Offers an ex citing journey through the historic ruins of the capital and its magnificent rich cultural past…
- The Hindu
Most Delhites are unaware of the abundance of historical traces in the city that hold on despite odds.
I asked my soul, what is Delhi? She replied: The world is the body and Delhi its soul.
Mirza Ghalib may have been indulging in hyperbole 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 in apart is the 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 part.
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 colonization 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 writes on issues of literature, culture and heritage. She has published over 15 books. Some of them include: two edited collections of short stories, Urdu Stories (Srishti, 2002) and a selection by Pakistani women called Neither Night Nar Day (Harper Collins, 2007); two co-authored books with Mushirul Hsan, Partners in Freedom: Jamia Millia Islamia (Niyogi, 2006) and Journey to a Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Diary (OUP, 2009). She was co-editor or Third Frame, a journal devoted to literature, culture and society brought out by the Cambridge University Press.
She has published six works of translations; the latest being Naked Voices & Other Stories by Saadat Hasan Manto (Roli, 2008); Panchlight and Other Stories by Hindi writer Phanishwarnath Renu (Orient Blackswan, 2010).
She runs an organization called Hindustani Awaz, devoted to the popularization of Hindu-Urdu literature and culture.
Prabhas Roy. the quintessential Bohemian artist, left a degree course at the Government Art College, Kolkata mid-way, preferring instead to live a traveler’s life. Those were the days when one would find him in the jungles of Dooars one day and in the lovely villages in the Himalayas the next, capturing what he saw and experienced on canvas.
He finally chose to settle down in Delhi with his wife in the early nineties and switched his medium of expression to the camera, so as to portray larger swathes of life. His Bohemian, nature-loving spirit intact, Prabhas continues to capture the beauty of the world around him through the lens.
You can love Delhi or hate it; you cannot be 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. Then 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 rulers did to the city I loved. Let me 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 Bazaar 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. Then I took a tonga to get to my school in Daryaganj. There were other beautiful mosques 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, on bicycle. The road ran along the city wall from Ajmeri Gate past Turkman Gate to Dilli 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 cycled 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 Bakhtiyar Kaki, Shamsi Talab. It was strewn with parts of mosques, palaces and forts. 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 to 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 Iltutmish’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 Punjabi 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 pans of the old city wall were pulled down to make way for 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 sorts, 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 to 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. This book should be made compulsory reading in schools and colleges. It will make the present generations aware of Delhi’s glorious past.
I take great pleasure in writing these few lines for the revised third edition of Invisible City: The
Hidden Monuments of Delhi. Both Niyogi publishers and I are extremely heartened by the success of this book.
While it is a truism universally acknowledged that a successful book is one that sells well, sometimes when a book like this does so exceptionally well, it is a cause of some cheer. For, it means there are still enough readers whose curiosity was piqued by this book, some of whom may perhaps have visited a few of the monuments described within these pages and, momentarily, lifted the cloak of invisibility that shrouds them. I can ask for nothing more.
I can only hope that this book will be used both by visitors to Delhi and those who live here. I also hope that both will draw in equal measure from this book and one day the distinction will lessen between the two Delhis—the one we see and the one we don’t. This other Delhi, which I have called Invisible Delhi, waits to be discovered. It holds an embarrassment of riches in the form of countless little-known, seldom-visited, largely unheard-of tombs, nameless pavilions, mosques, madarsas, pleasure gardens, baolis, cemeteries, and much else.
We have tried to make this a more user-friendly book than the previous editions. We have provided a better map and replaced the illustrations with photographs. The latter has been done upon feedback from booksellers, distributors and readers. We hope that the photographs will make these lesser known monuments easier to identify and therefore better accessible.
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