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Shadi Khampur in west Delhi isn’t a place you would typically find yourself in, unless you lived here—and at 6,000 for a two BHK (bedroom-hall-kitchen) and Metro connectivity, many do. The dusty neighbourhood, primarily home to migrants, doesn’t have the shiny malls of south Delhi, or the grandeur of Old Delhi. It’s just lots of buildings fighting each other for elbow room; and everything, like Dorothy’s Kansas in the Wizard of Oz, looks grey.

But under the grey lies the story of the neighbourhood, which illustrates important episodes in the city’s history, and in part, the country’s. An exhibition of local history—artefacts, old photos and maps—on Shadi Khampur has been put together by the Jana Natya Manch (Janam), the theatre group that set up Studio Safdar in the locality in April.

“The exhibits will weave Shadi Khampur’s local history, and connect it to larger narratives in history like the series of land acquisitions in Delhi, the Emergency, and the anti-Sikh riots of 1984," says Sudhanva Deshpande of Janam.

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An aerial view of Shadi Khampur. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Shadi Khampur, like most of its surrounding areas, was a farming area that industrialized and urbanized over the years. One exhibition display—a near-crumbling map from the early 1900s—shows agricultural land, almost unrecognizable from its current form. Indeed, the exhibition includes a number of artefacts taken from the homes of agricultural landlords. There is an 80-year-old “thief-proof" steel tijori (safe), much older than its current owner, Raj Chauhan, which comes with multiple keyholes—all red herrings to baffle unsuspecting thieves. There is an 80-year-old wooden spinning wheel from the time spinning cotton was a common practice for the women of the household; a century-old tarazoo (weighing scales) and weights from the ser and maund era. These too belong to Chauhan, a businessman whose family has been living in one of the most magnificent havelis of Khampur for 200-300 years—Chauhan isn’t sure.

The composition of the then purely agricultural Shadi Khampur started changing in the 1940s, with the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) shifting here from Pusa after the Bihar earthquake of
the 1930s. Another factor should be attributed to the series of land acquisitions in west Delhi that converted the farms to industrial and residential pockets. The new landmarks like the Delhi Milk Scheme plant, the Delhi Transport Corporation Shadipur Depot and the Swatantra Bharat Mills brought in workers from other places, besides providing employment to the locals, says Deshpande.

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A mosque in Ranjit Nagar. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

One of the photographs at the exhibition that gives out a small detail about the Sikhs in Shadi Khampur is from the family of Kera Singh from Guru Nanak Nagar, a Sikh mohalla (neighbourhood). It is a picture of Singh’s son. Behind his smiling face is a clear view of the colony, uncluttered by the vehicles, buildings and gates that today dot its landscape. Guru Nanak Nagar’s preoccupation with gates is unmistakable. No other part of Shadi Khampur has colony gates, but Guru Nanak mohalla has gates on all sides—a legacy of the anti-Sikh violence of 1984. “We were told once the riots took place, two things happened. One, the mohalla got gates installed on all sides. The second was that...the number of Sikhs have gone down, having possibly moved out of here,"
says Deshpande.

Across the gate from Guru Nanak Nagar is the “biyaasi number" bus stop, a crooked, bent-out-of-shape artefact of history that cannot be physically included in the exhibition but illustrates a critical episode in the contemporary history of Delhi. This was the last stop of the 82 route bus—a shuttle started between Turkman Gate and Shadi Khampur after a number of Muslim families were forcibly evicted from Old Delhi’s Turkman Gate during the Emergency and moved to the appropriately anonymous sounding XYZ Block (yes, it’s called XYZ Block) in Ranjit Nagar.

“Delhi’s then Lt Governor (in those days equivalent in power to the chief minister today) Jagmohan, B.R. Tamta, the MCD (Municipal Corporation of Delhi) commissioner, and Sanjay Gandhi got together to ‘beautify’ the city, and for the first time in the city’s history, engineered mass evictions. People were evicted from Turkman Gate and Jama Masjid and moved to XYZ Block, says Deshpande. This beautification led to many families losing their homes.

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Studio Sadar’s graffiti-covered wall. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Over the years, adds Deshpande, many such episodes of eviction happened in the city’s history but this was certainly the most notorious. “This is also what gave rise to the phenomenon and phraseology of ‘resettlement colonies’—like Mangolpuri, Jahangirpuri. The word resettlement tells you that these people were settled somewhere else and were then resettled here," adds Deshpande.

In terms of composition, the physical appearance of Shadi Khampur sticks to the grim-looking urban spaces of narrow lanes, cramped space and hanging wires. However, the elegance of the past occasionally manages to interfere with the disorderly present. Khampur has quite a few havelis that stand out with their elaborately carved doors and wide courtyards. Interspersed with this antiquity are pockets of New India, like a tiny hole-in-the-wall Oriya restaurant Jagannath Hotel that does brisk business, thanks to the floating population of students, Indian Administrative Service aspirants and other young professionals from the eastern states of Assam, Bengal and Orissa.

In comparison is the sedate and middle-class Guru Nanak Nagar, boxed up into neat compartments. Just across one gate from Guru Nanak Nagar is the XYZ Block in Ranjit Nagar. A Shifa clinic welcomes you, and further on a Zameer Biryani House, and in the distance a mosque’s minaret have transported a world away, into the galis of Old Delhi. These are the creations of people who once lived in the Walled City. It’s almost like the revenge of the migrant: You can never really evict us, we carry our home wherever we go.

Shadi Khampur Local History Project is on from 10am-7pm, from 26 December-26 January, at Studio Safdar, 2253-E Shadi Khampur, New Ranjit Nagar, Delhi (25709456).

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