Hiding the Capital’s slums with bamboo screens during the Commonwealth Games is not a novel idea after all

The Delhi Government’s plan to hide the Capital’s slums with a bamboo screen during the 2010 Commonwealth Game is kind of history repeating itself, because a similar exercise was undertaken almost a hundred years back during the Coronation Durbar of king George V and Queen Mary. That was the time when the royal entourage was to pass by a slum village on its way to Kingsway Camp. Since it was not possible to remove the village, the authorities decided that it should be hidden from view.

So the sahibs ordered “Dhaka” (cover up) in December 1911. That village has now grown into a colony of resorts with many facilities too, but the name continues to remain Dhaka Village. In fact the church built in the area is called Dhaka Church.

According to media reports, the Chief Secretary of the Delhi Government has sought the help of the North-Eastern States, where the bamboo grows, to help make the plan successful. Mizoram and Assam particularly have been sounded on this venture and asked to provide help grow bamboo trees which reach a height of five feet-plus and are capable of surviving in the dry climate of Delhi. These trees will hide slum clusters during the Games.

Not just the British

It is interesting to recall that the British were not the first to order a “Dhaka” operation in Delhi. Nizamuddin Aulia did it for his baoli while under threat from Ghiyasuddin Tuglak. When Jahangir was on his way to Kashmir in 1610 and the Red Fort was not yet built, the island in the Yamuna where he had his drinking parties was hidden by a screen so that those on the riverbanks could not see what was happening. Not only that, a screen was erected from the island over a bridge of boats right up to Salimgarh, where the emperor used to rest.

When Shah Jahan came to build the Red Fort, he stayed at a cordoned-off Kala Mahal in what is now Kucha Chelan.

During Aurangzeb’s reign in the second half of the 17th Century, a naqab (veil) of masonry was built in the side of the Red Fort facing Chandni Chowk, so that traders relaxing in various poses of undress did not offend the emperor’s eyes while seated on his throne in the Dewan-e-am. Believe it or not, the Silver Street was visible from there at that time.

In the time of Jahandar Shah (1711-12), part of the Red Light area of the Capital is said to have been hidden behind “kanats” or tarpaulin when the dandy emperor went to visit the courtesan Lal Kanwar, whom he later made his “Queen”. After the invasion of Nadir Shah in 1739, the sight of hungry princesses crying in the Red Fort windows facing the Yamuna was screened off, though the poet Mir Taqi Mir recorded that their voices could be heard. That was in Mohammed Shah Rangila’s reign.

After the 1857 uprising, a sick and dishevelled Bahadur Shah Zafar had to lie on a dingy cot in a small room hidden by a bamboo curtain (chick). During World War II the Taj was camouflaged with a scaffolding to save it from being bombarded. So when the 2010 Games are held who will doubt that history repeats itself?

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