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Delhiwale: The maharaja of Barakhamba Road

A bust of Maharaja Ranjit Singh occupies a space of royal importance at Barakhamba Road crossing.

delhi Updated: Aug 08, 2018 12:13 IST
Mayank Austen Soofi
Mayank Austen Soofi
Hindustan Times
delhiwale,Barakhamba Road,Maharaja Ranjit Singh bust
The bust of Maharaja Ranjit Singh is installed at the Barakhamba Road traffic crossing. (HT Photo )

Royalty gets short shrift in modern Delhi. You’re hard put to find even one single statue.

But there’s an exception, and one exception only.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh — also known as the Lion of Punjab — reigns benignly at the Barakhamba traffic crossing. His head is slightly turned towards the elite Modern School, as though in tacit approval of that particular facility. He does indeed deserve recognition as a gifted ruler who introduced general prosperity in the Sikh empire during his short lifetime (1780-1839). And managed to extend his kingdom’s borders while fending off colonial Britain. A lover of life, the maharaja reputedly had many wives. As well, he possessed the Kohinoor diamond.

This monarch is now perched on a slab paved with black ceramic tiles. A plaza teeming with pigeons constitutes his permanent court. The bust was installed in 2005 at a glittering ceremony attended by Very Important People. Their names are inscribed on a plaque, but nobody thought to mention the sculptor.

This afternoon, a beggar woman is sitting beside His Majesty. When the traffic light turns red she hops over to the cars. Meanwhile two gardeners are pruning a hedge, the plaza’s other decorative element.

Until the 1960s, you could bump into King George V at India Gate, regaled in coronation robes and the Imperial State Crown. He was later exiled to Coronation Park —a sort of Gulag for the British royals in north Delhi. But our very own Ranjit Singh reigns.

At night, His Majesty is rarely left alone. Auto drivers park their three-wheelers in front of his bust and go to sleep right under his gaze. It’s almost like the king going out incognito to see how his people live. The sight is memorable.

First Published: Aug 08, 2018 12:12 IST