Of Seven Capitals and New Delhi: Preface

Cities and Thrones and Powers

  Stand in Time’s eye,

Almost as long as flowers,

  Which daily die:

But, as new buds put forth

  To glad new men,

Out of the spent and unconsidered Earth

  The Cities rise again.

Cities and Thrones and Powers ~ Rudyard Kipling

How true are these verses in context of the project that I am about to undertake. New Delhi turned 100 on 11th of December 2011, but Delhi, which has witnessed empires rise to power and fade away to dust is centuries old. A city which has been capital of as many as 7 empires/dynasties – if we leave the mythical capital Indraprastha of Mahabharata legends and the modern New Delhi or the Lutyen’s Delhi as it is often referred to as after its architect Edwin Lutyen – has innumerable tales and legends in her bosom recounting lessons in glory, humility and ephemeral nature of power.

Old Delhi

Red Fort, the Citadel of the Seventh Capital of Delhi

From December 16, 2011

This prized city of antiquity has always attracted warriors and powers from around the world and such is her allure that high and mighty once here made Delhi capital from where their dominion extended to the corners of their realm. Conquerors, rulers and colonialist came each dismantling the existing hegemony and destroying and plundering as much they can for bounties but this city rose like a phoenix each time from her own dust.

Of Seven Capitals and New Delhi

A day in life at Humayun's Tomb also considered the blueprint of Taj

From In Retrospect: Travel 2011

Delhi needs no introduction. This bustling megalopolis happens to be the national capital of India and has seen empires come and go in its long history. Delhi is a confounding potpourri of culture, art and creeds. Most of the population is migrant giving the city a truly cosmopolitan flavor.

Pidgin Punjabi is the lingua franca. Road rage or bargaining is best done in Punjabi. City is becoming increasingly unsafe for fairer sex. More people live sleep on pavement then ever. Better employment opportunity is leading to more migration. Meekness seldom pays. Here in Delhi, you are allowed to celebrate your ethnic festivals. Chhaat Pooja at India Gate, Durga Pooja at Chittaranjan Park, Eid at Jama Masjid or Teej at Dilli Haat. There are no Raj Thackreys here in Delhi. It will be an understatement to say that Delhi truly is a city of contrast.

Cities like Delhi, which have been the capitals of as many as seven empires before, never die. They just reinvent themselves with a renewed vigor. It could be attributed to the seamless bond between the old and the new. There are 1200 buildings and 175 monuments in Delhi recognised as national heritage sites. Delhi has more art galleries and bookshops than any city in India, apart from national centres for arts, dance and drama. At its heart, Delhi remains a city of stark contrasts. To the outsider, it can be menacing and unrefined but behind that unappealing veneer is a city with an enduring soul and an ongoing romance with the past epitomized in the phrase “Dilli dilwalon ki” (Delhi is of people with heart).

In last 12 years I have spent here, I have witnessed a new New Delhi rise. It is almost like hearing an echo of the Persian phrase spoken by Delhi’s celebrated sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya: “Dehli dour ast” (meaning Delhi is still far away), which imply that a task or journey is still far from completed. If Mumbai is Maximum City, then to refer to Delhi as Multiplying City will be more than apt.

As a tribute to this undying city, I would like to undertake the task of relating the tale of seven cities or more precisely the seven capitals which shaped Delhi’s past and blessed her with rich heritage, contributed to Delhi’s present concoction and confounding diversity and the promising future which I reckon will be unique owing to the very fabric of this vibrant megalopolis.

Think of this write up as a preface or I’d prefer an invocation to the muses wherein I “invoke thy aid to assist me in my adventures saga which pursues and so that to the height of this great endeavor; I may assert eternal providence; and justify the ways of Delhi to Men”.

The cities which I will cover in this series are:

  • Quila Rai Pithora
  • Mehrauli
  • Tughlakabad
  • Firozabad
  • Shergarh
  • Shahjehabanad
  • Siri

Some of them are in state of utter ruins and some of them you might have crossed in your everyday routine life but didn’t stop to inquire or that you usually don’t look into deeper, beyond the surface. It’s like what Morpheus told Neo in Matrix that you take this ride with me and I’ll “show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” Delhi with her countless tales was aptly summed up by William Dalrymple as the “City of Djinns”. All you need to do is dig deep into its past and behold how the narrative unfolds. And I would wrap up this introductory post with a quote by one of my favorite author Bill Bryson:

“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.”

So if you’re with me, welcome aboard!

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