Delhiwale: The changing Shahjahanabad

Surveying the old giving way to new
A devotee of old architecture might feel helpless walking around here, and experience a sense of profound loss.
A devotee of old architecture might feel helpless walking around here, and experience a sense of profound loss.
Published on Jan 22, 2022 03:41 AM IST
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ByMayank Austen Soofi

It is as if these patches of sky could no longer hold together. As if they had given up, falling down here and there over the city. This is one of the ways of looking at the blue tarpaulin sheets that shroud parts of the Walled City of Shahjahanabad these days.

On this cold afternoon, the main market street between Tiraha Behram Khan and Chitli Qabar Chowk is filled beyond capacity with shoppers (mostly maskless). The shop windows are filled with distractions—laces, dupattas, sheets and lehengas. Nobody bothers to look up, and yet, the tarpaulins hanging on several facades are quite a sight. Apart from their intense colors (often in blue), they are evidence of ongoing constructions, and have been wrapped about the upcoming structures to prevent the dust from spreading around, as one shopkeeper says.

The tarpaulins tell it most starkly — Purani Dilli is changing furiously fast. Old buildings are being replaced by new ones. Take this draped edifice-in-progress on the market road, for instance. It is standing next to a time-worn building with arched doors, wooden windows and intricately carved balconies. If one wonders how long this faded edifice will be allowed to stand, one does not really wonder about the look of the adjoining veiled building coming up. Its shiny cousins are already springing up in the historic quarter, and they all look similar — monolithic blocks of residential apartments. The turning towards Gali Kala Mahal, at Kamra Bangash, is landmarked by such a multi-storey tower of flats, which would not look out of place in a Ghaziabad suburb.

Some distance away, the cramped alley at Kucha Tara Chand is resounding with the twak-twak of labourers hammering with their miscellaneous tools. There, one construction site is barricaded by an elaborate blue and yellow tarpaulin. Right next to it stands a beautiful, old building with a most arresting doorway. A spectator might be haunted by the mystery of what old beautiful building used to stand behind the tarpaulin.

A devotee of old architecture might feel helpless walking around here, and experience a sense of profound loss. This sentiment might not necessarily be shared by those who live in the Walled City. This reporter personally knows scores of households that had to leave the Walled City for modern and spacious apartments, so as to accommodate their expanding families. They might see the new multi-stories as a necessary convenience.

One of the most poignant illustrations of this ongoing change lies on a lane near Kalan Masjid, where a construction site is partly covered with a giant sheet of tarpaulin. The building appears to be complete, though it is still scaffolded with wooden beams. The finished wall is paved with what looks to be stone tiles. Just beside it stands a Mughal structure adorned with a vaulted arch of red sandstone, its surface sculpted with patterns of flowers. Both buildings are fused into each other, except for a thin vertical line of slim lakhori bricks of yesteryear. The bricks seem to be squeezed between the old and new. This sight (see photo) is today emerging as the most defining symbol of contemporary Old Delhi — yesterday and tomorrow, flirting with each other. Be a witness of this shift in time, before Shahjahanabad changes forever.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2022