Love in the Gully: Better connectivity leads to broken connection

Asuvidha Ke Liye Khed Hai (sorry for the inconvenience), reads the blue Metro diversions. The construction of the red-line Metro at Kashmere Gate is in full swing.
The Metro has changed space and time in Delhi
The Metro has changed space and time in Delhi

After the sun goes down, Zaid and Shahid, hiding from curious eyes, meet at the corner of the Kashmere Gate bus terminal. Hand in hand, the two lovers walk along a path of the Maharaja Agrasen Park nearby. They enter a public toilet cubicle with white-tiled walls marked with red paan stains. Tears in their eyes, they wrap up as soon as they can and part the blue bamboo chick blinds, as they embrace one last time before another metro line comes up and disrupts their routine.

Asuvidha Ke Liye Khed Hai (sorry for the inconvenience), reads the blue Metro diversions. The construction of the red-line Metro at Kashmere Gate is in full swing. The result: old places are being torn down to build new ones, for better connectivity. But what about the broken connection between Zaid and Shahid?

Lovers’ walks 
Lovers, of course, find their way back, but now they must be more careful. With the construction of the Metro in 2002, patrolling has increased near Kashmere Gate. Nandi, a feminine gay man and a sex worker from Old Delhi, mentions Ali,  is one of the many who faced violence from the police. Sex work among queers is now more difficult than ever. 

A creative hack for that is the language of the queer—the Hijra Farsi dialect—used in trans feminine culture. ‘Kade karza’ to alert someone about a suspicious person and ‘dhangor aara pat jao’—a signal to run before the police come. “Sisters use this code language to alert each other of the police,” says Iqbal Ali, 32, a non-binary trans person, who spent their life in the bylanes of Old Delhi, documenting, or as he puts it, “collecting proofs” of queer history. In 2021, they went for a “test drive” of their first queer heritage walk in collaboration with a transmen collective.

The stories Ali tells through their walks are the lived histories of queer people.  TMS attends one such walk, called the Gay Cruising Walk. Pointing out to the cruising spots starting from the Maharaja Agrasen Park to Nicholson Cemetery near the Kashmere Gate bus terminal, Ali says these spots existed way before dating apps. Men would hang handkerchiefs in their pockets with colours indicating their preferences.  “These spots have stayed active for the interaction of gay- and trans-sex workers. If you are around this area, your Grindr won’t stop buzzing,” adds Ali. 

Next he stops at a tea stall, whose owner, a gay man, talks to the people on the walk, sharing his experiences of living in Old Delhi. They share that the tea seller has rescued many abused trans-sex workers and people of the queer community. Police violence is common here, they say. Ali directs the crowd not to approach the tea seller when his wife is near, for she is unaware of her husband’s sexuality.  
The next stop on the walk is the wrestler’s akhara, “one of the oldest in Old Delhi”, says Ali. Growing up in and around the by-lanes of Old Delhi, Ali always knew about the akhara as a gay cruising spot. “There is something very homoerotic about the place, working-class men from across Delhi come here for their dates, but caretaker Haji Saheb denies it,” says Ali. True enough, Haji Saheb as we went into his akhara, spoke at length about the akhara’s history, but never did he mention its queer connection. “These histories are uncomfortable for many people, only then it allows us to probe deeper,” says walk participant, Callistine Lewis, a student.   

Hidden histories
What makes Ali’s walk different from other walks around Old Delhi is that his is not about the buildings, but the hidden histories of its people. It took Ali more than a year of research to come up with his walks.  “Queer history is often marginalised because it does not match with the dominant narrative,” they say.  “But there are clear mentions of homoerotic poetry in 18th-century poet Mir Taqi Mir’s writing.” Well-versed in Mir and other sources, Ali now conducts several heritage walks around Old Delhi—including queer icon Razia Sultan’s tomb and Hare Bhare Sahib Dargah, near Jama Masjid, exploring the love between a Muslim pir and a Hindu boy in the 17th century.  

“Not only is it a joy to be around queer people and listen to our stories being told by a queer person, it is also a realisation that the contribution of queer people in history has been taken for granted,” says walk participant Jaishree Kumar, a queer journalist. Ali’s walks are also an attempt to sensitise people about the community. They have witnessed a gradual, yet noticeable, change in locals’ attitudes towards the queer community when they come across the local queer history of their areas.  

Ali’s walks also go beyond the walls of Shahjahanabad, all the way to Hauz Khas, covering the queer history of Allaudin Khalji -- the ruler of the Khalji dynasty and his slave general Malik Kafur. Soon, they are launching a walk in Mehrauli about a Sufi Hijra hospice–Hijro Ki Khanqah.  

Related Stories

No stories found.

The New Indian Express