ISBN 81- 903591- 1- 8
Jantar Mantar: Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh's Observatory In Delhi
Today is Dhanteras.
There is nothing urgent that I need in my kitchen. I wonder how necessary it is to follow this ritual as I contemplate what new utensil to buy, when my maid tells me in between mopping the floor, that she is shifting home. She is moving to a new room close to her old one, where she says she will get plentiful water. She can go back home and wash her children’s clothes in the afternoon without worrying about queuing up in line outside in the lane. It is ironic to me that what she deems is a luxury, is actually a chore. But the fact, that her chore will not be compounded by another chore, is in itself something for her to be treasured and celebrated.
I ask her if she needs time off to shift tomorrow. She tells me that she has already started doing so, a bit every day. She has to plan this, since her husband cannot help. He has injured his hand. When I ask how, she says he hurt himself running away from the Committee Wallahs. They came day before yesterday. “Diwali is coming”, she says sagely and resignedly.
Yes, it is festival time. And while most of us plan how to light up our homes and what to eat, for hawkers selling on the streets like my maid’s husband, it is not simply a time to decide how many new clothes and candles to buy. Certainly not a time to let their defences down, but to be more watchful and guarded. And to spend the money they set aside for the festival, on buying new thelas, new buckets, new wares to sell – many of which have been compounded, confiscated or broken by the Committee in its pre-festival swoop.
I tell her that the newspapers have reported that the Courts have said that it is the right of a citizen to sell his wares on the street. This is not something that she knows. Neither it appears does the Committee.
The Hindu edition of October 20, 2010 carried a Report on its front page which stated that ‘Hawkers have a fundamental Right to trade’. Justice A.K. Ganguly and Justice G.S. Singhvi have asked the Delhi Government to enact a law to regulate the hawkers’ trade keeping in mind also the right of commuters to move freely, and have noted that ‘the fundamental right of the hawkers, just because they are poor and unorganized cannot be left in a state of limbo’…and that ‘when citizens by gathering meager resources try to employ themselves as hawkers and street-traders they cannot be subjected to a deprivation on the pretext that they have no right.’
Some of us plan to write to the local Noida officials asking them how they propose to follow this judgment. We hope to have your support in the form of endorsing this letter by adding your signatures to it.
In the meantime, we would like you to think about creating more space in your kitchens and your homes, by ritually gifting away utensils, clothes, books, lights - or indeed anything that you deem appropriate to anyone less fortunate then you.
Have a peaceful and joyous Diwali. And wish the same for everyone.
|Standing left to right|
Ms Priya Paul, Chairperson Apeejay Park Hotels,
Shri Jawahar Sircar, Secretary Culture,
Ms Anisha Shekhar Mukherji, the author,
Shri Gautam Sengupta, DG ASI, at the book release
OF ONIONS, KINGS, AND THE CITIES OF DELHI
Anisha Shekhar Mukherji
The city of Delhi sometimes reminds me of an onion, imperfectly taken apart - many layered, veined and maimed. The layers are not coherent or even tightly packed - scattered stray wisps forlornly curl at the edges in some corner, many centuries lie bunched together in another. Yet within them lie hidden vapours of many pasts, rising unbidden to sting you into an awareness of a different time.
Mythology in the form of that wondrous, infinitely complex epic of the Mahabharata, written more than 2000 years ago, refers to Indraprastha, what is taken to be a part of Delhi. Indraprastha was the capital of the kingdom of the Pandavas - the five brothers, each embodying a virtue, and their arrogant and beautiful wife, Draupadi. The Pandavas lost and won Indraprastha again. Their descendants followed. And that has been the fate of Delhi through the ages - to be lost and won successively, each conqueror leaving traces behind in the form of walls, forts, mausoleums, bridges.
Historically, the city is said to have been the capital of successive strains of rulers down the ages - Hindus, Turks, Afghans, Mughals. In actuality each ruler demarcated a portion of land, within the larger area of what is now termed Delhi, as his city. So, effectively, the various cities of Delhi consisted of separate stakes of land with their own city walls, forts and supporting fabric.
And that has remained the form of Delhi, even today. Driving from one part of the city to another there is a lack of any cohesion in the city fabric. This lack of cohesion mystifies visitors and leaves the people of Delhi with no form of identity to clutch on to. How could the city be described to a stranger? Would it be relevant to talk of the jamun tree lined broad and languorous avenues of imperial New Delhi? Or the narrow, dense, streets of Shahjahanabad thronged by people and wares, dominated by the 17th century Red Fort and a multitude of mosques? Would a visitor recognise the fussily flamboyant houses in Greater Kailash, hiding behind high walls, as the same Delhi? And left alone, in the wastelands between the former edges of the city and the suburbs now enveloped in its uncaring embrace, could he say where he was? And, of course, he would still not have seen the familiar walk up flats and their clones, scattered seemingly endlessly. Yet, somewhere within all this, appearing and disappearing as if in a dream, he might come across strange apparitions - ghosts of former Delhis.
As you weave in and out of the tangled traffic of Delhi, you come across the fragments of these former cities. Some scornfully straddle roundabouts, some look on peacefully from the edge of the roads. The sight of these remnants is one of the pleasures - the few pleasures, some might add, of living in Delhi. These sudden unexpected glimpses of the past constantly reaffirm a concept of time, unrelated to the frenzy of keeping appointments in a deadlocked city. But, perhaps it is the pressure of watching the car or autorickshaw in front that makes it easy for many people to ignore this part of their city. For it is a fact, that these monuments are for the large part, neglected or forgotten.
To the great majority of people the monuments are not a consideration in any way, and that is the biggest obstacle to their conservation, apart from funds and appropriate manpower. Planning authorities, instead of integrating them into the physical fabric of the city, ignore them in their master plans. The people of Delhi do not see these monuments as a part of their physical or mental space but as isolated freaks, their reassurance and romance discovered briefly when the are young and in love in an otherwise sneering city. For the most part, however, these structures are frequented by people who vandalise them in various ways.
The task of integrating these former Delhis into the Delhi of today is made more difficult by the fact that there is no unified perception of Delhi. This, in turn is caused by the lack of a coherent city form arid by the absence of a population who retain enough affection and memories of the city to identify completely with it. Such people are dead like the poets Ghalib and Zauq. Or they have been swallowed in the aftermath of the Partition of 1947, to be replaced by a new population.
This new population is one of migrants. They are historical migrants of 1947, bereft of belongings and with a loyalty to only themselves having completely and appallingly lost what had been their identity. Or more recent rural migrants, who have left behind families and a familiar social structure in search of the proverbial and elusive streets of gold. In most cases, they find neither the financial security they come looking for nor the dignity they have forsaken. Or the people in the urban villages, not strictly migrants. In their case, it is the ever expanding city which has migrated to enfold them and their traditional farmlands. Nonetheless, the effect is that the urban villages retain their old ways of living and identify themselves with their village rather than the city.
And the problem is compounded by the planning processes of Delhi, which have relied on an interpretation of the bungalow theme, replacing individual dwellings with higher flats. The theme is one of separation - between different parts of the city; from the street; from the older structures. As a result, the city has evolved into isolated rings, manoeuvrable only on the backs of machines, dissected by wastelands of empty roads and desolate greens, pushed out further and further to satisfy the diet of developers. An ordinary man, covering many kilometres in suffocatingly crowded public transport, does not retain the will to perceive former Delhis, smothered in the pursuit of the Delhi of today.
There is as yet enough opportunity to involve the monuments with their surroundings and the people. The most visible of these are the big and famous monuments, frequented by visitors and under some form of Government protection. Then there are the structures bordering main roads, visible in their own way, but neither part of a specific living space nor famous enough to be on the tourist list. And finally those that lie within residential colonies, neither very visible nor famous. A long term conservation policy is one that aims to develop a sense of responsibility in people towards all these structures. This lack of responsibility is evident in the high incidence of vandalism in many portions of the Red Fort, which is one of the most prominent of Delhi's older buildings. These are now shut off from the public because of the impossibility of manning every structure in such a big site against vandalism.
It is important to instil in the minds of younger generations - finally the custodians of the city, a positive feeling for the elements that make up their city. In an economy that has to distribute sufficient funds for purposes as varied and urgent as poverty control, health, education, and defence across thousands of kilometres of land amongst a huge population, it is even more imperative that all the responsibility for the conservation of the past is not dumped at the feet of the government. It is equally important to develop a more vigilant public that not only does not harm the monuments themselves, but also exercises enough alertness to demand a more relevant use of the funds available.
Simultaneous action is needed on many fronts, but a start can be made with the structures within residential areas. Monuments t can be the focus of public open space in residential areas which can be used actively by families living in and around these areas. They might then develop a sense of responsibility towards that specific monument, and through it, perhaps to other monuments. Such involvement would also act as a check on vandalism.
The conservation of these older structures has thus an implication not just on the repair and maintenance of their physical fabric but also on their active and beneficial use by the communities living around them, such that they form an inseparable part of the image of the city. Finally the conservation of the spirit of the city, which is a mixture of its past and present incarnations, can only be achieved through the many ordinary men and women who live in it. An old Indian proverb notes the three necessities that go into the making of a city - badshah (king), dariya (river) and badal (cloud). The dariya has moved further arid further away, the badal is capricious and both the badshah and the Empress have bowed out ignominiously. The only factor that has remained and will continue to remain, are the people who inhabit the city and it is their thoughts and wants which will determine the form and existence of the city - or the lack of it.
Plain Tales from Doon-
Some Exchanges Between the Garhwali and the Kumaonis
No one can deny that Onial Mausaji tells a tale well. And that he can do so on almost any subject on earth and at the slightest provocation.
Or so we thought as children with little patience and manners to listen appropriately to him. We could not sit still long enough to savour the slow spinning out of his stories, especially when there was the ripe lure of the lichis from Nani’s orchard that could trickle down our mouths. The orchard also held other attractions. One of my more intrepid cousins has been known to explore the ways through its large twisted trees on the back of the galloping domestic buffalo, ostensibly to entertain a train of younger cousins. Considering such pursuits that interested his nephews and nieces, Mausaji’s persistence with us is commendable. Looking back, I wonder if this was due to an incurable optimism, or his experience as house-master to boisterous boys in Punjab Public School at Nabha, or a particularly whimsical streak of humour.
Each year we - my parents, my brother and I - would descend on Dehradun from whichever cantonment in the country my father was posted, to spend the long summer holidays with my grandparents and our numerous cousins, aunts and uncles. We would generally stay at my Dada’s house right next to the East Canal, five or perhaps ten minutes walking distance from Nani’s house. Once she was at her mother’s, my mother would leave us to our own devices to our mutual delight. On warm afternoons in Nani’s house amidst Mausaji’s measured and leisurely tones, we would slip of quietly into sleep or out of the room. All, except our eldest first cousin. With irreproachable manners then, she more than made up for the absence of the rest of us, smiling and nodding with reasonably wide eyes. Mausaji obviously did not mind or notice his dwindling audience. He sportingly embarked on some other story the next afternoon. I cannot actually remember what they were about. I probably did not follow either his impeccable English or his seasoned Urdu, both of which he was wont to use with equal felicity.
Now it is a different story. Mausaji is more discriminating in his choice of listeners. Not just his reminiscences about big cats and elephants, and the Dehradun, Rajpur and Mussoorie of yore, these days he needs to be cajoled to enact his favourite anecdotes, most of which deal with the eccentricities of his wife’s clan. The best time to get him to elaborate on this theme is when he has warmed himself on a crisply cold winter evening with a whisky.
According to Mausaji, the individuality of the Ghildiyals - the family into which my Nani was married – is the inevitable result of their being true Garhwalis. They, he has deduced, “are like their landscape, craggy, unpredictable, and tortuous”. “Now Kumaonis”, he beams, “are gentle, soft, yet sharp – like their landscape”. My father, as one of the few Kumaonis inducted into the Ghildiyal clan by marriage, disparagingly strokes his well-shaped nose, and grins modestly at this praise. The mountains of Garhwal and Kumaon border each other, and Garhwalis and Kumaonis, like all good neighbours, disagree on most things. But, to be a Garhwali and a Ghildiyal, seems to not just add but heap, in Mausaji’s opinion, insult to injury. ‘Jaise karela aur neem chara, vaise Garhwali aur Ghildiyal’! As one of the few resident males in a family full of females, he feels particularly strongly about the Ghildiyal women.
The story which animates him the most features Guni Mausi, my mother’s middle sister. Guni Mausi is a most fearless and spirited person. Also most bewildering. Like God, she moves in mysterious ways her wonders to perform. Not just her very proper elder daughter, Manishi, but even her less conventional younger one - my buffalo-riding cousin of yore – cannot quite comprehend or contain her. Mausi’s conversations start off midway or towards the end. They often leapfrog into action before one has quite grasped that she has finished speaking whatever she had started on. Phone calls to her rarely find her at home. She may be in the local market, seizing upon an acquaintance next to the old Tonga stand. Or on a rattling bus to one of her many relative’s weddings in a distant mountain village. Or at the carpenters assessing the quality of wood. Or on the way to the airport with 70 kilograms of baggage including tamarind and coconuts to make delicacies for her grandchildren in England. One never can tell with Mausi.
That is Mausaji’s grouse too. ‘I can never understand,’ he asks, shifting comfortably from one foot to another, “why Guniji - after specially calling us over for tea - peers at us suspiciously each time through the wire-mesh with her hand on her eyes, when we do arrive, and asks ‘Kaun’?” Mausaji is very proper. He dresses up in crisp blazers, old school ties, and shining shoes and I can comprehend that it can be a little disconcerting for him to be invited and then regarded thus by a close relative. “But,” he adds, “what I understand even less, is why when she comes over to our house and we answer the doorbell, she peers inside through our door mesh and enquires ‘Kaun’!”
“Restless and incomprehensible”, he continues. “Your Nani, and your Mausis. If they come into the room, they can never sit or stand peacefully. They will twitch the tablecloth awry; yank the curtain to one side, beat a tattoo on the light-switches. Then, having succeeded in putting on all the fans in winter or all the lights during the day and having made the room look even more unpresentable than usual, they will deign to sit down!” “And papers”, he adds, “your Nani never throws away any old letters. Every few weeks she causes a commotion by picking up one from the pile on top of her fridge, and then calling out distractedly “oh no, Damayanti has fallen ill again”. ‘As for your mausi”, he continues bitterly, “she sleeps with papers under her pillow”.
Saroj Mausi, my mother’s eldest sister (and Mausaji’s wife) taught English at the Scindia Girls School and then the Mahadevi Kanya Pathshala College in Dehradun. She is quite literally a woman of letters. She is also a social and environmental activist. Her house has an abundance of books and papers, peeping out from under the table, balanced precariously on the stairs, stuffed in closets, under the mattress. She is one of the few people I know who can simultaneously peel potatoes and propound philosophy.
Like Guni Mausi, she is also rarely at home. And if she is, Mausaji complains, his drawing room is taken over by half a dozen women from her organization drinking endless cups of tea, interfering with his mealtimes and ruining his health and that of his wife. After retirement, her portfolio of jobs outside the house has expanded. She writes letters to the District Magistrate to install lights for pedestrians, holds ‘green’ workshops in her garden for local children, lectures the Mussoorie and Dehradun Development Authority about fields of basmati rice being taken over by building agents, encourages her maids to stand up for their rights in property-disputes, promotes a women’s organization that works with children’s education, and as Mausaji points out, colonises the family car for her altruistic agendas. ‘Everyone recognizes our car. When Saroj rolls up in it, she causes a stampede! All the children scatter and shout, “Run, the Red Maruti’s coming”.
Mausi smiles at most of Mausaji’s pronouncements, only occasionally being provoked in her turn into a discussion on the Onials, the Garhwali clan that Mausaji belongs to. Surprisingly - or then perhaps not - Mausaji is a Garhwali too