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Beyond the WALL

The Walled City has got a fresh coat of paint. At least in print. Vijay Goel's "Delhi: The Emperor's City" promises to take the readers on a nostalgia trip to the land famous for Ten Easy Walks, says ZIYA US SALAM

Vijay Goel with his labour of love in Delhi.

IF LIFE were all about spinning a yarn, he would have been a winner. And still weaving. If it were only the tale of a master raconteur, he would have got many transfixed to his words. And still have had a thing or two to relate when the curtain falls one last time. If it were only about deriving "inspiration", he would have had a good, long breath, then stored something to keep the tank running! Never mind if he is walking the lanes made famous by Maheshwar Dayal, `rediscovering' the lanes covered by Richard Burton, the lanes referred to by Khushwant Singh, the lanes which have been part of folklore since Pandit Nehru's `baraat' arrived there, since Hakim Ajmal Khan's house became the centre of attraction to chart out the course of freedom struggle, since Habash Khan consumed a whole sheep at the age of 110! Indeed, if life were all about following Ten Easy Walks, he would have been a winner. And by some distance.

But really, if the world were to be Delhi, it would have actually been nothing less than Nahar-e-Bahisht - River of Paradise. As that timeless couplet goes, "if there is a paradise on earth, this is it, this is it." And if it is, it has to be Chandni Chowk. That is, if `he' had his way.

DELHI DELIGHTS: Vijay Goel endeavours to reveal little known facts about the havelis, dharmashalas, temples, mosques and churches of Shahjahanabad.

Well, `he' here is Vijay Goel, member of the Vajpayee Cabinet at the Centre. And a rare, rare Delhiite in love with Old Delhi, a part of the Capital where time seems to have stood still since the time Shahjahan laid the foundation of Jama Masjid in October 1650. "My father's office has been in Khari Baoli for 40 years or so. I have had a paper shop in Chawri Bazar. I love quilas, havelis, old culture." All this nostalgia for Old Delhi actually started with canvassing in the Walled City from where Goel has emerged victorious a couple of times in the Lok Sabha elections. "I used to go standing atop my jeep. My eyes used to fall on lovely havelis. For a minute or two I used to forget greeting people and just think of the place," he reveals. This fascination for old stones, older tales led Goel to organise Chaudhvin Ka Chand festival. That attracted some attention. Now comes a book, "Delhi: The Emperor's City" - brought out by Roli Books - which promises to attract greater attention, as much for its subject as its treatment. "I did not think of a book just then. But I had one advantage. People welcomed me inside their homes when I went out, as I was their local representative. I could see from inside all the havelis and the lifestyle. It is easy to write on the Taj Mahal or the Red Fort. There is so much material available. But it is difficult to write on hidden monuments, hidden palaces, quilas, havelis. People only see the finished product, not the labour that has gone into it. I have had to research for three years for the book," he reasons. And the readers will have to wait until this coming Tuesday when the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, will release the book in New Delhi.

This book of more than 160 pages covers some 100 buildings, many of them in a state of ruin, others still holding on to the vestiges of the past. There is the stately Jama Masjid, the impressive Digambar Jain Lal Mandir, the rock-solid St. Stephen's Church. Then there are havelis, either ruined or commercialised, often both. There is another one of the present occupants of Lala Chunnamal's haveli, the man who once purchased the Fatehpuri Masjid, and later restored it to the Muslims. Then there are many dharamshalas, some little known and ought to be known, others quite unknown and deserving to be that way. There are a handful of madrasas and churches, and all that talk of "Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb". All done away with a paragraph here, a neat, little box there. What they convey is suggestive, what they conceal is vital. Some of the information shared here has been shared in the past, some of the information kept away here has also been revealed in the past.

"No book like this has come out on the Walled City. It is an essay on the Walled City. Earlier books, if any, were small. This book has covered the entire area. It is my passion." Never mind. The man is clearly in love with Delhi. No, not the oldest part of Delhi in Mehrauli. Nor the part made famous by cricket matches at Feroz Shah Kotla. But with the land where man has to jostle with man, machine and beast to inch ahead in life. "Delhi lives in my constituency. The Prime Minister may not go anywhere but has to visit my constituency (referring to the address from the ramparts of the Red Fort). My Delhi has Ghalib's haveli; it has the place where Nehru's baraat arrived. It has Old Delhi Railway Station. It has New Delhi Railway Station. It has Pakistan President Musharraf's haveli, it has Inter-State Bus Terminus. It has the oldest cricket clubs, it has probably the only carom board clubs. It has kabootar baaz, it has patang baaz. It has pehelwan. It has G.B. Road!"

See, didn't we tell that if life were all about spinning a yarn?

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