Cityscape: The gateways that were once centres of pride and prejudice
The seventh city of Delhi, Shahjahanabad, was a self-contained world. Its denizens needed few things it did not possess. They seldom ventured out. The world seemed to have few delights beyond its fortified walls. Indeed, such were probably the treasures of the city that Shahjahanabad had 14 gates at one time. Made of red sandstone and mortar, they kept the residents safe, the empire strong, safeguarding it from any conqueror. Remember Delhi was never too far from an invasion – rights from the Hunas and the Mongols to the likes of Abdali and Nadir Shah and then the British.
Many of the gates of Shahjahanabad led to another city – Ajmeri Gate is said to pave the path to Ajmer and Lahori Gate to the modern Pakistani city. All the gates opened at dawn, closed at dusk. The royal palanquins and processions passed through them. The lesser mortals though often made do with a wicket gate or a khirkee. Occasionally, late into the evenings some people would sneak back home from Turkman Gate and Ajmeri Gate, having enjoyed a poetic soiree or a nautch girl’s performance. Incidentally, Turkman Gate was named Sufi Shah Turkman Bayabani who was buried near the place some 500 years before the gate came up. It is said the area was a bayaban (wilderness) before the Mughals and the saint drew his name from the stretch he occupied.
All that is about another age. Today, there are only four gates left: Ajmeri Gate, which is protected by an ugly wall around it, Turkman Gate which has the stock exchange for company, Delhi Gate which divides new and old Delhi, and Kashmere Gate, the threshold to the empire that saw the heaviest bloodshed during the First War of Independence. There is the ancient Nigambodh Gate as well. But Lahori Gate and all others have disappeared, yielding place to a city seeking new inches of space every day. History lies in retreat.