Delhi by Night John Meehan

The photographs contained in this post were taken in the Paharanj district in New Delhi in the Summer of 2016.

Paharganj is a district of central Delhi just west of New Delhi Railway station. Established in the 17th century during the reign of the Mughal Empire (1526-1857), today Paharganj is a place of budget hotels and basic restaurants. It is where domestic and international traveller’s on a budget stay.

Paharganj is a gritty, edgy place. Like similar areas in other major world cities, it’s known for budget tourism, petty crime, drug dealing and prostitution. In 2010, the area received a $800m face-lift ahead of the Commonwealth Games of that year but you’d be hard pushed to tell.

Despite the warnings of our hotel security to be careful on the streets at night, we experienced no serious problems. Just the opposite; a lot of good natured – sometimes bemused – encounters with locals.  (That said, we – myself and fellow photographer Colin Paul – saw very few Westerners on the streets at night).

As with much of India, life in Paharganj seems very precarious for a great many people. Those working in hotels or restaurants are the lucky ones. Regular work in decent conditions. For most, scratching a living selling a single type of fruit or vegetable, repairing rickshaws and tuk-tuks on the street, altering clothes, and transporting goods on hand carts, etc. is the norm. Ad-hoc work offering variable income and no security.

Using a Fuji X-T1 on dimly lit streets at night meant operating at the camera’s limits as far as low light and autofocus performance were concerned. In other words, perfect for capturing the rawness and bustle of the night time streets.

Paharanj has hundreds of lock-ups selling basic street food snacks. Many such shops are run by Hindu’s forcibly relocated to Paharanj from Pakistan following the 1947 partition.
According to UN data, India’s average daily calorie intake is 2360 (UK = 3450, US = 3750). India’s official stats have the figure lower still at approx. 2100 per day.
In 2014, 46.6% of India’s population of 1.2 billion was aged under 24. This is notably high compared with, say, the EU average (26.8%) and China (31.8%)
A typical take-away. A meagre food offer cooked on a basic gas burner.
Friends catching up, their elegance in stark contrast to the basic store setting.
Friends catching up, their elegance in stark contrast to the basic store setting.
According to ILO data for 2014, India’s male labour force participation rate is 80% compared to only 27% for females.
Roadside food sellers, or ‘dhabas’, are everywhere – caveat emptor.
The UN estimates 46% of India’s children under three years of age are undersized for their age as a result of malnutrition. One third of the world’s undernourished children live in India.
Roadside stalls and shops selling single items from recycled car parts to one type of fruit or vegetable is common.
Roadside stalls and shops selling single items from recycled car parts to one type of fruit or vegetable is common.
A once thriving gaming arcade long since overtaken by the console and mobile revolutions.
Barber shops are outnumbered only by fast food sellers in Paharganj. Must be one every 100 metres on every street.
Rickshaw rider waits while his vehicle is welded back together. In 2011 that as many as 90% of Delhi’s cycle rickshaw riders were migrant workers from the adjacent states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The majority return to their home villages during harvest season.

Text and images © John Meehan 2016.


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