Andhe Faqir Ka Chouraha

Seventy or so years ago what is today known as the Bhopal Talkies, one of the busiest crossroads in Old Bhopal, was called Andhe Faqir Ka Chouraha (Blind Faquir’s crossroads). The land where Bhopal Talkies stands now and the area around it were a vast graveyard or simply a jungle. The railway station was then at a distance from the city.

On the corner of the crossing, opposite the ‘mazar’ of Nawab Siddique Hassan Khan was a kutcha chabutra "Chhappar" over it. Here lived the frightful person known as Andha Fakir. He was a massive, dark, thick-lipped, longhaired man with thick eyelids covering half of his big, blind eyes. He possessed a hideously hoarse voice and a sharp hearing sense. In those days, only a few animal drawn vehicles passed from the dirt road during the daytime and none in the night. Whenever a vehicle passed from the crossing, the fakir challenged the driver with a dreadful, blood-curdling ‘ Kaun jata hai, rayyyy’ (who goes there?). His looks and booming voice sent shivers down the spines of not only the children but also the grown-ups. Under the shades of huge tamarind trees lolled some other beggars, smoking ganja, charas or opium. Andha Fakir was their chief.

Bullock-carts carrying thin bricks and fuel wood often passed from the crossing. Some under fear and some with pity dropped a few pieces of wood or a few bricks or a one paisa coin. One paisa then was equal to today’s one rupee. The fakir probably sold the bricks when a good quantity of them stacked up. But the wood was used for other purposes including making coal to smoke ganja and charas. Some beggars spread out in the city to beg and returned to the 'adda' in the evenings.

There were no lights and buildings which today illuminate Hamidia road. It was a desolate place up to the railway station on one side and up to Mandir Kamaali on the other. Bamboo also grew in thick clusters. The travellers arriving by train after sunset stayed at the railway station and went to their homes only the next morning. Those foolhardy enough or were in a hurry to reach home, were often looted by the fakirs of the chouraha if they ventured out after sunset. Tongas were the biggest vehicles and could be hired for Jehangirabad and Shahajahanabad for two ‘annas’ or 12 paisas. Today driving a vehicle at Bhopal Talkies crossing is a task due to the heavy traffic. No fakir challenges the passers-by; nobody drops fuel wood and bricks there. It is one of the busiest roads and the only sound can be heard is that of motor vehicles.

Nasir Kamal, local writer and formerly a contributor to The National Mail, a Bhopal newspaper