Invisible City: The Hidden Monuments of Delhi

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Item Code: IDC385
Author: Rakhshanda Jalil
Publisher: Niyogi Books
Edition: 2008
ISBN: 8189738143
Pages: 220 (Illustrated Throughout in Color)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 9.0” X 9.0”
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Book Description
From The Book
Mirza Ghalib may have been indulging when he penned these famous lines, but there is no denying that Delhi is a notch above the other great metropolises of India. What sets it apart is the multitude of historic ruins that are almost everywhere. Every ruler down the ages wished to adorn his beloved Delhi, to leave a mark that would last and so left behind a landscape studded with jewels from the past.

Neophyte New Delhi has been quick to discard most of them on the rubbish heap of history, choosing to validate a bare minimum with a name, an identity and a place of visibility.

Where it was possible to make the law look the other way, many of these monuments were razed to the ground to make way for colonisation and development. Regarded as no more than inconvenient piles of rock, many have been pulled down, built upon, built around.

Invisible City: The Hidden Monuments of Delhi explores this other Delhi – the little-known, seldom-visited, largely unheard – of Delhi, the Delhi that has been rendered almost invisible.

Rakhshanda Jalil has co-authored partners in freedom: Jamia Millia Islamia and journey of faith (forthcoming) with Mushirul Hasan.

Among her books published in recent years are: Neither Night Nor Day, A Winter’s Tale & Other Stories by Premechand, Circle & Other Stories, Through the Closed Doorway and Black Borders.

Rakhshanda Jalil is Media and Cultural Coordinator at Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia.

Premola Ghosh is chief, Programme Division, at the India International Centre, New Delhi. A self-taught artist, she has held solo exhibitions, and illustrated books.

Dhruva Narayan Chaudhuri has published and exhibited his photographs worldwide and won many prestigious awards. He is the author of Delhi: Light, Shades and Shadows.

You can love Delhi or hate it; you cannot indifferent towards it. My attitude towards the city cannot be clearly defined. I started by loving it and continued to love it for many years. Them my passion for it began to abate. Now I resent living in it, but since I have to spend the time left to me in this city I have to perforce make terms with it. Of one thing I am certain: the date when I began to get disenchanted by Delhi. It was 15 August. 1947 – the day of India’s independence. It had nothing to do with the British leaving our country but what our new rules did to the city I lived. Let e explain.

When I joined my parents in Delhi, we lived in Subzi Mandi, quite close to the Roshanara Garden where Emperor Shah Jahan’s daughter is buried. there was greenery all around and the air was fragrant with maulsari blossoms I had to take a tram that ran through Sadar Bazar past the Fatehpuri mosque, down Chandni Chowk, along the Sunehri Masjid, Gurudwara Sis Ganj and ended near the steps of the Jama Masjid. I had never seen a mosque so grand and majestic as this one. I could see the huge battlements of the Red Fort. Them I took a tonga to get to my school in Daryaganj. There were other beautiful mosque on the way and the school was next to the massive grey stone city wall. After we shifted to New Delhi, which was in the process of being built, I had to go to the same school by tonga and later in bicycle. The road ran along the city wall from Ajmeri Gate past Turkman Gate to Dill Darwaza into Daryaganj. And still later when my father acquired a car, I was driven past the Khooni Darwaza and kotla Ferozshah with its Ashokan pillar. The place was redolent with history from 600 B.C. to modern times. I wanted to know more of its hoary past. I did so in an unplanned manner. At times I cyckes all the way from Safdarjung;s Tomb past Vijay Mandal, Hauz Khas, Yusuf Sarai, walls of the Qila Rai Pithora to the Qutub Minar, Mehrauli, the mausoleum of Bakhatiyar Kaki, Shamsi Talab. It was strewn with parts of mosques, palaces and front. Then by car along the same route to Sultan Garhi, I went to the Humayun’s Tomb, the mazaar of Nizamuddin Auliya, on Thursday evenings to listen to qawwali and pay homage to Amir Khusrau and Asadullah khan Ghalib. Many Sundays I went to Tughlaqabad and visited the tomb of its founder Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq or further Suraj Kund. Once I spent three nights in Qutub Minar’s dak bungalow to look for Balban’s tomb and the Jamali Kamali mosque. I wandered around the Qutub monuments, Alai Darwaza, Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque with its iron pillar and lltutmish’s grave. One moonlit night I felt ghosts of the past closing in on me and hurried back to the safety of my room in the dak bungalow guarded by a chowkidar.

All that changed in August 1947. Muslims who formed almost half the population of Delhi were forced out of the city. They took with them Urdu and the city’s cultural life. Their place was taken by Hindus and Sikhs fleeing from the newly-formed state of Pakistan who brought with them the Punjab language and dhabas. They had nowhere to stay. So the government built as many new homes and markets in as quick a time as it could. The British had carefully planned New Delhi for a limited population. They left old monuments untouched. Independent India’s new rulers did not have time to plan for the future. Huge parts of the old city wall were pulled down to make way bazaars. New colonies sprang up everywhere smothering ancient monuments; they did not believe these were worth preserving. It was heartbreaking. More than roads perpetually clogged by vehicles of all sots, it is the murder of some of our past heritage that saddens me most. The worst victims of our government’s vandalism were monuments in the southern half of the city, stretching from the Purana Qila in the east of the Lodi Garden to Safdarjung in the west and going beyond Tughlaqabad and the Qutub Minar. This has fast become an invisible city, which is the theme of this book.

Rakhshanda Jalil has done a thorough job of research to locate these monuments and inform the readers about their builders, the time when they were built and the legends that grew round them. She does so in felicitous prose. The illustrations by Premola Ghose and photographs by D.N. Chaudhuri helps to wipe away some tears over the dead past. This book should be made compulsory reading in schools and colleges. It will make the present generations aware of Delhi’s glorious.

Delhi, the mistress of every conqueror of India, Aryan or afghan, Persian, English or Mogul, remains unconquered still. Over twenty square miles of sun-baked plain lie out the debris of her many pasts, relics of her dead and gone masters, some perfect still, some once covering back into the levels of red-yellow marl that have alternately fed and housed, and fed and housed again, forgotten generations of men. Yet Delhi lives. Like some huge crustacean, she has shed behind her own outgrown habitations… Inscrutable and undeniable, her claim is different from that of all other towns of India, for she has no rival… and all the men know whoso holds Delhi holds India.

Delhi lives. It has been built over again. The debris of its past is scattered all around. Blythe, blasé and heedless, the city has been quick to discard as many of the inconvenient dribs and drabs of its past as it possibly could. Delhi has allowed the cloak of oblivion to fall, hiding several inconvenient piles of old rock that stand in the way of urbanization and development. Through years of misuse, it has coaxed the forces of urban renewal to obliterate several of these blots on its shining new horizon.

Where it was possible to make the law look the other way, Delhi has let many of these monuments be pulled down, chopped and carted away or cannibalised, brick by brick, stone by stone. Where wanton disregard for the laws of the land has not been possible and stray vigilante groups have raised voice of protest, Delhi has allowed reluctantly and with ill-concealed contempt – some of these structures to stay. Like guests who have long outstayed their welcome, the city has, through sheer dint of brutal neglect them to mute spectators.

And yet, despite the odds stacked so heavily against them, many of Delhi’s lesser-known monuments survive. In great part, this is to do with the sturdy good sense of their builders. Unknown and unvisited they stand in islands of neglect, rendered virtually invisible by the could of unknowingness that hover around them. Some of us might drive past them, or walk our dogs in their unkempt grounds, or take a shortcut through them, keeping a vigilant eye for the louts who invariably hang about here, nut they seldom cause a blip on our radars.

Rarely do we stop to ask why we are so entirely heedless of our past. Why have we allowed a cordon sanitaire, as it were, to fall on our city, demarcating two clearly-defined spaces: one neatly labelled ‘organised’, the other falling under a broad category of ‘unorganised’. Other epithets can be used for these two categories: clean/filthy, authorised/unauthorised, orderly/chaotic, spacious/cramped, cared for/ uncared for, and so on.

Pockets of abysmal neglect exist alongside oases of privilege. Yet it seldom causes so much as a raised eyebrow let alone any real degree of concern or introspection, either on our part or on the part of those who head out civic bodies.

Many years ago, struck by this study of contrasts, I began to visit the urban villages of Delhi, one by one, and each time I marveled anew at the chaos and chaos and clutter of these villages and the glitter of shining India, often barely a few yards away. At the heart of each urban village, reached through many a winding alley, past many a malodorous heap of rotting rubbish, I invariably found an old monument.

I began by writing a stray essay or two on the villages themselves, graduating to a couple of articles on the ruins I had changed upon by happy serendipity. Three years ago, I began writing a monthly column, called ‘Invisible City’, for the First City magazine. While I had enough material to get by for the first few months, I began scouting for newer and lesser-known monuments to write about each month. Soon, this search became an adventure, a journey of discovery in to the unknown in which I was joined by family and friends. Acquaintances and readers of the column began to pitch in-with reports of ‘some old building’ they could spot from their balcony, or sightings of ‘something’ they drove past but whose name they didn’t know. On sunny winter afternoons these became enjoyable excursions. On scorching hot days or in pouring, they were less-then-pleasing experiences. But the pot of gold at the end of these monthly rainbows was always very rewarding. The thrill of finding something new-yet completely unknown-either buried deep inside an urban village as in the case of Zamroodpur, or in the heart of a bustling neighbourhood as in the case of Sarai Shahji, has still not deserted me. Even today, as I sit down to turn my columns into essays for this book, I feel elated every time the curtain of invisibility lifts and these old building reveal something of themselves.

In the three years that I have writing and researching these monuments, I have ended up with more questions than answers: Why do certain monuments fall off the tourist map? Who decides whether a certain historical building is worth a visit or whether it ought to be consigned to the rubbish head of history? Should historical monuments be allowed to crumble to dust or put to good use by being incorporated into new constructions, or should they simply be razed to the ground and built over? Who is to decide what stays and what goes? Also, what stays in which form and is put to which specific use? Does a monument have a sell-by date pasted on it? Does history not have a sanctity that is above current use? Must we judge history as ‘relevant’ and ‘irrelevant’? For that matter, is the past itself expendable? Must it make way for the present? Clearly, there will be more questions than answers till someone somewhere decides that there is more to conservation issues than mere catchy phrases. Till that happen, I hope some of you will find something of value in this book.

Back of The Book
‘Till places and building continue to be visited, they remain visible; the cloak of oblivion descends only when people stop looking at them, making them invisible, as it were. All ye whose heart beats for Delhi, don’t let that cloak fall just yet; go and see some of these beauties before they disappear before your very eyes; or worse still, before hand-made, kiln-fried tiles of the most azure blue are replaced by mass-produced bathroom tiles in the course of “restoration drives”!’

Mir Taqi Mir, one of the greatest Urdu poets, who could not bear to be away from his beloved Delhi even for a short while, wrote:


Pre-Sultanate: Once Upon a Time13
Suraj Kund
Sultanate: Yesterday’s Space19
Sultan Garhi
Bakhtiyar Kaki’s Dargah
City of Siri
Matka Pir
Chor Minar, Idgah and Neeli Masjid
Tughlaq: Set in the Past39
Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq’a Tomb
More on the Tughlaqs
Waterworks at Satpula
Firoz Shah Kotla
Hunting Lodges of Firoz Shah Tughlaq
Pir Ghaib
Firoz Shah Tughlaq’s Tomb and Madarsa
Khirki Village
Begumpuri Mosque and Vijay Mandal
Lal Gumbad and Madarsa Zeenatul
Chirag Dilli and Bahlol Lodi’s Tomb
In and Around Sadhna Enclave
Agrasen ki Baoli
Saiyyid: Confines of Time91
Kotla Mubarakpur
Lodi: Tracing the Spirit97
Makhdum Sabzwari’s Dargah
Tombs of Kale Khan and Darya Khan
Moth ki Masjid
Around Green Park
Darya Khan Lohani’s Tomb and Teen Burji
Tombs of Zamroodpur
Wazirpur ka Gumbad
Mughal: Designed to Remember125
Tombs of Atgah Khan and Adham Khan
Jamali Kamali
Inside Purana Qila
Khan-e-Khanan’s Tomb
On Mathura Road
Arab ki Sarai
In and About Bharatiyam Complex
Inside the Golf Course
Dadabari Jain Temple
Safdarjung’s Tomb
Metcalfe’s Dilkusha
Around Sundar Nursery
Ruins of Sarai Shahji
Anglo-Arabic School
Ghaziuddin Khan’s Mosque and Tomb
Zafar Mahal
Post-Mughal: Beyond Time191
Mutiny Memorial
Nicholson’s Cemetery
St. Martin’s Church
Buddha Jayanti Park
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