Reports from the Nangla Maanchi eviction (Dehli settlement)

NM was lively today (Tuesday, 28th March). There were two new faces – Riyaaz and Omveer. Mukesh (who I sometimes run into in Bhogal) had also come. Akhilesh and Dilip had come. Of course, Jaanu was there. “NM is not breaking this week, so you are seeing so many faces.” Ankur’s family is packing the last few remains in their house. We had heard yesterday that his family had decided to shift on Sunday.

As I entered Nangla, there was a tempo with an entire house packed in, ready to move. Akhilesh said, “Wadhwa Tempo.” I met him at the entrance. “It’s not an NM tempo. They have got someone from outside to move their things”.

There was a huge rally yesterday at Jantar Mantar. Rajdar Babbar, VP Singh… all political leaders were present. Anwari Aapa, who everyone knows but whose name it takes everyone time to remember, had walked around NM yesterday with a big stick, catching young men by their collar and telling them, “Go to the rally”. She has lived in NM forever. A young man walked around saying, “This is where I grew up, this is where my grandmother died. What should I leave behind here, what should I take with me?”

Many went to the rally. It was a huge rally. Women went in big numbers. They lost their slippers in the rush of the rally. And also because they took them off and beat police. And there was police. Tear Gas. Firing. Water hose pipes.

“Mistryji” is just one who has come back with a hole in his arm with a bullet hit. “We beat them with all our might. We had worn old slippers and gone so we would not regret losing them, or their breaking.” They all went with belans and sticks too, and used them.

But faces are smiling today. They have been told the demolitions will be postponed by three months. What the truth value of this is, I guess will be known once some of our comrades go to the nearby police station to ask them on which date they have been asked to be present to oversee and control the “crowd” during demolitions.

Jaanu had gone to the police station yesterday, with Avantika and Shabana (Ankur). The head constable looked at them, then through his papers, then around the room, then at them. “Oh break it will. See I don’t want to break it. But break it will. If not today, then tomorrow. But sooner than later. Our force will be present. It has to be. Otherwise how will it happen. See, demolitions will happen over four days. First two days of peacefully trying to evict, and the last two days to make it happen one way or the other. First the most illegal ones, and last the pre-98 ones.” So now we all have a clearer image, and can practice it in our minds before it happens.

The landlord of the house in which the lab is, and who lives above the lab, has emptied the house. “If it is postponed by three months, maybe I can let it out to someone else. I have packed up. When it has to break, then why wait?” She had gone to some meeting today morning, and was not there when the lab had to be opened, and Jaanu just undid the screws of the bolt and opened the lab. She had come in, her child to her breast, laughing and saying, “I will have you reported for house break!” She spent the entire morning washing the house and the corridor, cleaning everything.

There is no electricity in Nangla, since yesterday morning. “It’s probably a local cut.” Jaanu said. “Maybe they cut it or people would not have gone to the rally. I am sure they are replacing cables right now. I am sure it will be back by evening.” Everyone agrees.

“You should have seen this place yesterday.” Jaanu again. “I walked around after people had left for the rally and put stickers [It quenches the thirst of the thirsty…] on everyone’s thresholds. I almost got beat up. But everyone is hapy with them today. Make sure we have more tomorrow to stick, ok? We’ve finished the ones we had here.”

It was as if the entire locality had gone fluid today… so many people just came into the lab. Just dropping in, chit chatting, and going away. Old men, drunk men, young men, all men. “What are you people doing?” Just general chit chat.

Jaanu has decided not to remove the photographs he has stuck on the walls. “When the basti breaks, and this room is broken, they will fly around and people who pass through will pick them up as puzzles without a location.”

We made plans today, for a broadsheet, for texts, for photographs of decorated (saji huwi) Nangla, for mails to be written on the CM list, for companion conversations in the other labs, about the speed of time in thinking about the making of NM and the speed of time as we wait for it to be broken, about how to write about people who just dropped in for a while today, about the texts everyone had written, about Jaanu’s plans to play his recording of the “Loudspeaker” text maybe from a deck or from the microphone of the masjid, about making the lab a convivial space for the coming little time, about mails sent out on various lists and about how many stories will now slowly link in, about people shifting, about cricket, about things in general.

Now I am waiting to see what tomorrow morning will bring.


Wednesday, 29th March.

Nangla has swollen and is hurrying today. Police is sitting in a long, endless straight line in front of Nangla. Bundles with household materials are lying in clusters all over in the space between the Ring Road and where the houses of the dwelling begin.

In the lanes, there is sound of peoples’ conversations.

A cot is spread outside a house, and a television set, some bundles tied in a tight knot are kept on it, and between them a man is sitting with some diaries and a telephone in his hand. He is looking at the people passing by from in front of him.

Some faces are smiling. Maybe there is some comfort in knowing, I am not alone in this.

A 7-8 year old boy is standing on top of all the carefully packed, tied together, household material. He has a stick in his hand, which he is rotating in the air. He is looking at everyone around him, slowly turning round and round as he watches.

Almost no one is inside the house today. Everyone is outside, sitting at their doors, or along lanes.

A 40-45 year old woman, wearing a saree, is standing, her back resting on the wall of a house. She keeps fixing her pallu on her head. Her eyes keep shifting, as if searching something.

A man is carrying things in both his hands, a fan in one and a bunch of tube light holders in the other. He has anger in his eyes. He speaks suddenly in a loud voice, angry with the MLA, with the government. He looks around to see who is listening to him, who will join him in this.

A 60 year old woman is standing in the middle of a group of five policemen and saying, “Don’t do it today. There is a wedding here today. What are you doing?” She looks around at their faces, which remain expressionless.

CM Lab,
Nangla Maanchi


Dear All,

As we lock the Nangla Maanchi Lab today, we are unsure of whether we will return to a standing room tomorrow. Police has arrived, in a huge strength, in protective gear and with water canons. Close to forty tempos stand along the Ring Road, some shared, some hired by a single family, to pack and leave. The cost of hiring tempos has become prohibitive today.

Lanes are busy with families. Everyone has stepped out and is sitting in front of their house with all their samaan. The lanes are also busy with Nangla being emptied out. Men, young men, old men, young women, older women, boys, girls, all walk up and down, carrying things. There are suitcases, and there are bundles, snowcem buckets – 5 together – with smaller items, cots, big beds, cartons, buckets, single items like chairs being taken out of Nangla.

Some things need two people to be carried – like a blue refrigerator, asbestos sheets pulled out from roofs, a set of two green doors… Two men stop to rest as they carry a cupboard. The lanes leading out of Nangla have lengthened today.

All of these will be carted into the tempos, laid up in an arrangement outside the dwelling, or in the beginning of the green Indraprastha Park opposite the locality, and when the entire house has been emptied, the family will sit by it, on it, or in a carefully set up chair along it. As the day progresses towards afternoon, some have opened their umbrellas and sit under its shade, right outside their houses.

A young girl passes by with her younger sister, through the gathering families and their stock of things from the house, asking, “Is our tempo further away? Is it that one… the last one?”

A small collection from a house – a white box with ‘Shalu kufi’ painted in red on it, a table fan, two bundles with some household samaan, lies unattended in the corner of the lane through which one enters Nangla.

But the other entrances and exits to Nangla, which were sealed up with chest-high walls two months ago, are also active today. A pile of bricks as steps, or short ladders have been set up. And houses flow out from Nangla in bits and pieces through a relay by being passed from inside by one person, and being carried away by another from the outside.

There is a vidaai in progress as the lane turns. A bride decked in bright red stands surrounded by the smiling faces of her husband’s male relatives and friends. Two more weddings are due for tonight and tomorrow. A woman, carrying things from her house on her head, stops by a group of policemen to say, “Let the houses towards the inside be for a while more. There is a wedding there.” All along the lane, bright red and pink sequined dresses are drying after a wash.

One can reach the lab today by walking along where the police is standing inside the locality.

Jaanu has dismantled all the computers in the lab. He will pack the lab first. “My neighbour, the amma, is looking for me all over. My house is yet to be packed.” His father has not come back yet – most people had left for work before the police arrived, and are now returning, if they can be contacted. Dilip’s father and elder brother can’t be. Only his mother and younger sister are at home. “I have gone home so many times already. But there is no activity there right now. Nothing is about to happen there today. No one is packing.”

Only conversations, soft conversations, with almost each strand discernable. The deck that plays loudly outside the lab, but is made softer when Ankur, Dilip or Akhilesh request that it be, for the sake of conversation in the lab, is quiet today – and the young man with long hair who plays it is sitting at the end of the lane on a cot. Doors and thresholds are being quietly dismantled, the screws of bolts being unscrewed with a screw driver, the roofs being removed by gently scraping of the cement from the edges. Nangla is quiet today.

Our neighbour, who often lent us knives and utensils when we cut fruits in the lab has left. One can walk into and out of the one room house at will. Stand at the door and watch people pass. One can climb up the stairs of the landlord and look around at tarpauline roofs, watch the landlady walk up and down the lane umpteen times, her child in a pink dress to her breast, her young daugther, Preeti, walking at her side in a black and white frock. She stops from time to time and says, “My heart is shrinking. Will they bring the bulldozers in today?”

The bulldozers arrive after two. Two of them. Today the shops are being razed. Men have come with rickshas to pick up from the rubble intact bricks, which can be used again.

Today shops, tomorrow the peripheral houses, and the day after, the remainder of Nangla. The Nangla Gaon and some houses built before a cut off date will be allowed to be. They will take time to think of rehabilitation. There is no rehabilitation for the majority of Nangla, which is being dispersed into the city today.

Jaanu packed much of the lab material before leaving to pack his home. Prabhat has organised a room in Shashi Garden (Khichri Pur) for him to shift. From tomorrow Jaanu will come to Nangla in the mornings, and leave at night.

We will begin again, and Prabhat and other comrades from Ankur will slowly recover and pick up the dispersed threads of relationships from the lab, the kitaab ghar, the baal club, the learning centre, by finding out if there are places in the city to which more than two families have shifted together.

Looking now towards tomorrow,

Wednesday, 29th March

Time has a weight, and people carry this weight with them. For instance, just now I crossed a man who stopped me. His face was wet with sweat from carrying a heavy load, his breathing was heavy, his clothes had become dirty from carrying so many things. He said, “Madam, listen… Is our dwelling going to be broken as well?” I didn’t understand. He asked his question again. Then he said, “We don’t have anything – our ration card was made in 1990.”

Whenever I have spoken with anyone in Nangla, there is a pride in them of having made this place. They say, “It was nothing before we came here.” They say, “We have lived here for so many years.”

Names of shops are painted on the walls. Tailor’s shop, STD, Beauty Parlour, and more. Doors and threshold have been decorated with care and love. Neither the walls, or what has been painted on them, nor the decoration, and not the time which these hold can be taken along with
anyone today.

But doors and shutters can be removed and carried. So hammers are knocking at them. But these sounds are few, and far between.

CM Lab,
Nangla Maanchi

Wednesday, 29th March

Many conversations reached the ear when I walked into Nangla. There was a restlessness, and there was hope that someone would supplicate for them and the dwelling would not have to be emptied today. But still, they were emptying the houses, collecting all the samaan in one place outside the house.

I walked on ahead and saw a woman was washing her clothes. How could she not know? How did she look so relaxed? She did not let her restlessness become manifest.

A few steps ahead. An old man and two young children were taking all the samaan out of their house.

We walked on. The lab was around the corner. As we waited outside the lab, the street was very quiet. There was no activity here like there was in the lane before. A lot of people had gathered in the house next door to the lab. The deck was not playing any music today.

We started retracing our steps towards the outside.

Someone was removing the roof of his house. Two people were carefully packing their china and glass utensils.

Everyone was talking. Someone said, “What will we do now?” Someone said, “Can’t the politicians do something?” Someone said, “It doesn’t look like this dwelling will stay any longer.”
Someone cursed the police and someone said, “They are only following orders from above.”
Someone said, “They will carry the curse of the poor with them when they leave.”

Outside, the road was lined with tempos. A boy stood inside one tempo. He was putting the heavier samaan at the bottom. Three young girls walked to the tempo and handed him some more things. The boy took them and quickly put them in their new place in the tempo.

People sat in the space between the road and the dwelling by their samaan. Some sat on cots.

A voice from behind me asked, “What are you doing?” I turned around. It was a police jeep with three policemen inside. I said, I am waiting for a friend. “What are you doing here?” I told him we had a lab in NM, and that is where we were going. Then I asked, “Will Nangla be broken down today?” He said, “Beta, it will not be broken just yet.” I looked at him. I thought, he is giving me false hope. Just then his mobile range and he got busy. I moved on.

Nasreen (CM Lab, Nangla Maachi)

March 29th 2006

How do I begin to write about today? I have hardly begun to absorb it. When we were leaving the compughar at 4 this evening, Prabhat, while locking the familiar green door said, so we have seen this too. In my 13 years I have not witnessed something like this. I had nothing to say. Neither had I.

The compughar was emptied in the course of the day. The computers, furniture, lights, fans, files, negatives, cassettes, boards, were moved. They were loaded onto a tempo that was standing with many others on Outer Ring Road. Traffic was heavy on Outer Ring Road as usual. Except today, it was much slower. To those passing by and going towards Nizamuddin Bridge, it seemed like the settlement on the left, was spilling onto the streets today. Strange. The settlement had become part of the scenery. And like the scenery, it was not supposed to be spilling onto the street. Along with the tempos, there were truckloads of policemen in riot gear. Those cane shields they hold always remind me of garden chairs. Maybe that’s what they are. And the padding on the khaki slip-on half robes is so thin that they look like they’re in line for haircuts. Sadly police presence looks like police presence, and it is enough to make thousands and thousands of people do what they want them to do.

In phases. First the shops would go. Then the structures on the outer edges. Then the homes that had a painted sign that said NDS No Documents, and finally the ones that said P98 post 98. All on different days starting from today.

The Peepal tree that patterned the light coming into the lab has a way of seeming omnipresent. Today I saw that it was. Looking up from the roof of the lab that is also the 1st floor people’s terrace, the Peepal tree spread into the sky for miles. On the other side was a three storied structure that was being broken in parts by the people who lived there. The funny thing was that everything was so noiseless. If I hadn’t followed the hand movements of the two men who were hammering the wall of the house, I wouldn’t have registered it. I had the MD headphones on for a while sitting up there, and the loudest sound was of the birds. I believe they were on that tree.

There had been a wedding this morning in the adjoining lane. There are two more to go. One tomorrow and one the day after. The dholaks and the sequined pink and red outfits on the children playing on the video game consoles that were now outside, made me wonder how different it might have been yesterday. Not that much.

On one of the main roads of the basti, that also leads to the edge of the Yamuna, there was a sea of things. Inside out upside down and waiting to move in the direction of Outer Ring Road into tempos that would scatter them into a headless city. For now they formed patches of shade. Walking alongside took much longer than usual not only because they came in the way of covering ground. There was no longer a self contained line between inside and outside. And perhaps boundaries have something to do with the speed with which one manoeuvres different terrains. I don’t know.


Late last night I began reading the new posts on NM, and I think I must have read them 20 times, again and again. I was completely disoriented. I sent them to many friends. I called people.

Writing about loss is never easy, of a space, years of work, the destruction peoples homes and everyday encounters. All move now after the bulldozers into clouds of dust, memories and the cheerful march of the city in the media and the courts. And the blur of traffic.

For all our comrades in the lab who have been working there, and all the practitioners in CM who continue to write while the space is collapsing, so much of this is beyond representation. Perhaps memories. And so much comes through this – sounds, documents, fragments flying in the air, a kind of surreal violence and anger so far away from the melodrama of spectacular politics.

“Documentation” is a cruel word to call these postings. They are rare fragments of a passing of a space, that is why they are powerful, moving – telling us that the coming myth-history of the New city on the river was also one of a terrible violence.

That is why every time I go back to these texts in the coming years a chill will go through me. I know that.

in solidarity with all the comrades in CM


Dust always flies in the air when a vehicle moves. One who has dwelled here, impossible from mind to remove!

It is no mean feat to be able to cross the Ring Road, and reach Nangla. Today police presence is giving the Ring Road a different identity. The police men sit on the bus stop in front of Nangla, by the Ring Road, watching amid the dust from the cars passing by, people running around with their household samaan. The faces of the policemen are flushed with quiet, ease.

The traffic is so loud, even the horns cannot be heard.

Their hands locked together, behind their backs, some government officials watch people of Nangla gathering up their samaan.

One can still see a dwelling.

But seeing people emptying Nangla of all that was inside it, is slowly making an image of an emptying Nangla, an emptying dwelling.

It is appearing before this group of women and to chase away this terrible image, they are loudly cursing their MLA.

Their morning having let go of them, two young men, having silenced for the time being their understanding of this breaking up dwelling, carry a heavy fridge towards the outside. The sweat on their faces is seeming meaningless to them at this moment.

Everything is looking still, and it is looking fast, moving. Looked through one frame, it seems everyone is entering into a new beginning with their own understanding and in their own ways. And from another frame, it looks like there tomorrow is anxious; Nothing will remain.

In life, settling and being uprooted happen together. Everyone is in their today, erasing their yesterday. That is why Nangla today is so different from Nangla yesterday.

Every lane has people packing, but also people waiting for what is to come by busying themselves with something else, like playing cards, chatting.

Everything is leaving its imprint today. The utensils carefully placed in the house are not there any more, but the thin layer of dust that had settled around them when they were kept there, remains.

There is a queue in front of the scrap dealer’s shop. The shop is today a store of the dwelling. Cans, boxes, coolers, fans. The weighing balance weighs everything, tipped to one side. It measure everything with its measuring eyes.

CM Lab, Nangla Maanchi

Reading all these accounts of what happened yesterday in Nangla Machi/Majhi yesterday reminds me of a few months ago, when I witnessed the demolitions around the Jama Masjid.

What shocked me then was the overwhelming presence of the police in heavy riot gear. They had, in an extremely clinical fashion, surrounded the whole place. The areas to be demolished were under siege. No one could escape. Or even think of any protest, beyond tears and gesticulation, in the face of such overwhelming force. People were still busy dismantling asbestos roofing, and whatever else could be salvaged and crated away, when they were forcibly made to move, as the bulldozers began their work, a few hours before the verbal assurances of the night before.

Many people pointed at their electricity meters, visible as the walls collapsed. We had legal electricity connections, we had licenses, we used to pay the MCD rent. All except one man saying it quietly, flatly. The one man weeping and cursing and shouting; railing at the policeman using the polite phrase ‘Dukandar Bhaiyon’ over the megaphone, once the camera crews came in.

I have an image from that day that haunts me, which seems to me to be a leitmotif of the loss and the displacement invisiblised in the brutal process of transforming a ‘Walled City to a World City’, as the TOI campaign goes.

I have been aware of Nangla Majhi for a few years now, from when I was doing research on the Purana Qila. It turned out that many of the Archaeolical Survey’s Class 4(?) employees, who lived inside the Qila till the early eighties were forced to leave, and found shelter in Nangla Majhi. Workers from the zoo used to live in the illegal Chidiya Ghar Wala Colony, between the railway tracks and the east boundary of the zoo, completely invisible . All the stories I heard about NM were always stories of precarity – about how there were almost constant attempts to demolish the colony and remove people, but how Tajdar Babar’s interventions always saved them. For me she became an almost mythic figure, someone who fought for ‘her people’, and stemmed the tide of the city’s transformation.

I guess it’s a sign of the tectonic shifts Delhi is undergoing that the ‘populist’ tactics of an old style politican whick kept NM and other, similar spaces relatively secure for over two decades no longer work.