The king lies dumped here
The relics of the Raj lie in a forgotten corner in the northern part of Delhi.Updated: Jan 12, 2011 02:13 IST
At the beginning of the second decade of the 20th century, the empire of Britain comprehended the most civilised portion of mankind. Delhi was its principal possession. The Coronation Park in the north of the city is the remnant of that empire.
In 1877, Queen Victoria was proclaimed the Empress of India at this site. In 1903, the coronation of her son Edward VII was celebrated here. Both occasions called for the summoning of Delhi Durbar, a gold-and-silk extravaganza in which princes from Imperial India’s small and big principalities were obliged to greet the new masters. On December 11, 1911, the 57-acre venue witnessed the third and final Delhi Durbar. The sovereign himself attended. Sitting on a golden throne, under a golden umbrella, King George V declared the transfer of “the seat of the Government of India from Calcutta to the ancient capital of Delhi.”
A hundred years later, one freezing January afternoon, we are at the same spot on which George V and his wife, Mary, sat. The view is spectacularly unspectacular: grey sky and muddy-brown ground. The Coronation Memorial is a sandstone obelisk built on a square plinth, which is reached from all four sides by a flight of stairs. It overlooks a marshy flatland; bushes here, puddles there. Boys from the neighbourhood play cricket, a game inherited from the British. The eyes follow a kachori vendor as he cycles from one makeshift cricket pitch to another, hawking
The chief attraction is in a side enclosure, west of the obelisk. The gate is usually locked but you can slip through the gap. Inside, it is like being transported into the pages of Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The power is lost; the relics remain. White marble statues of the British nobility lie abandoned in a wilderness of green. The crescent-shaped garden, overgrown with trees and bushes, was a dump yard of colonial-era statues that India no longer needed after its independence in 1947.
There are 16 red stone plinths — eight on each side — but only five have statues. The centrepiece is the 60- feet tall figure of King George V, complete with a crown, orb and sceptre. Designed by Edwin Lutyens, the architect of New Delhi, it originally stood in front of New Delhi’s India Gate. Brought here in the 60s, the statue, with its sculptured robe, looks luxurious in this desolate durbar. A peepal tree grows from the king’s feet.
Elsewhere, camel thorn shrubs have established their own barbaric empire. Plants grow on statue-less plinths. One unknown statue is defaced with a Hindi swearword. Another has a crow perched on its head. Come in the evening, when the sun is setting.
Where: Bhai Parmanand Marg (popularly known as Burari Road), near Kingsway Camp, north Delhi
Nearest Metro Station:
Vishwavidyalaya (ask any autowalla at the Metro stop to take you to ‘Laat Park’ on Burari Road; he should not charge more than Rs50)
Sunrise to Sunset
First Published: Jan 11, 2011 17:45 IST