By Niti Deoliya:
I have been called ‘Dilli’ for centuries, but people say that my mythical name had been Indraprastha. Although tides of time have blurred my memories, but I still feel that it is today, that I should be sharing my life story with you.
I was a symbol of power, pride and victory all through my life. Originally, it was the Rajput kingdom of Prithvi Raj Chauhan that succeeded in establishing itself in Quila Rai Pithora. After almost thousand years, it was the turn of Turks under Ghori who surprised me with their might and will power. They smashed the Chauhans and left the world surprised, erecting the world’s tallest stone tower – Qutub Minar. You would still find the reminiscent of their architecture in the present city of Mehrauli. I was enjoying learning a new religion, culture and customs when I got a chance to be introduced to Khaljis – the Turko Afghani, another set of new people for me. I really appreciated their initiative, especially that of Ala-ud-din Khalji’s, to educate the masses. You can check it yourself by visiting his large madrasa at Qutub complex or a huge tank at Hauz Khas that may again be an indication towards faint development of engineering skills. Unfortunately, it was only a beginning for me to know these people when the Tughlaks rose and overthrew them. Places like Tughlaqabad, Jehanpanah and Feroz shah Kotla would remind you of their power and of their architectural innovations like the use of plaster, battered walls, encaustic tiles and proper domes. The Sayeeds and Lodhis, better illustrated in the Lodhi Gardens of Lutyen’s Delhi, followed. But it was only one small part of my being and lot more was left for me to be bewildered of.
The first battle of Panipat, in 1526, brought a landmark change in my life as it gave way to the Mughals – who became known for their patronage to art and architecture. I patiently observed the way I was adorned with majestic mosques, large tombs, wonderful palaces, beautiful gardens, grand forts, and lovely cities. Purana Qila, near Pragati Maidan, would make you feel the presence of the second Mughal Emperor, Humayun, who stayed here for quite a few years of his life. I would also urge you to move through the lanes of Shahjahanabad (now Old Delhi) to enjoy hidden relics of past in the majestic Red fort, busy Chandni Chowk, largest Indian mosque Jama Masjid, marvelous Mosque by Shahjahan’s wife – Fatehpuri Masjid, bustling neighborhood of existing four gates (Kashmiri Gate, Turkman Gate, Delhi Gate and Ajmeri Gate) out of original fourteen gates of the erstwhile walled city – your modern Old Delhi, so on and so forth.
I am sorry for excessive details but it is difficult to hold on to emotions, you see! Various sarais (rest houses for travelers) along with extensive canal systems and baolis (step-well) covered long distances and embellished most of my surface with water. I was proud of my splendid beauty, serenity, and the usefulness I could impart to my numerous travelers, admirers, scholars, traders, rulers, etc. I had seen great ups and downs, plundering and conquering, in my own life’s history, and learnt to adjust with the life styles of the new people I was introduced to.
However, my life has seen drastic political, economic and social changes since the advent of the British. The green cover I am surfaced with has been fast diminishing, and the extent of reckless hunting in the ridges has wiped away signs of exotic animal species that once existed. Out of the total area under the ridges, 40% has already been destroyed for commercial purposes. The ground that once glimmered with the water is left only with its impression. A look at the Dhaula Kuan or Tal Katora would give you a better picture. Moreover, the Nazafgarh drain (nala), which you look at with great disgust, was once part of my extensive river system, along with many other canals and protective ditches that were filled and are now nowhere to be seen. The lanes that reminded me of my great past are now filled with appalling dirt and industrial smoke. My proud heritage is pleading for proper conservation. I had been overlooking my deplorable condition, for I understood your need for urbanization, which, you think, ensures you a better life. But I wonder, how far, for how many and for whom has it been ‘better’? I see one section least bothered about the other. Class inequality is inevitable and so is the rate of crimes. The constant threat of forced displacements and encroachments has made many people’s health, livelihood and even lives, vulnerable. Neither have I forgotten the destruction of my walled city and the subsequent forced displacements to Karol Bagh, nor the evictions of settled communities from Pahar-ganj, sabzi Mandi, and Sadar Bazar for the railway lines during the British time. I cannot even ignore the recent cases of land acquisition, or the number of growing slum clusters, shelter homes, poor state of resettlement, and unauthorized colonies. Why are some alienated on their own land? Further exploration in Rehgarhpura, Karol Bagh, Sarojini Nagar, Laxmi Nagar, Patel Nagar or Punjabi Bagh would explain to you, the saga of the displaced, and the refugees during various times since the 19th century.
I had sacrificed my natural land and heritage beauty for your sake, but it is quite shocking that you could not do the same even for your basic needs. Rather, you made things even worse. Moreover, you became so selfish, that not only did you exploit me, but you also endangered the life of your future generation. The traffic jams, extreme climate, filthy-dirt and pernicious industrial pollution has choked me up with suffocation; overpopulation is burdening me, and the deplorable condition of sanitation facilities has defiled my reputation. I was once proud of my existence, but today, each day, is tough for me. My old eyes are searching for greenery, my ill body is demanding the coolness of water, and my tired soul is in pursuit of freshness, cleanliness, peace and calmness.
I have narrated to you a part of my story, but it doesn’t matter if you areÂ sorry, for the time is already near when you would need to weep for me.