At a time when the country’s top leadership has ‘chowkidar’ prefixed to their names, lost in obscurity in Old Delhi is Gali Chokidar Wali. Home to only a few, the lane lies deep inside Ballimaran, at Punjabi Phatak. And as the name suggests, it was home to guards or ‘chowkidars’ once upon a time.
With very little written about it, leads on the name and its origin come from custodians of oral history — men and women born and raised in Gali Chokidar Wali, like their forefathers.
Professor Shamsul Haq Usmani (73), who taught Urdu literature at Jamia Millia Islamia till 2013, and is a resident of Gali Chokidar Wali, said, “There was Haveli Hisamuddin Haider which belonged to Nawab Hisamuddin Haider, a Mughal noble who rebelled against the British in 1857. There were four-five guards and their daroga who lived in this lane and it came to be called Gali Chokidar Wali. Not much thought was given, it’s what the locals called it.”
Opposite Usmani’s house lives Mohd Shafi (65), whose father Ahmedullah was a guard. “When my father began this job, he was paid Rs 12 a month. When he quit, he was earning Rs 600 a month. The mohalla chowkidar before him was from another family,” said Shafi.
Metres away at Ahata Kaley Saheb is another lane named ‘Gali Chokidar Wali’ and one of its inhabitants, Iqbal Ambalewaley (66), remembers Sharif Ahmed, a guard in the ’60s whose ancestors were employed as guards in the area. “It’s after his family that the lane came to be called Gali Chokidar Wali’. From 2 pm-4 pm, Sharif wouldn’t let a single salesman enter the mohalla as everyone would be resting. If a new person entered the area, he would escort him till our homes. It’s only apt that the lane is named after his family,” said Ambalewaley.
Mohd Sulaiman (79), whose ancestors settled in Ballimaran over 150 years ago, said after the 1857 revolt, the haveli turned into small houses and residents employed a guard. “These houses were owned by Punjabi-Muslims who were mostly businessmen… The guard was allotted a house in the lane, after which it became Gali Chokidar Wali,” said Sulaiman.