The day started a bit early on a hot and sultry Tuesday with a promise of an engrossing historical tour through the archaic lanes of Delhi. The Agenda for Survival participants started their early morning exertion from Saket to Chattarpur via the Delhi metro. Chattarpur is a downtown area in South Delhi and is famous for the Chattarpur temple, but that wasn’t what we were looking for. In fact we had plans to visit Mehrouli, one of the oldest settlements in Delhi.
A short walk from the Chattarpur metro and we were with Mr. Sohail Hashmi; an eminent historian and an indisputable authority on the ways one can maneuver through the lanes in Delhi. Mr. Hashmi’s demeanor was as modest as the cotton kurta that he was attired in. His penchant for history clearly reflected in the resoundingly confident voice in which he described to us the ways in which nature and man transformed Delhi over the ages.
The tour began outside a mango orchard which was formerly known as the 'Andheria-Bagh', due to its extensively dense cover of trees which prevented the sunlight from creeping through. But, the rampant expansion of the city had had its toll on the expanse and the density of the trees, one could no longer call it the ‘Andheria-Bagh’ without intending an exaggeration. The revelation did dishearten a few of us but it receded as quickly as it had set due to a concoction of wit and history being regularly rendered by Mr Hashmi.
The next stop was the Hauz-e-Shamsi, a water reservoir constructed by Iltutmish, a ruler of the Slave dynasty in the 13th century. The reservoir served the purpose of providing the public with a water resource in a time of acute water shortage. Regular encroachments had infested the reservoir with sewage, and the sprouting of water-hyacinths sprawled a major portion of the surface of the water. High Court cases abound, no action seemed to have been taken to restore the reservoir.
Without expecting anything pleasant from the Delhi weather, we moved on to a mosque which was constructed in the time of the Lodhis. The structure had a remarkable feature; its dome, which was a common characteristic of many other buildings, built in the period of Islamic rule in Delhi. Among the many architectural nuances which he explained to us Mr Hashmi accounted the emergence of the dome and the minars in mosques as stereotypes due to the presence of these structures in the mosques of Shah Jahan.
This was followed by a refreshing tea break. A cup of hot tea along with a serving of delicious 'kachoris' was the most welcome thing after snaking through cramped gulleys on a sunny morning. After the break we paced to a palace which flanked the Hauz-e-Sahmsi reservoir on its eastern edge. It came to be known as the Jahaz Mahal and acted as an ad-hoc court for Akbar Shah and then Bahdur Shah. Jahaz Mahal is the venue of the annual colorful festival of the 'Phool Walon Ki Sair' held in October. The walls of the palace seemed to disconnect us from the rustle and bustle of the outside world and the interiors had remained in a completely different era in a silent slumber oblivious to the havoc that was being dealt on the environment that encompassed it.
Moving on, a short walk afterwards we were at the 'Rajon ki Baouli', an enclosed water reservoir. It was fed by a well and on days when it contained water to its maximum capacity it used to be five storeys deep. The water was rich in sulphur therefore it held a therapeutic value for the people who visited it in the days gone by, but presently it serves as a retreat for the local boys and as a dishwasher for the 'Pehelwan da Dhaba'. This was followed by a visit to an anonymous grave which had an exquisitely constructed dome over it, but sadly it was in shambles too. The graffiti on this grave was an interesting Persian poetry which was eloquently recited to us by Mr.Hashmi.
A small visit to the 'Balban Mosque' acquainted us to a few more Persian inscriptions which adorned the walls there. This brought an end to the journey which took us 4 hours to traverse through a small portion of Delhi’s illustrious history. Bidding adieu to Mr. Hashmi we braved the scorching sun on our way to the CSE campus where a sumptuous lunch awaited us.
After the meal we had a dialogue with Mr. Aditya Batra from CSE, who had an extensive dialogue with us on the 'Interrelationship between polity and poverty'. It provided us an alternate perspective with respect to policy formulation on issues related to development on land which is occupied by the poorest people in the country, which are primarily tribal and depend solely on the land for their sustenance. His candid lecture was interactive and the questions that came up during the discussion did provide food for thought. The main issue that was brought up was the divergence of forest land for developmental purposes and their effect on the tribal communities.
This brought us to an end of an information rich day, which was as physically exhausting as it could possibly get. Nonetheless, everyone in the team enjoyed the process and certainly came out a little more informed, a lot more conscious of disruptive changes in the environment that have been caused by humans and even more determined to bring a change towards sustainable development.
By - Sagar Jounkani