# Street scene, Chandni Chowk
In its heyday, the broad street of Chandni Chowk was the pride of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan’s Delhi — or Shahjehanabad, as it was then called. It had a water canal down its centre and was flanked on either side by luxurious havelis, or grandmansions. But that was a long time back, three-and-a-half centuries ago. Since then, invaders have periodically laid the city to waste, the worst being Nadir Shah of Persia in 1739. In all this time, Chandni Chowk never perished but rose phoenix-like after each catastrophe.
...It is early morning — impossible to sit there and draw at a later time — and the morning sky is thick with pollution. But the shops are astir, and the homeless on the centre kerb hawk and spit as they lean against the dividing grille, just awake from their few hours of obliterating sleep.
# Ruins in and around Qutub
The original Qutub complex was largely built by recycling stones from ravished temples and other buildings. These were taken apart and their gorgeous sculptures disfigured in order to remove all human or animal representation.
...Look where you will, exciting views meet the eye: a solitary wall still definitely standing, rows of columns leading nowhere, arches and domes silhouetted against the sky. The buildings, constructed and added to through the centuries, are now sagging and covered with moss and lichen — the asylum of bats, hanging head down and ready to flap and swoop at the sound of the first footstep.
Fateh-Ghar, the Victory Place, commonly known as the Mutiny Memorial, was placed on a rocky mound on the Ridge — on the exact spot from where Brigadier John Nicholson led his 4th Infantry Brigade and his cannons against ‘mutinous’ Delhi in 1857.
The memorial tower was designed by a British army engineer. He chose a Gothic revival style to clothe a spiral stair, heavy with trefoil arches within receding pointed arches, rose windows, buttresses, sloping roofs, Gothic mouldings, and using blue basalt and red and buff sandstones. The tower still stands on the hillside, stark against the Indian sky and surrounded by the wild kikar trees, and undergrowth of bushes and thorny plants.
...In 1972, the Delhi Administration spoke up for the other side and named the tower Ajit-Ghar, the Unconquered Place, and added its own tablet:
The ‘enemy’ of the inscription on this monument were those who rose against Colonial rule and fought bravely for National Liberation in 1857.
In Memory of the Heroism of these Immortal Martyrs for Indian freedom this plaque was unveiled on the 25th Anniversary of the Nation’s attainment of Freedom.’
# Tomb of Emperor Humayun
The tomb of the Mughal Emperor Humayun (1530-1556) was built nine years after his death by his senior widow, Bega Begum. It is the first substantial example of Mughal architecture with a double dome. Set within a closed and walled garden (the Char-Diwari), the tomb is amongst the first mature example of a garden-tomb, which culminated in the Taj Mahal in Agra.
When the river Jamuna, which once flowed on the eastern side, shifted its course further away, the intermediate land was used for a landfill and farming. A ring road encircling Delhi was laid out in 1965, and one was rewarded with the magnificent view of the tomb and its surrounds. Nearby a little village flourished, while the municipality used the ground in front as an open-air store. However, this did not last very long. The population pressure straining Delhi at its seams was too much for the villagers and for the municipality to resist, and both succumbed. The little pond was filled in and the new three-stories structures known in officialese as HIG, MIG & LIG (high income groups, middle and low ditto) mushroomed row upon row, standing at attention and successfully concealing the tomb and everything around it.
Paintings and text from Old Delhi New York: Personal Views, Roli Books, 108 pages, Rs1,495.
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