Khair-ul-Manzil, located right across Purana Quila, remains a quiet and uncelebrated monument

It was World Heritage Day, and I set off monument hopping. The weather was perfect, and I had already visited the Turkman Gate and Delhi Gate. I was on my way to visit the excavation site at Purana Quila (Old Fort). As I paid the autowallah and turned around, I found myself facing an old structure across the road from the Quila. My feet made up their mind for me, and I stepped inside through an arched entrance.

The din of modern Delhi ceased. I found myself standing in the huge and peaceful courtyard of the Khair-ul-Manzil mosque. It had an octagonal tank right at the centre and flocks of pigeon walked around. I looked around in awe and wondered why I hadn’t visited this place before.

There were arches, inscriptions, and remnants of stucco and glazed tiles in different colours that were still vibrant.

I slowly made my way across the courtyard and removed my shoes as I came closer to the prayer area. And that is where I met Kafil Ahmad Ansari. He was in deep conversation with an elderly Sikh. And by them was a foreign tourist, who didn’t appear to understand any of it, but nevertheless sat there quietly listening all the same. I too joined them. And soon after me, came the security guard of the complex. The discussion was on the poor upkeep of monuments in Delhi. I asked Kafil to tell me something about the mosque. In a flash, he was up and ready totake me around the complex.

We walked along one side of the mosque where there were several rooms still in good shape. They served as part of the madrasa, said Kafil . He drew my attention to the top of the structure, where there were big gaps. The British had fired cannons on this mosque from the roof of the Purana Quila.The story goes that someone from the madrasa had carried tales to the British about discussions being held there about achieving Independence.

At one corner of the mosque was an enclosure which was the entrance to an underground passage that went all the way to the Quila. It was used by the locals to protect themselves when the violence was unfolding. It was so difficult to imagine that a place as tranquil as this was once the scene of armed conflict. Kafil related the history of the place with much pride. But seemed a tad disappointed when he told me that the mosque had no electricity, and was in dire need of maintenance, otherwise it would soon become even more derelict.

Leading me to a well, he drew some water out and offered it to me, assuring me that I would never taste water as sweet as this. The cool water was indeed welcome and refreshing. Kafil told me that he lived across the Yamuna. But he kept coming back to this mosque a couple of times a week. “Something pulls me back here,” he said. During our meeting which happened prior to the elections, Kafil had expressed thatonce the new government came to power, he would request it to look after old monuments such as Khair-ul-Manzil and open them to the public. I wonder how many more Khair-ul-Manzils are waiting to be explored.