From foreigners to transgenders and students to artists, all found home in Delhi’s centrally located and affordable Khirki Extension. Somnath Bharti’s midnight raid here may fade, but with the cracks it has left, it may be a long time before Khirki is the same, find Pritha Chatterjee & Aditi Vatsa.
In a basement on a rainy afternoon, three students from Congo in their 20s are trying out their musical instruments. They have formed a choir for prayer meetings, where young African professionals and students gather thrice a week. The keyboard, drums and guitars are arranged on a decorated platform, while chairs line a red carpet. “We have turned this basement into a church,” says John Kahilu, a 24-year-old student. “There is no image of god here, we find him through our music, and these are the most unconventional prayer songs you will hear.” Their landlord of three years, who lives on the floor above, is “not sure” what the basement is used for, but loves the music that travels through closed doors. Making chapatis for lunch, she hums along.
A block away, a group of women models has just returned home from a photo shoot. They drop down exhausted on couches, dabbing their eyes with make-up removers, while their house help prepares coffee, amid the post-shoot chatter of “fussy photographers” and “haughty designers”. Between the ages of 18 and 32, they are Czechoslovakians who have been staying at Khirki Extension for eight months now. With three modelling agencies in the neighbourhood, the models have had a packed few months. Conversation drifts to how it has been ages since they visited their favourite haunt in Khirki, Baba ka Dhaba, for adrak ki chai (ginger tea).
A group of young kids, from a slum colony called the Jagdamba area, behind Apeejay School, sit in rapt attention in class as their teacher takes them through three-and four-letter words. This is Jack Todd’s second stint as a teacher in Delhi, and Khirki Extension has been his home both times. A volunteer for the NGO Swechha, Todd lives in R Block. “I feel safer in Khirki than I do in parts of south London… and that’s something,” he says.
A 28-year-old woman — a “Partition Punjabi”, she calls herself — has just got her children home from school, and is rushing them in for a bath. It’s weekend, so their “Daddy” will join them for lunch, she says shyly. Their neighbours, a couple who study in JNU, are contemplating marriage after a year of living together. As they quarrel over what to order for lunch, the Beatles song Let It Be drifts in continued…