Friday, April 10, 2015

.. Life and Times...

Last Sunday I decided to join the Delhi Karavan for a walk to cross over a century to recreate the tale of 1857. To hear stories of greatness, bravery, warriors, loss, rebel, love and more. Some call it the mutiny. Some call it the first Indian war of independence.  It was our struggle for freedom. Our fight  and purpose for a better world. It was also the end of an era. The one which started from Babur and ended with Bahadur Shah Zafar II. It was strong enough to rule over us for more than 3 centuries. Isn't that something?

Delhi is full of stories. Sometimes I feel that I am sitting on a goldmine of stories. Its treasure is in its history.  This was probably a good enough reason to step out last Sunday for the walk.

It was a decent mix of people from all walks of life. Most of them were like me, raised in Delhi but never got a chance to explore our backyard beyond the most obvious Qutub Minar, Lal Qila etc. Then again, it is never too late.

We were scheduled to meet at 9:00 am sharp outside Ritz cinema . Interestingly my first lesson that day was on language. After trying and giving up on google Maps on our smartphones we decided to get there the old school way. I asked one of the Rickshaw drivers for directions to Ritz cinema. He had a hard time understanding me and then after pausing for a second he said -- "Madam, Ritizz hota hai. Aage jaakar Ritizz ke liye poocho nahi toh koi nahi samjhega" ( Ma'am, Instead of Ritz please ask for Ritizz. That's what it is called). His confidence and buck tooth left me super impressed. It also made me think how we adapt language as per our sensibilities. We finally found our way by asking for "Ritizz Cinema".. We all met there. We had our own reasons to be there and from there we marched on. We covered Kashmiri gate, St James Church, Dara Shikoh's library, Magazine House, Telegraph memorial, St Nicholson's cemetery. A small walk gave us an opportunity to cover all these monuments and stories behind them. It was a good experience. Did I mention the cemetery? Yes, we went to St Nicholson's cemetery which is the oldest one in Delhi. I didn't even know that it existed. It was a good walk to get acquainted with history. Our tour guide was Asif. Some people can have their way with words and he is certainly amongst them. The way he narrated the anecdotes, stories and poems of Bahadur Shah Zafar -II showed us a glimpse of what life would have been for him then.

The next day at work I was asked what made me go to Kashmiri Gate of all the places. Most of them couldn't comprehend the fact that I wanted to see the run-down buildings, monuments etc.. Some people spend their lives not knowing about anything that is in their backyard. The very same people go abroad and visit every monument. Isn't that hypocrisy? I have a hearty appetite for history and my surroundings. And those lovely buildings - Looking at them, touching them and being around them. I love to feel the texture of buildings. Is that odd?

One very interesting thing that I noticed was how history is written. It completely belongs to the one writing it. I visited the Military chapel in Canterbury cathedral and there was such a stark contrast in the way history was presented there and that morning in and around Kashmiri gate.

I couldn't have signed off this post without mentioning excerpts from Bahadur Shah Zafar's most famous couplet. He wished to be buried next to the graves of his predecessors and next to the grave of Sufi saint, Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki in the Zafar Mahal (in Mehrauli, which was his summer palace).  After the mutiny of 1857 he was tried for treason and was deported to Rangoon. He died there without any honor. He penned this couplet on his life "Do Gaz Zameen" ( Two Yards of Land) highlighting his misfortune of not finding a place for burial in his beloved country. The one that he ruled:

Umr-e- daraaz se maang ke laye the char din
Do aarzu mein guzar gaye, do intezaar mein

Kitna hai badnaseeb Zafar
Dafn ke liye
Do gaz zameen bhi
Mil na saki kuye yaar mein

I had requested for a long life a life of four days
Two passed by in pining, and two in waiting
How unlucky is Zafar! For burial
Even two yards of land were not to be had, in
The land (of the) beloved

It was a different experience to hear tales of how the most powerful empire disintegrated after 332 years. By the time Zafar became emperor he had nothing - an empty treasury and no military . Then again, it is a reminder of how what starts has to end. The sun sets. Every book has a last page. Another reminder to end this post..

And my romance with Mughal history continues..
P.S: Haven't looked for any mistakes. I will do that in my own sweet time..


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