R. V. Smith tries to trace the descendants of famous Dilliwallahs of yore

This is the Dussehra-Diwali season and one’s thoughts go back to old times when Ramlila processions went past the northern wall of Shahjahanabad, giving a wide berth to the Jama Masjid. That was prior to 1857, but after the Uprising, processions did pass by the mosque, with welcome gates being erected between the Jama Masjid and Chandni Chowk. However to quote Dr Narayani Gupta, clashes occurred in 1886 at “Delhi, Turkman and Kashmiri gates” and Ramlila processions were allegedly attacked by Tazia processionists. An incident of desecration too took place at the Jama Masjid. The haveli of Lala Ram Kishen Dass was also attacked. The historian, in her “Delhi Between Two Empires”, mentions that by “the turn of the century”, when the 19th ended and the 20th began, the Arya Samaj gained a strong foothold in the city, so much so that the Urdu writer, “Sri Ram Mathur gave up his Muslim Taqqalus (pseudonym) and took up a Hindu one”.

In 1908 Lala Hardayal Singh, Lala Pyarelal and Pundit Janki Nath were among the prominent organisers of Bharat Dharam Mahamandal. The Tar Mela, held after Id-ul-Fitr in the garden of Sri Kishen Das Gurwala since the 1860s, was discontinued in 1885. However, subsequently communal harmony prevailed in general (though one still found Hindu and Muslim waterat railway stations) so that Ramlila and Tazia processions could to be taken out without much hindrance and during Id, Moharrum, Diwali, Dusshera and Holi observed as of old. One fact of the late 1920s is that allegations of irregularities in the Jama Masjid and Fatehpuri Masjid committees, which Obeidullah Sindhi, a shoe merchant and his shoe-seller friends, Abdul Wahab and Choudhury Mohammad Din said amounted to embezzlement, created a furore, much like the present one by the India Against Corruption. That seems like history repeating itself. The earlier allegations however proved to be unjustified.

The prominent personages of those times, and the preceding two decades were listed by Imdad Sabri in his Dilli-ki-Yaadgar Hastian. That makes one wonder where most of their descendants disappeared over the years, migration and mortality notwithstanding. Here are the names of some of them: Mirza Illahi Bux (the samdhi of Bahadur Shah Zafar, as his daughter was married to a son of the emperor), and his sons, Mirza Sulaiman Shah and Mirza Surayya Jah. The latter met the Prince of Wales regarding his properties confiscated in Punjab (of which Delhi was then a part). The intervention of the British heir apparent resulted in Surayya Jah getting back his estates, a fact reported by The Statesman of Calcutta 100 years ago. Then there was Mirza Hairat, editor of Curzon Gazette — probably started during the viceroyalty of Lord Curzon. The hakims of Ballimaran, among whom were the father and elder brothers of the celebrated Hakim Ajmal Khan, Munshi Turab Ali, Mutwalli (trustee) of the Jama Masjid, who, besides others, got the mosque back from British possession after 1857. The descendants of the hakims, the Munshi and the first Imam of Jama Masjid are however still around. So also Narain Prasad, grandson of Lala Jugal Kishore who set up Indraprastha Girls’ School and the college of that name in the haveli of Rai Balkrishan, a wealthy businessman. Lala Chunna Mal’s grandson lives partly in Chandni Chowk and partly at his new home in posh New Delhi. Rai Bahadur Sultan Singh, who gave land in Kashmere Gate to St. Stephen’s College and later helped to set up Modern School in Barakhamba Road, too probably has no heirs. His grandson having died lately. But Deshbandhu Gupta’s family is still there, as also that of Lala Shri Ram. The Birlas and Dalmias of course came later, after the Johns of Greek descent.

Many others are not traceable. Among them are the descendants of Nawab Buddhan, said to have been one of the best-dressed men of Delhi in his time, the cut of whose sherwanis set the trend for fashion lovers. Nawab Dojana’s haveli has made way for Dojana House flats in Matia Mahal locality and Sadr Sadur’s haveli has become a rabbit warren in the same area. The Nawab of Basai is remembered in the name of Basai Darapur which is now better known for its ESI Hospital.

One is also at a loss to trace the heirs of Lala Saligram, Mohammad Ikramullah, Haji Kutubuddin, Hakim Ahmed Syed Khan and Hakim Ghulam Raza Khan. Maybe they are still in Ballimaran and its neighbourhood. The sons of Hakim Abdul Hamid, founder of Hamdard University, Abdul Moid and Hammad Ahmed, are there to carry on the legacy of their grandfather, Hakim Abdul Majid. And the descendants of Dr. Shroff and Dr. Jeyna are still practicing doctors. One, however, cannot say the same for Dr. M. A. Ansari. Ram Kishan Das Chandiwala’s heirs are in New Delhi but what about Jagannath Neharwala, Radha Mohan, Madho Prasad, Satnarain Gurwala, Lala Ramkishan Dass and Rev. J.C.Chatterji — all big names at one time?

The Skinners, one of the rich families of Delhi, had their most famous modern face in the person of Brigadier Michael Skinner, who died a few years ago. His wife, also a Skinner, probably still lives at the estates in Hansi and Mussoorie. Of course, Skinner’s Horse today exists as a mechanized unit of the Indian Army. The rest of the “Old Mortality” has quietly disappeared. That’s how, to quote Ernest Hemingway, “One generation passes after another, but the earth remains the same and the sun also rises”. Though not so above the nobility that was!

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