Once a colony for refugees, now Capital’s green heart

  • Prerna Lidhoo, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: May 10, 2016 19:17 IST
The place got its name from the tomb of 14th-century Sufi saint Nizamuddin Aulia.. (Tribhuwan Sharma/ HT Photos)

Among the plush modern structures in Nizamuddin East, stands a 66-year-old house of Radhika Bijlani, one of the oldest residents here. Bijlani, 46, says six decades ago the area was surrounded by thick woods and the howling of wolves kept her awake at night. The colony, she says, was covered with kikar trees. “We used to sleep on the terrace in those days,” Bijlani recalls, describing the orange-black woodpeckers that used to live in the surrounding thicket.

Bijlani’s family was among the refugees who were allocated residence in the then newly developed Nizamuddin East and West colonies. The family has retained the original look of the house when most other residents have opted for a redesign.

Today, Nizamuddin East has lush lawns, well-maintained roads and orderly parks. It has the majestic presence of Humayun’s tomb to its north and the Khan-i-Khana tomb to its south. Both residents and government agencies are hand in hand in maintaining the look of the colony.

Nizamuddin over the years

The place got its name from the tomb of 14th-century Sufi saint Nizamuddin Aulia. The area was said to have been an agricultural land which was acquired by the British in 1911. It housed the viceroy’s staff quarters back then and was among the first regular colonies to be developed in the Capital. Built in British style, most houses had 15-foot courtyards which people now use for parking.

Nizamuddin East and West colonies were developed in the backdrop of Partition. The twin colonies are divided by the roaring traffic of Mathura Road. While the Partition rendered many homeless, several Muslim families sought refuge in Gayaspur, which is the present day Nizamuddin Basti. The construction of Ring Road changed the course of Yamuna river but some old residents remember it running along the colony while they walked to its shore.

While vacant plots were allotted in Nizamuddin East, quarters were given to refugee families in the West.

The area has it own share of tales and heritage. Most old residents recall Mehr Chand Khanna, the Union minister for rehabilitation in 1950s, dressed in his shorts to personally supervise the ploughing of fields and levelling of plots to be developed for the who’s who from Pakistan seeking resettlement. Some residents say that the colony was built on a graveyard while others recall that the 1981 film Chashme Buddoor was shot here.

“Earlier there was no segregation of parks. The roundabout used to be a bus stand where my mother would drop me off to school. We could hop from one house to another and there was a lot of camaraderie,” said another Nizamuddin East resident.

Modern Day Nizamuddin

The modern day Nizamuddin is known for the railway station and residential colonies besides the majestic Humayun’s tomb and Nizamuddin dargah. Nizamuddin East is also among the greenest and safest colonies of south Delhi.

Nizamuddin East has charmed numerous authors, artists, journalists and politicians over the years. Today the area is well-stocked with expatriates and corporate executives.

“There is no demarcation between the basti and our colony. We used to feel proud of our colony because there was so much of open space. Now, there is so much congestion,” said Arun Malhotra, a G-block resident of Nizamuddin West.

In the 1940s, the station was insignificant and only goods trains stopped there. Residents say that the first passenger train came here in 1973. Today, it is among the busiest of the five main stations in the Capital.

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