Of stories and bygone eras

By Ananya Mishra, Batch of 2025

“ये शेहेर नही मेहफ़िल है

ये दिल्ली है मेरे यार

बस इश्क़, मोहब्बत, प्यार”

Whether we talk about Delhi in the 17th century or Delhi in this century, the essence of this city has always been about ishq, mohabbat, pyaar. Where the walls are smeared with tales of centuries, where life is as vibrant as its markets, where the streets might be narrow, but the arms of its people are always open wide.

Amongst the parliamentary houses and the giant skyscrapers of the city lie hidden alleys, or as we like to call them ‘galliyan’, and streets infused with rich cultures and stories unheard of by most of its inhabitants. Amidst the fast-paced and now largely urbanized metro, the legends of the bygone era of the Mughals, the Delhi sultans and the other less-known rulers are being passed on to the younger generation either through historical literature or through skilled storytellers trying their best to keep the stories of the old Delhi alive, for stories are all we have, for stories are what brings us all together.

The Alliance joined one such storyteller, the best in his craft, Anas Khan Motiwale, better known on Instagram by the name unzip_delhi, on one of his story walks to the Red Fort. Keeping the history and heritage of Delhi alive, he conducts weekly walks around the famous ruins of the city and helps people discover the mysterious magic intertwined with it, in his very own, rather unique way of visual storytelling.

In his story walk around the Red Fort, he guided us around the monument through stories like that of the Dargah of Baba Bhuresha, of Nur Jahan’s first encounter with Jahangir and Bahadur Shah Zafar’s tormenting escape from the Britishers among several others. His storytelling, which has painstaking attention to each detail mingled with a subtle touch of poetry, left many of us in tears by the end of the walk. 

In conversation with the Alliance, he told us about how he grew up in these bustling frisky streets of old Delhi listening to the fables and folklore of Shahjahanabad from his grandparents. “I come from a lineage of traders who have lived in old Delhi for more than two hundred and fifty years. Growing up my world was very different from what was found outside these streets. I grew up listening to ghazals, poetry and reading literature about the city.” 

Being an anthropologist by education and a freelance script writer by profession his journey with unzip_delhi dates back to 2018, when it was a small, dormant account. But as the pandemic kicked in and left us with nothing but our phones as the windows to the outside world, Mr. Anas started writing on Instagram to revive the tradition of storytelling in his own unique way. Soon he started gaining a massive following and hence was born unzip_delhi. 

But conducting story walks was never what he planned to do. On how the story walks started Anas said, “When I used to write on Instagram, we had this one group called ‘History Buffs’. One day, one of the group members just randomly texted the group for a meet-up. We met after a few days and explored parts of Delhi together. They told me their stories and I told them mine. The walks were never something I wanted to do since childhood. It just happened over time following that meet up.”

History to him is a touchy topic and keeping the artistic integrity of storytelling alive and breathing, he uses rigorously researched and legitimate sources to weave his stories on these walks. He believes that the history of Delhi is already adulterated with lies and fabricated stories.”You just cannot rely on stories, you have to give them a backing. One has to realize what history actually is. You cannot go on telling lies. The history of Delhi is already destroyed because of those,” he said.

Talking about breaking into the art of storytelling, he phrased this profession as a profession composed of lies where the only way of telling great stories is being patient and being true to yourself, to read and to analyze, and to consume intensely but with caution. 

When asked about some of the hidden gems in Delhi that an average Delhite might not be aware of, Mr. Anas said, “Even if you have explored Delhi enough, you have to be specific about the timings. I believe if you go to places during different times of the day, they are completely different. It doesn’t matter if you have visited this(Red Fort) place a thousand times in the morning, it will feel completely different at dusk. While visiting during the night, go to Safdarjung, Red Fort and Qutub Minar and early in the morning go to Hauz Khas. Although these places are very mainstream, they feel extremely beautiful during these specific hours” 

Talking about the most bizarre, goosebumps-inducing story he had to tell about Delhi, he told us about a very unbelievable jaw-dropping story about Feroz Shah Kotla. He told us, “there are dungeons inside Feroz Shah Kotla, and there is this one dungeon, which is believed to have a jinn inside that heals people. Only people who are not in their senses or are possessed by some power are attracted to it.  At first, I did not believe the rumor but one fine day, I was just clicking pictures there and saw a man, completely out of his senses, go inside that dungeon. I waited there for fifteen minutes and saw the man come out of the dungeon completely healed.”

Anas has been around the entire Delhi, exploring, searching for the forgotten chronicles and narrating them to the people. When we asked him about the part of Delhi that’s the closest to his heart he said, “It’s got to be old Delhi. I was raised here. The galliyan, the houses, the havelis, they are my home. It’s a different feeling taking people around your own mohalla and telling them what the culture and the city life is like. This is one reason why the story walks around the Red Fort are my favorite.”

Delhi, also sometimes referred to as a city of cities, has been invaded, plundered, destroyed, and rebuilt by many of its rulers numerous times in the past. Each one shaped or mangled the city in their own ways and gave it a new name, from Indraprastha to Shahjahanabad. As Anas stated his story walk, “दिल की बस्ती है ये दिल्ली शेहेर, कोई खाली हाथ लौटा नहीं है, जो भी गुज़रा है उसने लूटा है”

When asked what he would name this city, Anas said, “Some people call this city a city of Sufis, some call it a city of ruins, some people call it Alam mein intekhaab. If I have to give this city a name, I would call it a Phoenix for it rises from its own ashes time and time again.”

 As our conversation came to an end, Mr. Anas quoted the famous Pakistani poet, John Elia, when asked for a message to our readers,

zindagi ek fan hai lamhon ko,

apne andaz se ganvane ka

As I took the metro back home that evening, an odd mysterious feeling kicked in, of belongingness, of fondness, of endearment. Maybe that’s what it is about stories, about people like Anas, who make you realize the otherwise forgotten beauty of cities lost somewhere between its politics and courts, population and pollution, rags and riches. People like Anas, who leave you nostalgic for a time you have never experienced. That day, I watched the city run past me through the window, yearning to catch hold of its beauty. But it’s infinite, and so is my love for it.