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Dome over Hardinge's Delhi...

You don't honour people who dishonour you. You don't hail Edwin Lutyens as the founder of New Delhi. You give credit where it is due. You acknowledge the debt the city owes to Lord Hardinge. That's the argument of Aman Nath, whose "Dome Over India - Rashtrapati Bhawan" has opened a fresh controversy about the Capital founder. ZIYA US SALAM reports from Lord Hardinge's Delhi... .

IT HAS taken nearly 370 years for Allah Vardi Khan and Makramat Khan to be given their due. It took none other than well-known historian, conservationist Aman Nath - author of the recently released "Dome Over India - Rashtrapati Bhawan" commissioned by the then President K.R. Narayanan -- to say as much from the stage of India Habitat Centre's Delhi `O' Delhi to set right a historical wrong. Yes, the Khans, not the Moghul Emperor Shah Jahan are the architects of Delhi's Red Fort. Not absolutely unknown but not quite the thing you will find in senior school history textbooks either.

Sir Edwin Lutyens was luckier. Rightly or wrongly, only a few years after his passing away, India's Capital's best-preserved zone is called Lutyens' Delhi. It is something which rankles many who believe that all this is the outcome of Lutyens' Trust set up a few years ago. It is Hardinge, not Lutyens, who is the builder of New Delhi. It was he who braved an attack in Chandni Chowk and disapproval by many, among whom was Curzon, to shift the Capital from Calcutta to Delhi. And it was during his reign that the foundation of Delhi was laid in the far away Kingsway Camp.

Says Nath: "In history it is the accepted practice to talk of a patron, not the architect for giving credit for a particular building. We call the Red Fort as having been built by Shah Jahan, not the Khans. Lutyens did not make the Parliament House. It was Sir Herbert Baker. New Delhi could have been called Imperial Delhi or even Colonial Delhi. However, as colonialism was a bad word, so they needed a new term. Hence, Lutyens' Delhi. The term is a misnomer. It is the result of brainwashing done by some people associated with Lutyens' Trust."

The book has raised the temperature in the literary circles of Delhi with many feeling clearly embarrassed at the frontal attack launched against the man who was hitherto given credit in history books as well as tourism journals for founding New Delhi. His name having been mentioned in the same breath as, say, Shah Jahan - the founder of Shahjahanabad, Old Delhi - or Firoz Shah Tughlaq, the founder of Firoz Shah Kotla or Alauddin Khalji - the medieval Emperor behind Siri. Nath, who took four months in compiling the book and another couple in design, will have none of it. "We have forgotten history; Hardinge chose Lutyens; he fought for him. I have no hatred for one and love for another. Lutyens called Indians as niggers! He found our people stinking and here we shower accolades on him! Why should we call New Delhi after him?" A picture of collected anguish, he adds: "Why should we honour those who dishonoured us? Tell me, would we rename Rajpath after Nadir Shah, the 18th Century invader? No. Then, why this grand appreciation of Lutyens' work? We should not take nonsense from people anymore. Instead of Lutyens, it is important to highlight the contribution of those who loved India and its people. There is no harm in recalling the deeds of Ferguson. He loved India." Not so Lutyens.

Quoting from his book, he says: "Lutyens hates Indian architecture as much as ever, he likes straight, final roads and wants everything levelled. Rocks and pine trees are hateful to him." He adds, "Edwin Lutyens, the classicist architect of empire, was goaded by Lord Hardinge of Penshurst to pick eclectic symbols from India's past and shape them anew into an identity; a fusion of East and West. Lutyens looked back some 14,00 years, to the spherical stupa made over the relics of the Buddha at Sanchi. This he lifted and placed atop his grandiose neo-classical façade, uniting many subtle differences in its detail."

Nath also takes help from most unlikely quarters to substantiate his argument. Quoting from his lavishly illustrated book with over 252 specially commissioned photographs, he repeats Lutyens' words: "The new city owes its being to Lord Hardinge. His patience and courage in these times of stress... .personal and political, his even temper... . Remain in my memory as being paralleled only with the greatness of his concept."

According to Nath, it is King George V's Delhi or Lord Hardinge's Delhi that many of us live in. As for Lutyens, well, he made only four houses in the so-called Lutyens' Bungalow Zone - all inside the Rashtrapati Bhavan. In fact, it was Russell who made 4000 houses for civilians in Delhi. Yes, Lutyens did make a building. It was called the Government House initially. Later, it became the Viceregal House. Still later the term `palace' replaced House, only for the original name to be reverted to. And finally it became the Rashtrapati Bhavan when President Rajendra Prasad moved in.

Indeed, even the site for the Rashtrapati Bhavan was chosen by Hardinge, not Lutyens. In his book, `My India Years' Lord Hardinge wrote: `I asked Hailey, Commissioner of Delhi, to accompany me to choose a new site - after rejecting Malcha. We galloped over the plain to a hill some distance away. From the top of the hill there was a magnificent view, embracing Old Delhi and all the principal monuments situated outside the town. I said at once to Hailey: "This is the site for Government House", and he agreed.'

Today, more than 50 years have lapsed since Rajendra Prasad moved into the Rashtrapati Bhavan and a little more since Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru gave that stirring `tryst with destiny' address to the nation. Isn't it time then to acknowledge "the past as yesterday's gift for today"? If the past has many a jewel, isn't it time to string together the pearls? Time then to seat Mahatma Gandhi in "unaccustomed majesty" under the King George V Canopy? Or to "knock down the structure in defiance of history"? Time, indeed to acknowledge that Sir Edwin Lutyens, the popularly acknowledged architect of New Delhi, was not the architect of Parliament House. He did not choose the Rashtrapati Bhavan site either. The wonders of India failed to impress him. Yet, sadly, we are so impressed with him that we need to call our national Capital Lutyens' Delhi!

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