Delhiwale: Monument to December
A monument in winter light.
Smog gone. Sky, blue. Winter daylight can finally be experienced. But the light has to fall on something to make a spectacle. An aged Gurugram landmark is a perfect stage.
The all-stone Ghamandan Sarai gateway in Sadar Bazar is idyllic because it is not a show stealer by itself, but turns ethereal under the cold season’s gentle light. The ruin has been celebrated on these pages, but it becomes more exquisite during these days of December, demanding a return. (The photo is from an earlier winter).
Come in the late afternoon, when the white sunshine has dissipated, and the dusty atmosphere is faintly suffused with a hint of dying ember. The jagged stones atop the gateway walls no longer appear solid, more like roti dough that could be moulded by hands into any shape. Parts of stonewalls glow in the light, as if it had penetrated into their opaqueness, causing them to swell. The illusion is destroyed by a slight shift of the gaze.
On second thoughts, you may not find any beauty in the scene. Nobody around seems fascinated by the phenomenon. The achar sellers are continuing to sell achar. The footpath tailor is busy peddling his sewing machine. The safari-suit wearing hawker of Ujjain wale biscuits is focused on his two carts. And the hurry-hurry passersby are passing by without glancing at the light-soaked gateway.
Truth be told, Ghanandan Sarai isn’t particularly cherished even though it is one of the few precious souvenirs of Gurugram’s architectural past. Parts of it were demolished a few decades ago to make way for a passage.
Venerable bookseller Vijay Kumar Jain, though, does care about his city’s rare relics. According to his carefully preserved copy of the Gurgaon District Gazetteer, 1883-84—the Millennium City’s first ever gazetteer—a certain “Mr R Cavendish” took charge of the then-named Gurgaon district in April 1819, with the title of “Principal Asst Commissioner of the Southern Division”. In 1832, his title was changed to “Collector and Magistrate.” At some point, the gazetteer says, the officer was nicknamed by the city’s residents as Ghamandi Saheb (maybe the man was actually ghamandi, or haughty!) The elderly bookseller suggests that “perhaps this Ghamandan Sarai was inaugurated by Cavendish’s wife. After all, which other woman could be called Ghamandan, if not the wife of Ghamandi Saheb?“
Whatever, for a long time in the recent past, a seller of second-hand clothes used to sit under the Ghamandan Sarai. During the winter months, swaddled in a thick brown duhar and a long grey cap, he would constantly change his seating position, striving to stay directly under the warmth of the shifting winter light. Budhram died some years ago. This moment the light he cherished is moving slowly along the gateway walls, as if searching for its lost friend.