Cityscape: During a session of the Delhi Heritage Club, historiographer Akbarabadi Sahib narrated facts and stories about the city and some of its monuments, writes R. V. Smith
Last week the Delhi Heritage Club held an engrossing Sunday afternoon session at the enclosure known as Wazirpur-ka-Gumbad. Headed by Vikramjit Singh, the club meets at some historical site or the other from time to time. Vikramjit’s Namdhari sect had a 19th Century Guru, Ram Singh, who was exiled to Rangoon some years after Bahadur Shah Zafar following the Kuka rebellion of 1872. That’s how the young business executive got interested in history.
Well Wazirpur-ka-Gumbad, despite the building of a temple and a gurdwara on one side, is still very much a picturesque place. About 50 people, from different professions, scientists, businessmen, a photographer, a history buff, Arif and housewives all flocked to hear a talk on Delhi of the past. They sat on the grassy lawn just outside a medieval baoli or step-well and did not let their attention waver despite the distraction caused by children.
Ramakrishna Puram has around it the villages of Munirka, Mohammadpur, Basantnagar and Kusumpur. The area is dotted with numerous tombs, mosques and pavilions, most of them of the Lodi period. Here we have the three-domed Tin Burji, east of Mohammadpur, Malik-Munirka mosque in Munirka (Wazirpur-ka-Gumbad is one km to its north) and the dome-less Munda Gumbads nearby. Munirka Gumbad, south-west of R. K. Puram, has an octagonal chamber and Bada Lao-ka-Gumbad to its east. Bajre-ka-Gumbad, 500 metres away is on the north-east and a nameless tomb to the north-west dating to Sikandar Lodi’s time. Another monument of the second Lodi ruler’s time is Khwajasarai Basti’s tomb, along with a beautiful baoli with dalans or verandahs. To the west is a mosque with inscriptions of Quranic verses. Its gateway has a chhatri as its crown. The tomb of Basti Khwajasarai is in front of the gate. The Khwajasarais were hermophrodites who were born as such with underdeveloped male organs. Khwajasarai Basti served Sikander Lodi and was honoured by him even after death, as is evident from his monument.
In South Extension-Part I, north of the Ring Road, is Kale Khan-ka-Gumbad built in 1481 at the time of Bahlul Lodi, founder of the dynasty. In it is buried Mubarak Khan, father of Darya Khan, whose tomb is near by. Not far away are the Bhure Khan-ka-Gumbad and Chhote and Bare Khan Gumbads. Kotla Mubarkpur has the tomb of Mubarak Shah Sayyid who reigned from 1421 to 1434. He was murdered at the time of Friday afternoon prayers at the behest of Sarvur-ul-Mulk whom he had dismissed as Revenue Minister. “With a low dome, buttresses and chhatris, the tomb looks stunted but is a good example of the octagonal Sayyid tombs”.
In such surroundings after a discussion on the area’s architecture, it was time for a talk on Shahjahanabad. The historiographer touched on many landmarks and other aspects of the old city.
Here are some excerpts: When Delhi was planned by Shah Jahan, it had Agra as its model. Whatever embellished the capital of Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan initially was reintroduced in Shahjahanabad and whatever was dross was omitted. The narrow streets of the older city were a hindrance to the smooth flow of traffic.
They also got choked when royal processions were taken out. The shops that came up in Chandni Chowk and the mohallas surrounding the Jama Masjid were low compared to the ones in Agra, where few of these survive. During the time of Jahandar Shah (1711-12) the dandy emperor’s detractors used to refer to Chandni Chowk as Kothawali-ka-Rasta because his concubine, Lal Kanwar came that way to the Red Fort. In Mohammad Shah Rangila’s reign it acquired the epithet of Rangila Chowk but in 1739, when Nadir Shah massacred the residents, it was branded as Khooni Chowk. To the north of it the Red Fort square is cluttered up with all sorts of vehicles now but there was a time when mud houses made this place a veritable jhuggi-jhonpri colony. That was after 1857 when Bahadur Shah had been banished to Rangoon and the fort placed at the disposal of the British troops. People who had been uprooted during the uprising found shelter in mud hutments which led to the formation of slums right up to Kashmere Gate.
Delhi has many kutchas or enclosed localities but Kutcha Dilwali Singh (or Singhan) is one which has an enviable history. The personage who lent it his name was the maternal uncle (mamu) of Guru Gobind Singh. The story is now the stuff of legends.
How did lonely people pass their time in Delhi? Now of course there are the movies, TV, recreation clubs, restaurants, parks, public lectures and the world of art. Marco Polo, a columnist who toured India 50 years ago, found to his disappointment that even after Independence the people had changed little from 1908 when Sir Frederick Treves remarked on them.
Later the novelist E.M. Forster had commented that loneliness affected more people in India than perhaps anywhere else in the world.
To get over loneliness some still tell tales, like the fishermen of the Jama Masjid area. When the tales end it is time for the fishermen’s dinner. But that Sunday it was time for the historiographer, Akbarabadi Sahib to leave for a late lunch after his exhilarating narration.