This was written about 16 years back (2006) for a newspaper competition whose theme was – I Love Delhi. I had always been infatuated with Delhi – its history, culture, architecture, hidden gems, people, the diversity, underbelly, food and the confluence of many worlds that resided inside. There was a point when I became so obsessed about Delhi that I started taking pride in my knowledge of the city. Because I would roam around aimlessly exploring the Capital. When this competition came along, my idea focused on the Past-Present concept, in first person account. Exploring 3 key areas of Delhi (they were separate cities then), this article talks about when they were getting built, to fast-forward to present, how I see this place now.
The fort of Tughlaqabad (1321-25) was an expansive sight from outside, serving both as a defensive structure and an imperial capital. Bordered by a water body, it was as majestic as one could squeeze in an eyesight, with a perimeter of 6.5 kms. A nearby water tank called Surajkund added to the serenity of the place. Though the indomitable king, Ghiysud-Din Tughlaq, was quite cynical in his approach, one day he was in a happy mood when I laid a request in his durbar to get to the top of the nascent fort to have a glimpse of his city that lay underneath. Though it rarely happened that these kind of requests were entertained at the Durbar from a Hakeem (alchemist), the Emperor himself escorted me to the highest point of the fort, from where all I could see was a vast expanse of green covering the Emperor’s white-domed tomb, and canopies formed by trees. On the far West, stood tall Qutub Minar. What a strategic place, I gasped. So happy I was that I patted the king and said, “Who said Hunooz Dilli Door Ast (Delhi is yet far away)?” I then frisked to one corner and screamed, “I Love Dilli.”
As I drove past the ramparts of the Tughlaq fort, I somehow was so awed by this majestic fort that I took an about turn and parked my bike at the entrance. Strolling through the steep curvy lane to the big façade, my mind was racing towards the history. After reading the history on the red cornerstone, I was curious to explore the fort. The ramparts have lent a sepia touch to this once flourishing city. Yet everything looked in place. The small rooms, audience hall, solid bastions, underground chambers and carvings, all made for a highly interesting expedition. On reaching the highest point of the fort, my awe was accentuated. On the South were an expansive green cover and another big tomb. On the West was Qutub Minar. And on the North were civilization and Lotus Temple, shining as bright as it could. And on the East was industrialization. Without controlling my emotions, I went to a corner and screamed, “I Love Delhi.”
The uxorious King Shah Jahan, after making history with the Taj Mahal, ordered his chief builders, Ahmed Lawhari and Hamid, to make the biggest mosque and a grand fort with many palaces, along the river jamna in Dilli. Maps were made and after much consideration, the land on the Bhojla Hill (so that it can be seen from Palam and Qutub) was selected. The work started on full swing. I was a skilled sculptor and was required for the job. Because most of the artists lived in Paharganj, the officers didn’t have much difficulty finding us. The scale of the work was the most magnificent ever. A throne was created and embellished with the most exquisite rubies, diamonds, pearls and emeralds. It came to be known as Takht-e-tavous. Everything about this fort was majestic. On the north was the largest mosque constructed in the country with lofty minarets that touched the skies. The aesthete King, Shah Jahan had really made wonders with Lal Qila (1628-58) and Jama Masjid (1628-56), and happy with his creation, he renamed Delhi as Shahjahanabad and wanted everybody to say so. But I was against the idea. One day as an informer came beating his drums and giving the information of the neologism, I, being a tutelary citizen, screamed aloud, “I Love Dilli, Dilli cannot be Shahjahanabad.” What happened next didn’t get a mention in the history books.
A glutton with itchy feet, my hunger pangs always take me to the mecca of food – the Walled City. From the chhole bhature of Nai Sadak to the Kebabs of Jama Masjid area, everything about the Walled City is enthralling. One day I decided to have a bird’s eye view of the neighborhood. So with a friend in tow, I climbed the steep 130 steps of one of the Jama Masjid’s tall (130 feet) minaret. As I reached the apex, my eyes widened. The whole city was beneath me. Everything was so cramped about the Walled city, and everything was so massive about the Red Fort. No wonder this city was the Mughal capital till 1857. The view was a feast to the eyes. As I gasped, “Oh, I Love Delhi”, my friend corrected me, “Dilli. I Love Dilli.”
1911. The capital of British Empire was shifted from Calcutta to Delhi. Hence an imperial style crept into the Mughal architectural glory. The task was given to the greatest British architects, Sir Edwin Lutyen and Herbert Baker. Lutyen sent Baker the sketches from Simla and the land on the Raisina Hill was selected as the site for the urbanization scheme. After the Viceroy House was ready in 1931, there was a requirement for 2000 workers to take care of it. After all it was a huge building (330 acres), a concoction of Mughal red sandstones & neo-Buddhist domes and Imperial architecture. As a Brown Sahib, I was more than interested to serve the Viceroy. Primarily because the place was an architectural gem with a sizeable, beautiful Mughal style garden to boast of. After some time, a circle-shaped market was built for traders, along with a war memorial. Wide tree-lined avenues made the view majestic, and on seeing the War Memorial, I would gasp, “Oh, I Love Delhi.”
With nothing to do in the evenings, the summer breeze takes me to India Gate. That’s where Delhites love to kill time. A famous picnic spot for families, where they bring Chatai (jute carpet) along with food and play antakshari. Here I come to walk along the rivulets, have ice-creams and chuskis (ice candies). Known fondly as Lutyen’s Delhi, this place is the heartbeat of the city during the evenings. One day I rode my bike till the gate of Rashtrapati Bhavan, and then looked down at the view. It was breath-taking. Two avenues lined by pole-lights ended at the India Gate, dazzling in yellow. That moment was misty and surreal. And I gasped, “Oh, I Love Delhi.”