There are many reasons that make Khirkee village cum extension, located in south Delhi, worth exploring. While on one side of it lies the plush Saket Mall with some of most high end stores that the city hosts, towards the other end is a lane that is fondly called the ‘magic gali’. In this street, which becomes really busy in the evenings, one can find rows of small stands and tiny shops selling a variety of food which includes kathi rolls, changezi chicken, korma, nihari, Afghani breads and African cuisines!
The name ‘Khirkee’ or the hindi word for window has been given to this village after the Khirkee mosque located in the locality. There is something to be found in almost every nook and corner of this village – all that you need to do is remain vigilant. If you are lucky, you might even manage to spot a sparrow or two, a bird that has become very hard to spot in the city these days.
Though the village is named after the fourteenth century mosque, for the people living here, the mosque is more popularly known as the ‘Khirkee Kila’. If you ask the residents of the village for the ‘Khirkee mosque’, you’ll be directed to the Bilal Mosque instead! With its green painted walls, this not so old mosque too does hold a charm of its own, but in terms of architecture, nothing beats the majestic design of the Khirkee mosque/kila, the fact that makes it quite popular amongst heritage enthusiasts. One of the seven mosques built by Khan- e- jahan- Juna Shah Telangani, the Wazir or Prime Minister of Feroze Shah Tughlak, the most interesting aspect of this mosque is that nearly eighty percent of it is roofed over. As an architectural characteristic, this is not very common when it comes to mosques in Delhi. It gives the mosque a fort like appearance, which probably explains why residents of this village seem confused when asked for the way to Khirkee mosque!
Khirkee was not such a busy place always. In the 1950s it used to be rather thinly populated and had a lot of open spaces. Over the years, as many other parts of Delhi, this village too underwent rapid urbanisation to form ‘Khirkee Extension’ on one side of the village. Today most of the original owners of houses have rented out their apartments and moved to other parts of the city like Malviya Nagar. Now a very mixed set of people live in the entire area – ranging from a number of Jats, Punjabis, middleclass working professionals, young students, to many Africans and Afghanis. Most of the Africans come from countries like Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Cameroon. They come to India with a variety of purposes like receiving education in the field of Information Technology, for taking medical treatment at the nearby mutli-specialty hospital Max healthcare, to making better lives for themselves in India, a country they perceive to being more stable than their home countries. However finding jobs has not been easy for them, as a result of which a number of them have started different businesses like running hair dressing salons, laundry services and small restaurants and kitchens providing home cooked food to the members of the African community. Life however is not so easy for the Africans living in Khirkee extension, even though they end up paying higher rents. A conflict of cultures, a few bad apples in the African community who are believed to be indulging in drug trafficking and prostitution, and highly racist attitudes some of the residents of this colony are the main the reasons making life difficult for Africans living in Khirkee. Nonetheless, the people of Khirkee seem to have mixed opinions regarding the changes that the village has witnessed over the last couple of decades. This was more than evident when a general shop owner, described the Africans as ‘Habshis’ while attributing the rise in business to them in the same breath.
It is difficult to say what is the most fascinating feature of the Khirkee village – whether it is the cheek by jowl housing structures or the street art that one finds strewn throughout the village. The Khoj international artists association and initiatives like the ‘Delhi street arts’ are largely responsible for the interesting artworks that one finds on the many walls and streets of this village. The presence of organizations like Khoj, Gati dance forum and Sweccha, a non- governmental organisation working to promote social entrepreneurship adds an interesting spin to this historic village. Together they make the spaces of Khirkee somewhat cosmopolitan in nature. Besides hosting artists from all over the world, Khoj tries to organise events like ‘Antarashtriya Khirki festival’ to diffuse tensions between the locals and the many Africans and Afghans who live here.
The activities of Sweccha on the other hand, were covered by CNN international for one full year in 2008-09 bringing more than few aspects of the Khirkee extension under a wide public glare. In short, this corner of Delhi will definitely give you a flavor of the many shades and layers of urbanisation that the city has witnessed. Do tell us what you found to be the most interesting feature of Khirkee!
Where: Khirkee Village, Saket Chirag Delhi Road
Nearest Metro Station: Malviya Nagar (A ten minute autorickshaw ride from there)