Rediscovering a lost Delhi

Shomini Sen

On a hot balmy summer evening I set out on a journey in the crowded upmarket South Extension of New Delhi in search of something very different. Not to look for the usual knick knacks or branded apparels that the place is famous for but something which dates backs to over 2000 years, and which has witnessed change over the years. Accompanied by a heritage consultant of Intach - Jaya Basera, we both set off to look for heritage sites dating back to the Delhi Sultanate, some of the Sayyid dynasty and some of the Lodhi dynasty.

Our first stop was at Mubarak Shah Syed’s tomb. Tucked behind crowded cramped lanes of Kotla Mubarak Pur, the tomb belongs to Mubarak Shah, the second Sayyid Sultan. When the Sultan died in 1434, the tomb was constructed inside a walled enclosure. The walled enclosure is now substituted by haphazard residential structures, which surround the tomb all around. Although in a dilapidated condition, the tomb still retains the grandeur of the past era. Incidentally, the tomb was only the second octagonal tomb to be built in Delhi and perhaps the only one remaining in the present day Delhi.

Few metres west of the Mubarak Shah’s Tomb lies the tomb of Bhure Khan and the ruinous state of what should be a cherished heritage site. Located in the back alleys of South Extension Part-1, the structure lies between some busy offices and shops. We tried to enter the structure, but the pile of garbage in front of it made us look for an alternative way. Bordered with high fences on all sides, the only available entrance to the complex was not the least bit welcoming, with the pile of garbage acting as a hurdle and a sore sight. No sign board or signage was available near the heritage structure. It just lay there, ignored, unkempt.

We walked ahead towards a tomb complex, discussing the lack of proper services and maintenance provided for these historical structures. Basera explained, “Most of these sites are protected structures, but the condition of these structure is deteriorating day by day.” Why isn’t the ASI doing anything about it? I ask. “There are several reasons,” Basera replies, “Lack of adequate funds, resources could be one of the primary reasons. Also, I feel there is a need to sensitize the public. Why can’t they themselves take steps to protect their heritage? Why does it have to always done by an organization or the government?”

Jaya leads me to the magnificent tomb complex of Bade Shah and Chhote Shah’s tombs. Situated a few metres ahead of Bhure Shah’s tomb complex, the structure is the most well maintained of all the sites we have visited. Lush green lawns surround the two tombs. The history of the tombs is not known clearly. Basera says that both could probably belong to ministers in the Lodhi dynasty or a father-son duo, who were given titles by the Emperor.

The condition of these tombs is better than the ones we saw earlier, but it still is in need of a lot of maintenance. While Mubarak Shah’s tomb has been taken under the wings of the nearby residents and being used for personal use, Bhure Khan’s tomb is being ignored by the ASI and the public alike. That in a city like Delhi and in the midst of an affluent part of it, such negligence of supposed heritage monuments can occur, is shocking and even disgraceful.

We continue to discuss the problems facing these not so well known monuments which are scattered across Delhi. Basera reminds me that many sites across the city have already been reduced to rubbles due to the ignorance in maintenance and she feels it also has a lot to do with the lack of initiative from the residents of the city. “A sense of social responsibility is needed. Local people need to also take an interest in conservation. Shouldn’t we all try and preserve our national heritage?” asks Jaya.

As the sun sets, we make our way out towards the bustling market. Behind us history stands muted. Like it has for all these years. It has witnessed change, it has seen kings come and go and it has seen Delhi in its grandeur. It has seen the city transform over the years. And now it stands alone, decaying slowly but still maintaining its magnificence, gently reminding us of the lost era.

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