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Gory tales of a Delhi gate...

HOW DELHI was in 1857 is not difficult to visualise if you were to climb atop the Red Fort and look towards the Chandni Chowk and Jama Masjid. Many of the houses are still as they were during the Mutiny, except for the additional buildings that have come up to cope with the population explosion, making the old quarter little more than a rabbit's warren.

In those days the buildings were not high, though exceptions were there like the Lahore Bank and other such places where many of the British dwelt. That's an interesting point because it was only after the great revolt that the sahibs thought of living in separate areas to maintain their distance from the general populace. Safety was the primary purpose of this shift which eventually resulted in the creation of New Delhi on Raisina Hill.

The afternoon of May 10 this year was as hot as it was in 1857 when the sepoys shot their British officers in Meerut and prepared to march to Delhi. Since it was a Sunday, that day in the Red Fort 145 years ago must have been a hectic one, what with all the rumours that had been floating for months about the impending end of the British Company Sarkar and the return of the Padshah and the Peshwa to their rightful places. The lotus and the chappati had made their rounds of the entire length and breadth of Hindustan, with runners fleeting away into the night through villages and towns to pass the word of the forthcoming event. And yet this year May 10 was a peaceful one in the fort with visitors, both Indian and foreign, trooping in and out of the Moghul palaces and the monkeys jabbering away on the trees or drinking water from the huge, ugly overhead tanks that feed the water supply to the Army barracks that have come up in place of the many buildings demolished after the "Mutiny''.

Trees seldom last that long and no wonder the one under which Bahadur Shah Zafar stood before bidding the final adieu to his palace, nay hearth and home, where he was born and brought up and attained an old, respectable age. But surely some of the trees in the fort must have been witness to the gory events that followed the re-establishment of British authority because it was from them that the freedom fighters were hanged and their bodies left for the kites and the crows to feed on. Things associated with gruesome sights have a knack of fading away, perhaps in accordance with some natural law of retribution. The trees are no exception, for now only the neem thrives when in the past it must have been a poor cousin of the more favoured varieties of mainly fruit-bearing trees. The walls of the fort however still stand in tact and making acquaintance with them last Sunday afternoon brought a train of thoughts in its wake.

Another monsoon has come and almost gone, washing many a building clean in the Capital, but the Khooni Darwaza in Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg retains its scars. Old timers say these are the blood-stains of those killed at the historic gate and which continue to remind people in every generation of the atrocities of long ago. Among these was the murder of the sons of Bahadur Shah, who were shot at the gate by a British officer after the Uprising of 1857.

The legend of the bloodstains may be true, but what is intriguing about them is that they descend from the top to the bottom of the wall facing Maulana Azad Medical College. The sons of Bahadur Shah were killed by Hodson at or in the gate. Could it be that some others were butchered on top of it or were they thrown down?

The Khooni Darwaza is actually the Kabuli Gate of the old fort or Purana Qila of Humayun and Sher Shah Suri where the bodies of those who fell foul of the king were displayed. The bodies of ruffians and highwaymen were also hung up here and left to rot for days, until the crows, kites and vultures had feasted on them. In the reign of Jehangir the sons of Abdul Rahim Khan-e-Khana, Akbar's great friend and confidant were beheaded at the gate. Later Aurangazeb had the served head of his brother, Dara, stuck up here as a warning to the supporters of the heir apparent. This is not all. Even in the days of the other Moghul emperors those convicted of treason were executed here, for the simple reason that the gate then was on the outskirts of the city. No wonder then that the British had the old jail built here for the whole area was a field of blood. Incidentally, those convicted of the charge of throwing a bomb at the Victory Lord Hardinge in 1912 were hanged outside the jail and several years later, in 1928, Bhagat Singh and his associates swore outside the walls of the Khooni Darwaza, in the plot later used as a DTC terminal, to end British rule and set up a revolutionary socialist State.

But it is interesting to note that there used to be a Khooni Darwaza in the Dariba locality of Chandni Chowk also, where the hordes of Nadir Shah slaughtered thousands of people and made the drains of Delhi run red for several days. That was in 1739, but this gate dating back to Shah Jehani time no longer exists. Only the older one is there as a reminder of the blood that flowed through the two gates. It is not surprising, therefore, that so many monsoons have failed to wipe out the stains of the past.

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