A window into history


No, I won’t talk about the dengue. Neither will I mention ISI, USA or RAW. Instead, I ask you to throw this newspaper away and look outside the window. Can you see in Lahore what I’m seeing in Delhi: blue sky and a sudden coolness in the air? Yes, winter is coming. I’m at my home in Hauz Khas Village. The one-room apartment has a window that looks to graceful ruins and a placid lake. The view ahead is of treetops. In the day, birds chirp. In the night, ducks squawk. The sky roars frequently with the drone of airplanes, preparing to land in Indira Gandhi International Airport.

Huaz Khas Village is one of the most beautiful neighbourhoods in Delhi. It has monuments, markets and people. There’s a Kashmiri carpet-seller who claims to see men’s future on their faces. There’s the owner of a small second-hand bookstore where nobody has bought books for more than six months.

And wait, I haven’t told you about my balcony. It juts into the grassy expanse of the 14th century Hauz Khas monument. Open from sunrise to sunset, the ground is daily taken over by gossiping village women, camera-carrying tourists, picnicking school children, young lovers, gangs of guitarists, and loners.

Like the rest of Delhi, the Village has its rich and poor pockets. Hindus dominate one part of it; Muslims hold the other. The front of the village has restaurants and cafes, apart from boutiques, curio shops and art galleries. The other side, seldom frequented by tourists and shoppers, has a community of migrants, some of whom hawk street food in nearby neighbourhoods.

Being in the city’s heart, and yet far from its chaos, the scenic village is becoming the preferred residential choice for creative people like painters, writers, designers, musicians, and documentary filmmakers. No wonder then that the area is seeing a construction boom. Landlords are continuously adding floors to their houses to get more tenants. The wall posters with such notices have become common:

To Let: One beautiful room on the third floor with a view of the monument. Attached bathroom for single/two people. Fully furnished with double bed, mattresses, AC, fridge, TV, geyser etc.

Despite a sudden spurt in the business, the Village has an easy-going life. As I said, the terrace of my apartment looks to the ruins of Hauz Khas, which were originally built as a mosque and madrassah by emperor Feroze Shah Tughlaq in 14th century. His tomb too is built here.

A visitor to the monument takes in the tombs, pillared halls, and dark chambers one at a time. From my terrace, I see it in its entirety, including the hauz, the water tank.

The apartment is situated adjacent to the monument’s boundary wall. My room is on the third floor. Sitting on the desk and looking outside gives an impression that the house too is a part of the monument complex. The room has a large glass window. Sometimes, I woke up at midnight and without even raising myself from the bed I could see the dome of Feroze Shah’s tomb washed in the moon’s white shine..

In the morning’s pale blue light, the ruins look like soft silhouettes of their original selves. They solidify as the daylight brightens; their colour changes from greyish-black to brown-red. Still sleepy, I might lazily sit on the bed, the arms on the windowsill, the eyes following the green parrots as they fly across the monument.

Further beyond are the trees of Deer Park, self-contained in their world. Silence reign upon their leafy tops. The varying sizes of these trees and their different shades of green appear like careless brush strokes of an impressionist painter.

During the day, as I said earlier, the ruins are filled with tourists and picnickers. Neighbourhood boys play cricket on the ground. Their cries drown out the chirping of birds. Then I close the terrace door and turn off the world.

Sometimes I leave my room and enter the monument grounds. The arched entrance of the modestly built gateway opens into a grassy expanse. Unknown tombs and domed chhatris lie on the garden. On the right are more ruins: the broken walls, the pillared halls and the dark corridors. They look to the lake, or hauz.

In early 14th century, a ruler called Allauddin Khilji excavated a water reservoir here for the people of nearby Siri, the second city of Delhi. Then Khilji died, time passed, his dynasty faded and the reservoir was filled up with silt. It was re-excavated by another Delhi ruler, Feroze Shah Tughlaq, who added a madrassah and a mosque. One of the most elegant sites in Delhi, the madrassah’s principal hall has delicately carved balconies and kiosks projecting out to the lake. The contemporary chronicler Barni compared it to “the palaces of ancient Babylon”. Delhi poet Mutahhar of Kara found it “a soul-animating courtyard”.

Tughlaq’s tomb (circa 1388), a domed structure measuring 13.56 sq.m, soars above the rest of the ruins. Inside, there are three more graves beside Tughlaq’s.

However, if I feel oppressed by history, I then forget the kings and lie down in the balconies of the monument and listen to the fluttering of pigeons; or look out into the lake. Since parts of the ruins have been completely destroyed, the stone stairs lead up and down to nothing; sometimes ending up in the thin air. The whole experience is as beautiful as the early days of winter. Once I got poet Zehra Nigah here. She loved it. If you get a visa to Delhi, I invite you for a cup of chai at my monument-facing balcony.

Mayank Austen Soofi lives in a library. He has one website and four blogs. The website address: thedelhiwalla.com. The blogs: Pakistan Paindabad, Ruined By Reading, Reading Arundhati Roy and Mayank Austen Soofi Photos.