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City in Transit

S.Y. Quraishi

By Narayani Gupta and Dilip Bobb
Roli Books, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 201, Rs.2475.00


Delhi then and Now is a unique book. In two distinct parts, Narayani Gupta and Dilip Bobb have captured this 'city in transit' very graphically, recreating the richness of the nostalgic past juxtaposed with its vibrant presence. In Part-I-Delhi Then-Narayani Gupta has given an account of the evolution of the city interspersed with some interesting tid bits. She starts with a statement that 'Delhi' is an attractive name because of its brevity. She mentions different other names by which the city has been known at different times like 'Dehli' or 'Dilli'. No one is very sure where the name Delhi comes from. It is strange how Delhi has always attracted powerful invaders despite its harsh climate ranging between scorching summer, torrential rain and bitter cold. The history of Delhi is traceable to roughly 1000 BC based on the account in the Mahabharata of the founding of 'Indraprastha'-the city of the Pandavas. From 13th century onwards the face of Delhi was regularly changing with almost every new ruler shifting his capital to a new site, from Meh-rauli to Siri to Ferozabad and Shahjahanabad to Lutyen's New Delhi. The year 1857 was a critical milestone in Delhi's journey. Till the British conquest of the Punjab in the 1840s, military wisdom decreed that this would be the best point from which to anticipate any attack on the city. The wall of Shahjahanabad itself, elaborately reinforced by British engineers, was designed to resist attack from outside. It was of no use whatever to the British Army in 1857 when defiance broke out from within the walled city. When their control was re-established after four months of uncertainty, they resorted angrily to the form of retribution followed by the ancient Romans -of levelling the city. But for a reprimand from Viceroy Canning, the royal fort-palace would have become a mountain of rubble. An imperial city can always command more resources than others. The Mughals prudently retained much of the land around their compact Shahjahanabad as khalsa, and controlled their distribution as gift. These became orchard, garden (bagh), market (ganj), or neighbourhood (pura). When the Mughal Empire was formally terminated in 1858, these villages were automatically 'inherited' by the municipality of Delhi. They did not put them to any particular use but it was on these reserves that Independent India was able to draw when thousands of refugees of 1947 came knocking at the door of the Delhi government. There have ...

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