Lodi Garden never fails to amaze you with its exuberant greenery in the heart of Delhi; a more scenic and striking place couldn't have been better for our first book discussion on Nehru and Bose: Parallel Lives by Rudrangshu Mukherjee. Salil Misra, Professor of History at Ambedkar University Delhi graciously agreed to be our discussant. He started with giving a brief synopsis of the book and tracking the parallel lives of these two dauntless nationalists from the point of their return home, through their unfruitful struggles to radicalise the Congress, to their final parting of ways in the late 1930s on the issue of Bose's offset victory as president of that umbrella nationalist body. In between these two personalities, fell the shadow of Gandhi in India, and of Mussolini and Hitler in Europe, and a militarised Japan to our east. The Mahatma played an important role in both of their lives and he's considered the reason behind their decision to go their separate ways.
Many of us know that Delhi has the unfortunate title of one of the most polluted cities in the world. However, standing at the gate of Mehrauli Archaeological Park, an expansive 100-acre space, with greenery all around, it’s quite easy to forget about the pollution. To be sure, the park has many stories to tell; the Mehrauli area is the oldest continuously inhabited part of Delhi. From the 11th century Rajput cities of Lalkot, and Qila Rai Pithora, to monuments from Delhi Sultanate, the Mughal, and the British era— there is perhaps no other place in Delhi with such a diverse history. We started our exploration at Balban’s Tomb, the resting place of the Mamluk king who ruled Delhi in the 13th century. Interestingly, the only grave remaining in the tomb complex is not Balban’s, but that of his son, Khan Shahid. Khan Shahid was not known to be a religious figure, but people do pray in front of his grave, and the enclosure often smells of incense. An example of the past and present interacting— popular memory does not always follow historical accuracy.
This heritage walk explores the history of the city of Shahjahanabad, today, old Delhi or Purani Dilli. The trail focuses on the street of Chandni Chowk which was the main boulevard of the 17th century city, and still remains so. Over a period of 400 years the city has seen many changes, but two events have most prominently shaped it: the suppression of the rebellion of 1857, and the Partition of 1947. Delhi was one of the major centres of the Revolt of 1857. The rebellion was crushed and the Mughal dynasty came to an end. India became a British colony. The British occupied the Red Fort and the city and large parts of the city were flattened. A clearing was created outside Red Fort to provide for firing range, in case of another rebellion; prominent public buildings like Fatehpuri Masjid were razed in this clearance of settlements; the Mughal buildings inside the Fort were pulled down and barracks for British soldiers created. The physical fabric of the city was drastically altered. 1947 saw a massive migration of people across the newly created border. A number of refugee colonies came up to settle the people displaced by Partition. Many of these were built on lands which were part of garden estates of the nobility in Shahjahanabad. Both 1857 & 1947 have had a tremendous impact on the life of the city and as it appears to us today. We also have to keep in mind that in old Delhi many site will have historical associations but the buildings identifying the sites could be fairly recent. This is because it is an area of continuous settlement; people who have lived here have built, repaired and rebuilt on older sites.
‘I’m going to Kotla Firoz Shah’— say these words to a Delhi-ite, and more often than not, his/her first impression would be that you are going to watch a cricket match at the stadium by that name. Yet, just behind the stadium lies the Kotla Firoz Shah monument complex, housing the ruins of the fifth city of Delhi. With numerous arches and pathways with steep steps, the ruins are surrounded by lush green lawns. Birds of prey are constantly gliding around the area, making for quite a dramatic setting. It is not surprising then, that people think this area is haunted. The ruins were almost deserted on a Sunday morning, but that is not always the case. Popular belief about the presence of djinns brings throngs of people to the complex on Thursdays. They carry offerings and bring their wishes/prayers written on a piece of paper, in the hope that the djinns would fulfill their desires.
Doing a heritage walk in Lodi Gardens is quite different from most of DHW’s other trails. More often than not, the ruins we wish to explore are empty on a weekend, and seem to be part of a distant world. But Lodi Gardens at 7:30am on a Saturday is bustling. It’s not called ‘Jogger’s Paradise’ without reason— walkers, runners, and exercise groups of all ages were out and about.