Nija Maharjan

For the presentation on the last day, I was drawing the “chaiwala bhaiya” to tell his story of Dharampura. While doing so I realized I was engaging with the image and having this dialogue with him. I did not directly have a conversation with him but heard about him from the Bangle shop owner right in front of his teashop. In the process of drawing I was building layers of meanings from the conversation brewing in my mind and was able to illustrate my observation and communicate with a few words. I was convinced more on using visual narratives after seeing the presentations of both groups; how use of visuals had enriched our experience of observation and learning and made us more involved in the conversation.

Another important aspect of this learning experience for me was getting to study Dharampura with friends who come from different backgrounds, not just academic but even geographical and social backgrounds; this helped us look deeper and also beyond the romantic notion of Old Delhi. In addition to that, the presence of faculty from different disciplines and their response to our observations and analysis were crucial and provided us with different perspectives through their own lens.

My only dissatisfaction would be not being able to work more on the final findings as a group as we spent more days on field visits but allocated only a few hours to settle, look, study and discuss our collected materials. I think we lacked at concluding and weaving all our stories together but I am hoping we get to do that through online meetings.


Businesses as placemakers in Dharampura 

The narrow gallis (alleys) of Dharampura are formed with neatly lined old houses with beautifully carved stone facades. Even though most of the facades are falling off or being transformed with new materials, the place seemed to be giving its all to keep surviving. The stretch of Dharampura galli is not very far but walking through even this short distance provided so many different experiences. One factor contributing to this experience was the businesses on the street and at the side of the alleys. 

If we go back to the history of this place, it is said that the Mughal king invited Jains to live here and start business as they were known to have expertise in that field. The evidence of this story can be the thick population of the Jain community in this area and the presence of a century old ancient Jain temple. Also we can see most of the old businesses owned by this community. Especially in Dharampura street we can see many old Bangle shops passed down through generations and in the present day run by the same family or rented out to other businesspeople. 

Fig: Old Jain bangle shop standing next to a space turned not into a convenient store 

The presence of these shops not only makes the street a space of transaction but also space for socialization and engaging people. They are directly and actively contributing to placemaking in Dharampura. Its presence contributed to a new morphology of the street. Many had repurposed the structures for business, and changed the interiors accordingly. We were told by the locals that many house owners were moving out of Dharampura to a new neighborhood with good living facilities and that they either let their houses on rent to other tenants or business owners. Having said this, there were people also who had migrated to this place many years ago like Gokul ji who came to Dharampura in search of work some thirty years ago from Calcutta. This place is home to him now, his family grew here, now even his son takes after craftsmanship of making jewelleries. Like him there are many families who migrated to Dharampura looking for job opportunities, this place has remained an economic center for a long time. We can see multiple families living in one haveli sharing the space and resources. 

Walking around the old abandoned havelis and talking to people had given me the impression that soon the place would be deserted with no people living there. But seeing how almost all the ground floor of the houses were turned up into local shops gave me a hint that this place was thriving. The business could not have flourished in absence of community. 

When talking about the economic activity happening around Dharampura, one cannot miss the Dharampura Haveli and the Golden Haveli in the locality. There are many opinions towards this luxury hotel situated in the Dharampura but everyone would agree that this influences the economic activities around the place as it attracts many tourists. Even Though this place is guarded and access to the space is limited only for its guests, locals like Gokul ji instantly mentions this haveli when asked about what he likes in Dharampura. 

These luxury hotels were restored and now it exhibits the traditional Mughal architecture and curates cultural experiences for its guests. While the stay inside Haveli gave them the royal experience, the experience of walking through the streets of Dharampura adds value to their business. These luxury hotels would not have the same mark if it was not situated in these old alleys. The place around these hotels did contribute in making of Haveli Dharampura and now the presence of this Haveli Dharampura is influencing new spaces in the place. 


The old Delhi is also a great tourist attraction, tourists come to experience the historical and architectural beauty of the place. We spotted a few tourist guides giving tours in the streets of Dharmapura. It was interesting to see how they were showing the havelis and narrating the glories of the beauty of this place in the Mughal times. I was wondering how even the traces of the old havelis were important for people to tell important stories of past time and connect to that time.

We visited Dharampura for four days and were observing and talking to people we met. On our first visit, we were wondering where to start and decided to have tea before that. The eight of us made ourselves comfortable sitting in the chabutra opposite to the tea shop. There were other locals drinking tea and having conversations, we slowly entered their space and started the conversation about our research. While drinking the cup of tea, I was thinking about how these tea shops were always a good place to inquire about the locality. Even though this time, I didn’t have much conversation with the shop owner as he seemed to be busy with his business and not much of a talker. While spending days in front of his tea shop, I observed how he was a good listener and only commented a few times. But I did get to know more about him from the bangle shop owner in front of the tea shop. He was very open to having conversations and engaging in conversation with us. According to him, the tea shop was previously owned by a Jain person and the current tea shop owner joined him as a help when he was little. After his passing away, the boy now takes the ownership of the shop. 

I found myself drinking tea in this place everyday but my other friend had found her own favorite tea stall down the street. Here, the tea stall was pushed to the edge of the wall of remains of old haveli. His space was limited but it was very organized and functional; he was running a business very smoothly with occasionally shouting here and there while managing the space. The street was much narrower here so there seemed to be much more traffic around here. Also because he was older in business, he seemed to have different relationships with his customers and the business itself. 

It was interesting to see how these public spaces were functioning as pockets of private businesses. There must have been a good relationship and understanding between the vendors and locals to be able to make all this happen without conflicts. These small businesses have become the character of these alleys and part of locals residing here. 

The presence of these small businesses in public spaces also engage people; whether they are locals or tourists. They are definitely a place for locals to meet each other, spend a few extra minutes chit chatting and catch up. But they also are a point for outsiders to get in touch with the community. Some would just sit, rest, drink , talk . If you want to go talk, you can go talk with the shopkeepers. These are not only economic spots but also a social space. 

In my observation the use of these spaces as commercial spots further encourages use of other public spaces. My initial understanding of Dharampura as a place of old havelis with beautiful architecture shifted to Dharampura as a place with its gallis and shops alongside that brings people together and rooted here. I would like to remember a line told by Gokul ji when I asked him if Dharamapura was beautiful thirty years ago or now, he answered- 

Dharampura aab sundar hein. Abhi log jyada hein aab. Pehle kam log thein” 

“Dharampura is beautiful now. Now there are more people. Before there were less people.” 

Photo Credit: Dhiraj Manandhar

 Illustration: Nija Maharjan 

Participants Bio

Nija Maharjan is an illustrator, graphic designer and animator. Her works strongly reflect her roots and the surrounding that she feels connected to. She is currently an MFA student at Kathmandu University, School of Arts, Department of Art and Design, she mostly focuses on oral histories from the Newar community of the valley and represents them in her work through children’s picture books and animated videos.

She has recently discovered her interest in  Research works  and is looking forward to exploring the possibilities of using visual narratives in communicating and engaging  the finding with a wider audience.