70-year-old Nem Singh discusses his love for ‘Purani Dilli’

A former employee at a printing press in Okhla, Nem Singh commutes every day from Rohini to Kucha Lalman just to sit quietly under the ancient peepal tree
Nem Singh (70) lounging under a Peepal tree at Kucha Lalman (Photo | Express, Shekhar Yadav)
Nem Singh (70) lounging under a Peepal tree at Kucha Lalman (Photo | Express, Shekhar Yadav)

Away from the flurry of activity at Daryaganj Book Market on a Wednesday afternoon, we noticed a man perched peacefully under a vast Peepal tree in one of the quaint lanes of Kucha Lalman (a locality near the market). As we approached him, we were greeted with a smile. Introducing himself as Nem Singh, the 70-year-old man happily invited us over to his humble abode—a marble platform that circles the wide trunk of the tree.

A former employee at a printing press in Okhla, Singh mentioned that he has been commuting daily from Rohini to Kucha Lalman to sit quietly under the ancient tree. Though now a resident of Rohini, where he moved with his family 15 years ago, he has spent most of his life in this neighbourhood.

“Flats started coming up everywhere [in Kucha Lalman]. So we sold off our ancestral house here,” he shared. However, despite moving to North West Delhi, Singh could never let go of the nostalgia and his love for ‘Purani Dilli’. Feeling completely at home under this tree, Singh added, “Although our old house is not here anymore, the locality is still my home. This is where I grew up, and I feel at peace when I’m here.”

Back to familiar faces

Every now and then, a passer-by would halt by the tree for a quick chat with the old man. In fact, we overheard Singh being referred to as chacha, a moniker given to him. Familiar with his daily routine—Singh arrives at 9 am and leaves at 7 pm—the locals often question him about his whereabouts if he’s ever late. This is another reason why his love for Old Delhi is never changing, “Here, people talk to each other. In Rohini, it is just rows and rows of flats. No one comes outside to speak to each other.”

Given his familiarity with the locality, Singh serves double duty as a local guide often helping anyone who comes looking for an address. Even though he does not live here, he knows almost every local. A nearby chaiwallah supplies him with tea at regular intervals and while he brings lunch from home, a resident who Singh considers as son sends him afternoon meals. Although he now has to travel with a walking stick, his need to come back to his old haunt cannot be curbed. “There have been days when the buses were not running. I walked all the way from Rohini during those times,” he concluded.

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