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‘Dilli gaon tha, ab shaher ho gaya hai’

Meet the Mathurs from a generation that remembers a Delhi which ended at Daryaganj. Nivedita Khandekar takes us down the memory lane...Special: I Love Delhi

delhi Updated: Dec 24, 2007 02:06 IST
Nivedita Khandekar

"Mathuron ki Dilli ab rahi kahan? Even Chandni Chowk cannot be recognised now,” Krishna Chand Narain says as she offers a bowlful of takey paise.

“Even this takey paise (a typical Mathur specialty prepared of besan cookies in curry) is something that not many of the younger generation know,” Krishna’s elder sister Anup Rani rues.

Krishna, Anup and their cousin Om Lata Bahadur, all octogenarians, are from a generation that remembers a Delhi that ended at Daryaganj. The tale of three daadis can well be a documentation of the way the city and its culture has evolved over the decades. Says Om Lata, “My mother used to tell me, ‘Dilli gaon tha, ab shaher ho gaya hai’. Can imagine how Dilli was if she had this to say?”

The three sisters are part of the prestigious Kayastha-Mathur family of Bahadurs, a closely-knit prosperous joint family, which shifted to Civil Lines after staying at Chailpuri in the Walled City for more than three centuries. Following their traditional profession — Kayasthas are believed to have descended from Chitragupta to become scribes for mankind — their ancestors served the Mughal rulers as scribes with Raja Raghunath ultimately becoming the Prime Minister of Aurangzeb.

After the Mughal Raj came the British Raj during which the Mathurs continued to occupy top positions like that of Mir Munshee (coordinating affairs between Mughals and the British). Later, 35 years after 1857, their great great grandfather Jeewanlal actually introduced the then Viceroy to his work.
At the start of the 20th century were three brothers Narain Das, Raj Narain and Mukund Lal, who stayed close by in different bungalows with large families. Anup Rani and Krishna are daughters of barrister Raj Narain’s daughter while Om Lata is daughter of Mukund Lal’s son. Thanks to high literacy levels, the Mathurs were among the first lot of bureaucrats and lawyers in the city.

Those days, in the absence of radio, children listened to grandma’s tales, went swimming to Yamuna and frolicked on its banks.

Slowly the cityscape changed and with it, changed the culture and lifestyle. Om Lata married a highly placed IPS officer Shivraj Bahadur in 1951 while Krishna married in 1952 to a Railway official. Incidentally, their in-laws had homes in Old Delhi.

Now living a peaceful life still observing and remembering how the city has changed in front of them, the three sisters are, however, nonchalant about the changes. “I am happy now, but (was) not when the city was growing. But I am an optimist, I go with the time,” sums up Om Lata.