After reading more than a fair share of “Mumbai literature”, I started to look for novels with Delhi as a backdrop. Both The Peacock Throne by Sujit Saraf and Twilight in Delhi by Ahmed Ali took me straight into the heart of Old Delhi. To the myriads of bi-lanes and back-lanes. The Peacock Throne made me terribly curious about Chandi Chowk, the main arterial of Old Delhi. Whereas Twiligth in Delhi made me equally curious about flying pigeons…
Some people seem to think that going on a guided tour is a defeat. The genuine traveller is (supposedly) the independent traveller. For the most part, I strongly disagree. A good guide sometimes makes all the difference and takes you to places you would never end up on your own.
On my recent trip to Delhi I had planned well and carefully booked several trips, among them Old Delhi by Old Delhi Bazaar Walk & Haveli Visit. Food was mentioned as a common thread, but food is something I’m not too interested in – apart from through a camera lens. The trip as a whole seemed interesting though and soon we – a group of five – were in tow behind Dhruv and Anju. Not before long we were “climbing” a rooftop. It was quite early in the day; I didn’t feel the need of escaping neither heat nor crowds. Still, we all filled our lungs with fresh air (as fresh as it gets in Old Delhi) and admired the wide, wide view – which included the beautiful Jama Masjid – before I realised what we really had come for. Pigeons…
Hot gusts of wind were blowing. The leaves of the date palm flapped with dreary sound; and the glare of the sun hurt the eyes. But the pigeon-fliers shouted with gusto, beat corrugated iron sheets, and whistled loudly and long. (Ahmed Ali).
Flying pigeons is very much a part of the culture described in Twilight in Delhi. Mir Nihal keeps his pigeons in cages in his loft. All through the book we share his joys and sorrows; the carefree flying, the small disasters when his beloved pigeons die of heat stroke or end up up in the jaws of a snake. The happiness of finding a really rare specimen…
I tried to envisage the pigeons, their surroundings and not at least the flying. And suddenly I found myself in the middle of it, on a Delhi rooftop. Dhruv gave his commands; get into position ladies: eek, do teen open the cages. And out came the pigeons.
The flock swarmed above us. They seemed to disappear in the horizon. Then they came closer, and again almost disappeared. Other flocks appeared, but they all kept to each other. The two men on the rooftop were cooing and calling in many ways; shouting, whistling. They know their flock from any other. The flock knows where they belong.
The anticipation grew; how would it look like when they all came back. I was thinking; even if it takes the whole day I want to see the landing because I was now in the middle of Twilight in Delhi.
– They will come back, Anju reassured us. We all possibly looked a bit doubtful. Still, we enjoyed the time-out and were kept busy with minor activites and posing for each others cameras.
Yes, the flock landed eventually. Nobody counted, but they all came home to their cages. We had got a glimpse of a nearly vansihed life and culture of Old Delhi. I felt exhilerated as we found our way back to the streets of Old Delhi! Thank you Dhruv – thank you Anju.