Present-day Fatehpuri is chaotic, but it was once the landmark of the Church of England Mission
Church Mission Road, which stretches from St Stephen’s Church right up to its junction with Old Delhi railway station road is a name which few remember. It’s all part of the overcrowded Fatehpuri area now. Yet at one time it was a landmark of the Church of England Mission, “which owes its origin to the zeal of the congregation of St James’ Church, who raised between 1850 and 1858 the (then) large sum of Rs.30000 for the Society for the Propagation of the Faith.”
The society made a further grant of Rs.80000 in February 1854 when it sent the Rev Jackson and the Rev Hubbard. But even before their arrival, Chimman lal, Assistant Surgeon, and Master Ramchandar, Professor of Mathematics in Delhi College and tutor to the Maharaja of Patiala, had become Christians. Dr. Chimman Lal was murdered during the 1857 uprising and his family migrated to Lahore. Among his descendants were Arthur Lall, author of the ‘House at Adampur’, and India’s permanent representative to the UN, and his brother, John S. Lall, famous ICS officer who became Dewan of Sikkim and later a well-known writer, among whose books is one on ‘Begum Samru of Sardhana’.
Along with Dr. Chimman Lal, the Rev Hubbard, D.E. Sandays and Lewis Roch were also killed in 1857 but the Rev Jackson escaped as he had moved out of Delhi then due to ill health. After two years the Mission, which had been in limbo because of the Sepoy Uprising, restarted its work with the arrival of the Rev T Skelton of Queen’s College, Cambridge. It was in 1860-61 that the foundation of St Stephen’s Church was laid by Dr. Cotton, Bishop of Calcutta, but the church opened for worship only in 1867.
Women members from it, led by Mrs. Winter, wife of the Rev B.R. Winter had however begum visiting neighbouring Hindu and Muslim homes to teach purdah women not only to read and write but also learn lace-making, needlework, sewing and stitching. This came to be known as the Zenana Mission. Children too were drawn into the literacy campaign.
Mrs. Winter would visit the homes of the inhabitants of Fatehpuri with a view to bringing the light of education to them. The residents were relatives of decadent Moghul noblemen and landowners whose lives had been thrown topsy-turvy by the uprising. The trades learnt by their women-folk helped to supplement the family income as lace and embroidery sales and tailoring charges brought in much-needed money.
Fatehpuri underwent another upheaval in 1947 when the Partition riots took place and many of the residents went away to Pakistan. Their houses became evacuee property, allotted later to refugees from Sindh and Punjab. Now the area is full of hotels, where people stay after alighting at the railway station and resume their journey the next day. These include honeymooners and other pleasure-seekers. T.S. Eliot’s lines: “Let us go through certain half-deserted streets/the muttering retreats of one-night hotels” are quite applicable to the place where paradoxically once do-gooder missionaries and a decadent aristocracy evolved a fruitful relationship. Church Mission Road is a silent reminder of that fusion of minds and hearts.