History & Culture

Fraser's romantic baoli

Illustration: Tony Smith   | Photo Credit: 06dmc_down memory lane

Among those who have left their mark on the early 19th century life of Delhi, the names of William Fraser, Col Skinner and the Metcalfes occupy a prominent place, along with those of Col. Ochterlony and Begum Sumroo, whose husband, Walter Reinhardt la Sonbre made his impact felt in the 18th Century Gardi-Ka-Waqt or Twilight of the Moguls.

If Metcalfe's Folly is in Mehrauli, then Fraser's is at the other end of Delhi. Fraser was a bosom pal of Skinner but hated the Metcalfe and (Sir Charles, Sir Thomas) whom he found too pompous. The Metcalfe in turn looked down upon Fraser for his bohemian lifestyle that led to his affairs with several countryside women in the area now known as Haryana. Among them the most well-known was Ambiban, who bore him many children, but there were others also who did so far Fraser Sahib, with the result that there were quite a few villages with blue-eyed children fathered by him.

The Matcalfes were examples of Victorian prudery, but Ochterlony had a dozen odd concubines whom he paraded in Kashmere Gate when he went out on his elephant on pleasant evenings. That earned him the nickname of “Luni Akhtar” or crazy star, though some are convinced that he came to be known as such in local parlance because most natives couldn't pronounce his name, which was more of a tongue-twister for them. Be that as it may, Ochterlony spent his summers in the ambience of Bibi Akbarabadi's Shalimar Bagh on the Grand Trank Road with his mistresses, housed in different tents set up near the big one reserved for him. Bibi Akbarabadi, incidentally was one of Shah Jahan's wives who hailed form Agra.

Fraser was eventually murdered in a conspiracy hatched by the nawab of Ferozepore, Shamsuddin Khan, who suspected the British Resident of dalliance with his pretty sister. But this is a matter open to conjecture because Fraser treated both the girl and her brother as his prestige, going to the extent of being over-protective at times. However local ‘gup' had given him a bad name and the otherwise scholarly lover of Indian life and manners had to pay the extreme penalty for it while riding to his mansion from Kashmere Gate to the Ridge. The mansion or whatever is left of it is now known as Hindu Rao Hospital. It was bought after his death by Hindu Rao, brother-in-law of Maharaja Daulatrao Scindia of Gwalior, another ladies' man.

The mansion had actually been built by Sir Edward Colebrook from whom Fraser had acquired it after the owner fell into digress. Going round the old building one comes across an intriguing baoli or step-well into which one can still descend with some difficulty because it is in a ruinous state.

It is here that Fraser is believed to have enjoyed his moonlight frolics with women friends. Whether Skinner was present at them is not known, though some other companions who shared his interest in Persian and Urdu literature were there. Ghalib was alive at that time but there was not much contact between him and Fraser, though the latter had helped him when the poet had visited Calcutta in connection with his pension dispute. At that time Fraser was attached to the Governor-General's office there. His baoli is still a curious place and deserves preservation, after proper renovation for possible inclusion in the list of tourist attractions on the Ridge.

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2022 11:41:41 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/Frasers-romantic-baoli/article15904175.ece

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