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Perishing away: The abandoned havelis of Gurugram

Remnants of an era gone by, the splendid havelis dot several villages of Gurugram. However, most have run into ruin due to lack of conservation.

gurgaon Updated: Nov 03, 2018 16:16 IST
Sadia Akhtar
Sadia Akhtar
Hindustan Times, Gurugram
The Mahalwala haveli in Gurgaon gaon.
The Mahalwala haveli in Gurgaon gaon. (Yogendra Kumar/HT PHOTO)

A small detour from the eternally busy MG Road via scores of hardware and furniture shops leads one to the village of Sikanderpur Ghosi. From the bustling metropolis that is Gurugram, with its glass and chrome buildings, corporate houses, and malls, one finds oneself in a labyrinth of narrow winding streets in this village. While newer constructions and flats dot the village, this trail is occasionally punctuated by traditional houses which remain buried in the backyard of the village like hidden treasures. These gems of lost glory narrate stories of the city’s past and the little that remains of it.

Hindustan Times visited four havelis in the city and found abandoned, crumbling structures that are on the brink of collapse, having suffered through years of neglect. These havelis face the danger of being lost forever in the absence of any state intervention.

Haveli which witnessed Gandhi, the movie

One such slice of history--a more than 150-year-old haveli--can be traced in one part of the Sikanderpur village. Made of heavy stones, the haveli is overshadowed by the leaves of a Peepal tree that grows through its walls. The architecture of the haveli demonstrates stone and brick built masonry, according to experts.

“The region was geographically rocky due to which stone was easily available and often used as building material,” said Banani Bhattacharyya, deputy director of the Department of Archaeology & Museums.

Ravaged by time, the haveli is now a museum of abandoned objects. A bundle of woods is stacked at one end; a mattress with a blanket lays spread in another corner. Discarded motorcycles, cards, tobacco packets and other myriad objects lay around haphazardly. Amid all the chaos, six middle-aged men sit on a cloth sheet spread over the mud floor and play cards, unruffled by the morose surroundings.

Long-time residents of the area, on the other hand, thrive on nostalgic stories that the haveli is associated with. In 1981, the haveli saw international recognition, when a scene from Richard Attenborough’s film Gandhi was shot in front of it. Its appearance in the brief one-minute sequence in the film continues to be a talking point in the village.

“I was seven when the film was shot here. I remember seeing many foreigners in the area. Back then, we didn’t quite understand the commotion or the sudden flurry of activity in our otherwise quiet film. It’s only later that our elders shared their stories with us,” said Bhagat Singh, one of the custodians of the haveli.

Singh’s uncle, Ram Mehar Yadav--also a custodian of the haveli--was one among the many villagers who participated in the shoot. Yadav (74) talks fondly of the film shoot, seated on the verandah of his new house in the village, at walking distance from the haveli.

“I was asked to participate in a mashal juloos( march with torches) for the shoot. I still remember how we were given instructions such as, ‘Stand with the mashal’ and ‘Break the jail’,” Yadav recalled.

This brush with popular culture adds to the once illustrious history of the haveli. The haveli, as per Yadav, was built roughly 150 years ago when his ancestors moved to the city from a village called Gangana in Rajasthan.

“Ghosi Muslims used to live here. We didn’t get along with them and decided to move to other locations. While we were away, people here starting vandalizing our haveli. Someone from Sukhrali village informed us and rebuked us for failing to save our haveli. Saving the haveli had become a matter of pride for us. We took it as a challenge and drove the Ghosi out to prove our mettle,” explained Yadav.

His pride for the haveli notwithstanding, Yadav isn’t optimistic about the fate of the haveli. Arriving at a consensus with the current number of more than 150 stakeholders would be a herculean task, Yadav and his extended family opine.

“The haveli is at least 150 years old. There are as many as 150 members in our extended family and an equal number of stakeholders. It will be difficult to arrive at a collective decision on the future of the haveli. Most people have moved to other areas,” said Singh.

Yadav added that the haveli would be passed down generations as a family heirloom.

“The haveli is a legacy of our ancestors. We can do nothing to improve its condition but it will stay alive as a memory of our past.”

Haveli in Mohammadpur Jharsa

An old abandoned haveli stands tall at Mohammadpur Jharsa village. Another two storey house, plastered with tiles and modern architectural elements lies adjacent to it. The haveli and the house are owned by the same family, and together they are a study in contrasts. Separated by centuries, the two can be seen as a microcosm of the city. A city where the old and new frequently overlap.

An old abandoned haveli at Mohammadpur Jharsa village in Gurugram. Owners of the haveli claim it dates back to 1662.  Spread over 800 yards, the haveli is one of the only surviving old mansions in the area.
An old abandoned haveli at Mohammadpur Jharsa village in Gurugram. Owners of the haveli claim it dates back to 1662. Spread over 800 yards, the haveli is one of the only surviving old mansions in the area. ( Yogendra Kumar/HT PHOTO )

“Our ancestral haveli was built in 1662. Four generations of my family have lived in this haveli. It was here that I grew up, completed my studies, and finally got married,” said 78-year-old Harikishan, one of the custodians of the haveli.

Sitting on a charpoy and smoking the traditional hookah, he raves about the haveli.

“The haveli is made of huge stones. It is very strong and can stand even the worst of the storms. In the early years, the haveli used to have 30-32 rooms. Our haveli has no other match,” exclaimed Harikishan.

Spread over 800 yards, the haveli is one of the only surviving old mansions in the area. Heritage experts, however, were doubtful about the haveli dating to a period that early.

“The foliated arches are Shahjahani so little doubtful that the haveli dates back to a period as early as 1662 unless there is a specific reason or connection with the Mughals. Usually, this architectural vocabulary can be traced to the region in the late 17th or early 18th century. It uses rubble stone masonry with lime plaster which does not reflect any great opulence or direct imperial connection from the 17th century,” said Parul Munjal, associate professor, Sushant School of Art and Architecture.

The haveli also has a traditional Bangaldar pavilion on the front. “The stylisation of the Bangaldar roof shows Jat/ Maratha influence,” added Munjal.

The haveli which at one point teemed with the presence of many people stands morosely. Today, it houses stacks of cow dung cakes and hay. While the outer façade of the haveli is intact, the structure is in desperate need of repairs.

In 1965, Harikishan and his family moved out of the haveli since portions of it had started caving in. However, Harikishan and other family members still have hopes of a revival of the haveli. Currently, 60 families have a stake in the haveli.

“My family wants to get the haveli renovated so that space can be donated for use as a hospital or an Anganwadi. The haveli is our family’s legacy and it will be remembered by people if it is used for a noble cause,” said Harikishan.

A heap of rubble

Before the city’s name was changed in 2016, Gurugram was known as Gurgaon. The name Gurgaon traces its origins to the village by the same name. Located in the older part of the city, Gurgaon gaon is one of the oldest villages in the city. Replete with archaic marvels, walking though the village is like traversing through a different time and era. Much of the village possesses its old character and newer constructions are fewer in number. However, the havelis here too have been marred by poor upkeep and lack of preservation.

Remains of a haveli in 12 Biswa portion of Gurgaon village.
Remains of a haveli in 12 Biswa portion of Gurgaon village. ( Yogendra Kumar/HT PHOTO )

Tucked in one corner of the village in the 12 Biswa portion is a haveli or rather what a haveli once was. Today, it stands as a massive mound of debris with only a portion of the original structure remaining. The structure seems to be caving in under the weight of trash and might just fall apart like a pack of cards one day. Two months back, a portion of the haveli was demolished after residents complained and the MCG issued a warning to the owner. The haveli might be on its deathbed today but neighbours recall stories of its once celebrated past.

“My mother-in-law used to tell me that the haveli was 400-year-old. This used to be the oldest haveli in the region. Later during my time, we started using the haveli as a shed for animals. We would create and collect cow dung cakes here for future use,” said Shanti Devi, 70, who lives adjacent to the haveli.

It’s difficult to independently verify whether the haveli was 400-years-old or not. Most neighbours, however, tend to support the claim based on an inscription that the haveli once had.

“The haveli had a plaque that mentioned the number 400 and other information in Urdu. It was destroyed in the demolition that took place two months ago but I and others remember seeing the plaque,” another neighbour chimed in.

Another popular anecdote that most locals talk about is the existence of a tunnel that went through the haveli. “Right underneath this point, there is a tunnel. I have seen it and so have others. I entered the tunnel but never got the change to check what lay at the other end. The tunnel is very deep. It is said that it used to connect to the railway station,” said Devi, as she clears the debris with a walking stick and points to the ground.

For all their fondness of the haveli, locals in the area are in favour of the structure being razed to the ground. For them, the haveli has become a nuisance and a potential threat.

“Hum bhi purrane ho gaye aur haveli bhi (We’ve grown old and so has the haveli). Now, it should get cleared for the benefit of all. People dump their waste here. If an animal dies, the carcass is thrown here. It stinks a lot. No one wants to live in stone houses like these anyway,” said Rajo Diwan Singh, 70, another neighbour.

The haveli’s custodian, however, believes that the government should play a role in preserving these old havelis. Bhagat Singh, one of the custodians of the haveli, said that government intervention was necessary at a time when the city was fast losing touch with its roots.

“People were mute spectators when the haveli was being demolished last month. I have no choice but to get the haveli cleared completely. The government should protect these havelis for the future generations,” said Singh.

The 200-year-old Mahalwala haveli

Few streets away from the haveli in 12 Biswa stands another 200-year-old haveli in the 8 Biswa area of the village. Popularly known as Mahalwala, this haveli is the largest haveli in Gurgaon gaon. The two storey picturesque haveli is adorned with alcoves and arches. The architecture is an assimilation of Mughal and Rajput built, according to Bhattacharyya.

One is greeted by the squeaks of a colony of bats as one enters the haveli through a narrow dungeon-like passage. The passage leads to a courtyard with a charpoy, clothes drying on a string, and utensils waiting to be washed. This particular haveli stands out since it continues to host occupants and shows visible signs of domesticity.

The two-storey picturesque Mahalwala haveli is adorned with alcoves and has both Mughal and Rajput architectural styles.
The two-storey picturesque Mahalwala haveli is adorned with alcoves and has both Mughal and Rajput architectural styles. ( Yogendra Kumar/HT PHOTO )

Five families live in different portions of the haveli on rent. The rent varies anywhere from Rs 70, Rs 100, and Rs 500 depending on the portion of the space being used.

Basanti, one of the occupants, has lived in the haveli for the past 20 years.

“The haveli used to be beautiful in the past. Nowadays, most people from the village are moving to new places and making new palaces. No one cares about these ageing havelis now,” she sighs.

Having spent two decades of her life here, Basant only wishes to spend her autumn years in the same haveli. However, if locals had their way, the haveli might just be reduced to pictures and memories. Many locals in the area have objected to the presence of the haveli and have raised demands of the demolition of the haveli.

“Neighbours want the haveli to be demolished. They say that it might come down one day. I don’t have a choice. I want to get it demolished since other stakeholders are not coming forward for the renovation of the haveli,” said Sanjay Kataria, one of the custodians of the haveli.

He added that haveli owners like him didn’t receive any support from the government.

“There is a sense of apathy everywhere. People have moved to better areas and prefer living in newer houses. There is no incentive to pay any heed to the restoration of these havelis. There is no support from the government either,” added Kataria.

Banani Bhattacharyya, deputy director of the Department of Archaeology & Museums, said that the archaeology department had initiated indexing of old havelis in the state. “We have prepared a list of 100 havelis so far and work is in progress. As far as Gurugram is concerned, we are still listing havelis as and when the presence of one is brought to our notice. These havelis require immediate conservation; however, the process of taking them under protection is multipronged. We need to check the revenue records for any encroachment other sub judice legal matters. We can only go ahead with conservation once all the stakeholders come to an agreement and give consent. The process takes time but we are trying our best to overcome all these challenges and encourage people to come forward and inform us about the presence of any such monument or haveli,” said Bhattacharyya.