our digital cameras before they went out of their way to make the spice powders look even more enticing for the photographs. “Chat with your subjects. Street photography yields results only if you connect with your subjects,” said Chhikara, delivering his final lesson of the day.
The 40-minute excursion through the Pili Kothi Chowk, ended at Chaina Ram’s mithai (sweet) shop at Fatehpuri Chowk. This 108-year-old shop (it was set up in 1901 in Lahore, Pakistan, and has been in Old Delhi since 1947), adjacent to the door of the Fatehpuri Masjid, is known for its asli ghee Karachi halwa and seviyan ki burfi (traditional sweets) and was choc-a-bloc with patrons who had come, like us, for their Sunday morning breakfast of chhole-aloo with puris as we had. As we waited to be served, we chanced upon another photographer, Mohan Gidwani, this time behind the counter of Chaina Ram. Gidwani photographs mating insects. Who knows, his work might just inspire the Fuschia Tree to organize a seventh workshop on insect life in Old Delhi.
The second workshop will be held on 8 May and will focus on the street foods of Delhi. The participation fee is Rs3,500. For details, log on to www.thefuschiatree.com
seema.c@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, May 01 2009. 09 22 PM IST