Metro Matrix Society

Left behind by the times

Travelling from Rohini to Kashmere Gate in the jam-packed women’s compartment of Delhi Metro, with the noise decibels from conversations rising to a crescendo, all you can do is to look out. So look out I do and what I see!

Between the stations Pratap Nagar and Pul Bangash, quite a few structures fill up the landscape suddenly, structures which don’t blend with the rest. Though over two decades old in the city, I have never seen them, nor have I heard of them. The list of buildings and places you are often handed down when you talk of Delhi that was, doesn’t mention them either. Made of red bricks, many of these structures are seemingly on the brink of crumbling, some of which are still lived spaces surprisingly. They certainly hint at good times that the area once saw.

What particularly catches my eye are the industrial spaces, whose walls would perhaps hold many a story about Delhi’s baby steps towards industrialisation during the British Raj. Among them is a towering red brick building that says, Established in 1920, Delhi Flour Mill.

Then there is another structure, horizontally laid, the redness of the bricks hidden under deposits of dust. On its bottle green roof is a black hood holding a rooster with arrows spiking out of its head towards all four directions, mentioning which is which.

At the far end of the picture that my eyes catch, there is a tall conical structure popping out of a canopy of tree heads. I later learn it to be a hardly heard monument called Mutiny Memorial, located in the Kamla Nehru Ridge.

Curiosity breeds faster in you than you can imagine and there I am one hot afternoon climbing down the steps of Pul Bangash Metro Station. No, my destination is none of the above but the clock tower at Subzi Mandi, a short e-rickshaw ride from the station off Roshanara Road. I tell you why I have told myself the red brick structures can wait. It is after learning that the Subzi Mandi Ghanta Ghar is the only one of the two existing clock towers of Delhi whose clocks still tick. And tick the right time! A piece of inheritance that is still alive.

Ghantaghar is the most recognised landmark of the Subzi Mandi area. Rs.10 to an e-rickshawallah and I am soon at the roundabout where stands the 73-year-old clock tower built in the memory of one Ram Swarup. At the bottom of the marbled tower, it calls itself Ramrup Tower, 1941. May be ‘Ram’ from Ram and ‘Rup’ from Swarup, I deduce. I then notice a board in Hindi stuck to the tower railings saying it was built by the family of Rai Bahadur Lala Ramrup Vaish Agarwal. No mention of who now looks after it.

Asking around, I collect a clasp of answers, straddling from “It is the MCD”, “the local MLA” to a plain “I don’t know.” Yogendra Singh Mann, PRO, MCD North, under which comes the area, says, “It is the Subzi Mandi Traders Association.” And there I go looking for the Association. The shopkeepers in the roundabout, members of the Association, say a clear-cut no. One directs me to Pehelwan’s shop nearby next to which is the local MCD office. “It is them,” he says. The man in the office is clueless. He first says yes, and then a no, and then creases his forehead asking, “Why do you want to know?”

My next trip is to the other clock tower that Delhi has. Hari Nagar Ghantaghar in North West Delhi. Here too, the Ghantaghar is the most recognised landmark. Unlike the one at Subzi Mandi, with banyan tree saplings creeping out of the cracks, this one has a fresh coat of paint on it and grills on the windows, seemingly a recent addition, to the room in the tower. Surprisingly, four holes remain of where once were the clocks!

Apparently, a caretaker has been staying under the tower for some years. I find the door locked though. A fruit seller at the roundabout says, “He works in a filling station, might come in the night.” Yet another pipes up, “I have not seen him for some time though.”

So what about the clocks? “We have been here for some years, don’t remember seeing any,” says a juicewallah. Who looks after it? “A very rich man from the area.” What is the name of the rich man? And there I meet a shrugged shoulder, a blank look, a nonchalant expression. Mann says, “It is privately maintained,” doesn’t know by whom.

Reading a bit of Delhi history on the Internet tells me it was built in 1950 in memory of Hari Ram, a dewan in the Kingdom of Jhajjhar, Haryana, who apparently first colonised the area. The reason for building these clock towers, a very European addition to a city, is apparent. Individual clocks and watches those days were hard to come by and therefore the need for a public one.

Though the times have moved far ahead since, certain questions remain. Like, who was Ramrup Vaish Aggarwal? What more did Hari Ram do apart from colonising the area? Also the question I asked people in Subzi Mandi and Hari Nagar areas — who maintains these clock towers? Importantly, will the Hari Nagar clock tower ever have the clocks back or would it remain just a landmark?

(Those with answers can reach the author at sangeeta.b@thehindu.co.in)


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Printable version | Dec 4, 2021 5:33:18 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/left-behind-by-the-times/article6044475.ece

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