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On the Ambivalence of the Suddenly 'Old' Towards (Unexpectedly) 'New' Delhi

Anand Vivek Taneja

I begin my essay with an extended quote from Bashiruddin Ahmed's Vaqiat-e-Dar-ul-hukumat Dehli (Accounts of Delhi, the Abode of Governance), his massive three volume documentation of Delhi's history and monuments, first published in 1919. This is an account of a palace starkly titled Mahal jo khud raha hai (The palace that is being dug up). The Mahal that was being dug up would have been in what is now the heart of central New Delhi, near what we now know as Hailey Road, close to the iconic Agrasen ki Baoli, somewhere between Connaught Place and Modern School. To the East of this baoli and masjid near the GIP (Great India Peninsular) railway line there was a very big, wide enclosure inside which was some palace. The palace doesn’t exist anymore but some walls of the enclosure are left. Inside there are heaps of stone and earth and labourers are regularly digging and carting off the stone and earth. With these very stones the road is being built and if this speed continues then in a few days the field will be entirely clear. The imagined picture of this palace that can still be seen in the imagination, even that opportunity will go. The width of the enclosure, the height of the walls, the vast stores of stone, the high heaps of earth, the traces of the foundations, all are sufficient proof of the fact that this palace was one of extraordinary size and grandeur. Now if the government doesn’t clear such dead and out of use buildings then how will land come for New Delhi and God-like judgement [be passed]. Har ke aamadimaratenausakhat Raft manzil badi garepardakhat Everyone who came made a new building And left for another destination (to pay up) Why should the supporter [of the building] come? The time has changed. Our way of life has changed. Our necessities have changed. In short, the sky has changed, the earth has changed. If these buildings are let remain, of what use are they in this time? So their erasure is the demand of the necessities of the time. Now only those monuments are preserved with which some prime historical happening is linked, or which is the memorial to some glorious king. As for the rest, there is no remedy except servicing them hospitably with pick-axes and shovels. Instead of those tattered and useless buildings now new airy, ...

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