Walking down the busy Lal Kuan bazaar road from Chawri Bazar side, one might just miss a large imposing gateway of a dilapidated structure, with modern signboards atop portions of what was once the Zeenat Mahal.
And, behind the chaiwalah, the paanwala and other sundry kiosks occupying space near the façade right below the arched gateway, lies an interesting piece of history. ‘Zeenat Mahal’, now a name for a small area, was originally the palatial haveli of Zeenat Mahal, one of the wives of Bahadur Shah Zafar.
The gateway built of lakhori bricks still has tall wooden doors with recessed iron-studded design. It leads to haphazardly-built houses on the same plot. Deep inside is a girls’ school, Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya, number 2, Zeenat Mahal.
Anil Kumar Pandey, a resident of nearby Durga Mandir Gali, informs: “Our elders used to tell us that there was a tunnel starting from the mahal which went up to the Red Fort.”
Adds Firoz Bakht Ahmed, a heritage activist, “According to Basheeruddin Ahmed’s ‘Waqueat-e-Darul Hukumat-e-Delhi’, it used to be a massive haveli spread over almost four acres when Zeenat Mahal resided here. There was a huge marble fountain with a few hujras (cabins). Besides, there was a huge cellar.” Things started declining after the Revolt of 1857. The school building came up sometime in the 1970s.
“Zeenat Mahal was known to be a domineering, formidable and tenacious woman with Rock of Gibraltar-like determination,” he added. Something the girl students might draw inspiration from.