Delhiwale: Lost time, regained
So sad, and so beautiful—these are the thoughts that pop up simultaneously on seeing this sight.
Can there be a more haunting lane anywhere in the Delhi region than this alley of the Millennium City of Gurugram? One side of the lane is completely unremarkable, lined with conventional everyday shops. The facing side has the same sort of shops too, but they lie under a most extraordinarily beautiful but severely derelict mansion, the kind of old haveli that you might not even see in Old Delhi.
The wooden edifice runs across the length of the short street. Its long balcony rests on a series of sculpted brackets. The balusters under the handrail have been substituted by a metal netting, whose design is as ‘maheen’, or delicate, as an elaborately crafted hand-woven sari border. The series of doors, presumably leading to the rooms inside, are gigantic—the door head of each a fine geometrical piece of glass, arrayed with narrow metal slabs arranged like the rays of a rising sun. The windows have their panes broken in places. Plants are growing out in certain places, suggesting that domesticity, if it ever existed within these walls, has given way to wilderness.
Nobody in the street can tell much about the antecedents of the great house. “It’s very, very old,” says a footpath hawker. “It was built long ago by a lawyer,” says a shopkeeper. “There were many such houses earlier, but they all have been replaced by new buildings,” volunteers yet another trader. “Nobody lives upstairs,” says one more shopkeeper.
One of the establishments under this building houses the workshop-cum-shop of an elderly shoemaker. The place used to be dream-like, with wooden walls looking so smeared with the patina of several years that they seemed as soft as churned butter. During the lockdown last year, the shoemaker’s son gifted him a revamped interior (which appeared on these pages). All that wood was removed, and the shop is now gleaming and new with white painted walls and straight-lined shelves in place of spacious taaks, or niches. These modern-day alterations, however, lend greater dignity to the structure above, that has remained unaltered. The fact that hardly anybody in the area cares to look up at the picturesque mansion makes the place even more poignant.
While the building’s ground level portions stay hidden behind a series of shops, these small businesses do give a charming contemporary flavour to this architectural souvenir, reflecting the area’s eclectic chaos. Mehta Gift Gallery gives “fancy dress on rent,” for instance. While a pavement tailor is busy over a kurta, his woman customer standing beside him, her eyes nervously following his hand as the scissors make a cutting through the precious fabric.
One end of the building has its lower portion bare of any shop. It is covered with old-style bricks. A huge door fitted into the wall has its entire surface arrayed into a series of 20 panels—a thing rarely seen these days.
Just across the street stands a new building, of grey and glass, that speaks most forcefully for the more widespread aesthetics of today.