Dilwalon Ki Dilli: A city found and a few lost over time

Delhi is present, past and history. Present may symbolize the modernity but it’s the history that defines Delhi. Many towns were established over the centuries, some lost some survived, and today we know them as Delhi. Paradox is that that we know the city as seat of power as it is and has always been but is still known as ‘Dilwalon ki Dilli’

Delhi, for last seventy years since India’s independence , represents the seat of power. A capital city that houses parliament, the president and the vice president of India, the prime minister of the country and all the ministries. You name them and they are here. But Delhi has always been the seat of power. From Badhsahs to Sultans, Viceroys to Governors, all have ruled Delhi and from Delhi. Today, for an average Indian, unlike Mumbai which is called City of Dreams, the place accommodates every section of the society. If the Lutyens’ Delhi represents those iconic buildings and the names who stayed there, there are also areas in far flung places in the city that are inhabited by millions who come here to make two ends meet and aspire that the city will still give them back something that will make their life better. In between is the class for whom the city has gardens, the legendary Connaught Place, bars, hotels and a life that is full of fun and frolic.

Delhi is unique. Delhi is known for its history, culture and political significance. The capital city is surrounded by four states, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Punjab. It’s a place which is inhabited by people from all over India and that influences its culture, language and lifestyle. From the glittering malls to the dazzling metro, posh Khan Market to ChawriBazaar, one can see the diversity of the city. Nonetheless, it’s a fact that the malls have replaced local markets to a great extent. Now Delhi wallahs are shopping in malls where at one place they get everything of their choice and can meet all their requirements. Though there are complaints that there is no night life in Delhi because of regulations, there are amazing night clubs, where you can eat drink and dance till late at night. What adds color to the city is its young population that loves to wear the latest and trendy clothes while going to college or market or out with friends and family. With the times the city has changed. Some view it as a loss of traditional values; others look at it as adoption of modernity. Its ever burgeoning population and diversity has made it a cosmopolitan city. Though migration to the city has contributed positively, it has brought a set of problems as well. With the growing population, the city is struggling on the front of modern day demands-traffic, housing, water, electricity and much more. But people, despite struggling with these daily needs still refuse to quit the city simply because it’s ‘dilwalonkidilli’. With the ever growing demand for residential and commercial spaces to fulfil the needs of its population, satellite towns like Gurugram, Faridabad, Noida and Ghaziabad have been assisting the city.


History is what makes Delhi….story of a lost city

Through our history text books, discussions and day-to-day interactions, we keep acquiring information about the history of Delhi. But there are many facts and parts of history which are still being unearthed by academicians, historians and researchers. One of the most interesting aspects which some know but many do not is that Delhi was never one city. Many towns were established and flourished over the centuries. We might be walking through the place without realizing that there stood a city which we don’t know about. With the advent and establishment of Delhi Sultanate in the thirteenth century, it is believed that it unleashed a new phase of urbanization in North India. We still have the structure or the ruins from that era that have survived the test of the time. But we didn’t know about the fact that one city is missing from the list of reputed cities of Delhi because its ruins did not survive. In a pioneering work Professor Najaf Haider, Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, has unearthed it. He says “At present in Delhi there is a locality on the Ring Road, south of Sarai Kale Khan and north-east of Jangpura, by the name Kilokhri, walking around the place or talking to the local people gives no indication of the location or history of Kilokhri or Shahr-iNau. There is not a stone or sign post either to guide the visitor. There is, however, a bus stop called Kilokhri. It is quite clear from the literature produced in the period that Kilokhri–Shahr-iNau was located on the west (right) bank of the river Yamuna, a few kilometres north-east of Qutb-Delhi. The river since then has changed course and moved east of the locality, with the Ring Road laid in between”. The first city of Delhi was what is known today as Qutub Mehrauli.


History and Tradition

History has travelled many centuries since then. Delhi changed but has still carried its tradition and people who visit the place often make it their own. Often 1984 is remembered for the massacre of Sikhs after the gruesome assassination of Indira Gandhi. But few people know that this was also the year when large numbers of nomads came here and have stayed on. Travelling on the Mehrauli Gurgaon road, as you cross Chhatarpur Metro station try looking under the metro line and you will find some people in tents selling iron implements of various kinds. They are perched under the elite destination of Chhatarpur Dilli Haat, as well as many such locations all over Delhi. They are Gariya Luhars, the legendary nomads who trace their lineage from Rana Pratap. Historian and researcher Vagish Jha says ‘they roamed around with their carts, that is why Gariya the cart, and being skilled ironsmiths, the Luhars. They took care of all the iron implements of the army of Rana Pratap. They had taken a vow not to settle till they came out victorious. They remained nomads. But some of them came to Delhi in 1984 and since then they are in tents, still not settled”. He further narrates the irony of the situation saying “with such illustrious history, Gariya Luhars of Delhi are not even the citizens of this country. Without a voter ID card or Aadhaar card, they earn their livelihood by following their age old profession of iron smithery without any basic amenities, no water, not even toilets and always under the threat of being harassed by the police”.

Who will care for these unsung heroes, who perfected the art of turning wrought iron into steel of high quality, a technological feat that India was known for all over the world those days? Call it irony, millions travel by the metro without knowing who is staying just ten feet below. But still the ‘beauty’ of the city remains the fact that it is not mono-cultural and has not fallen into a straitjacket culture. Its greatness lies in its diversity, the millions who speak different languages, have different food habits, different traditions and attires. But as a parting shot, in Delhi the expression ‘haanji’ is heavily used. Everybody uses it umpteen times in their daily life and sometimes it even replaces the ‘hello’ when one gets a phone call. Yet interestingly, people from Lahore say that correct Urdu is ‘haanji’ while people of Delhi aver that the correct thing to say is ‘jihaan’. Whatever it may, it is this amalgam of people, language, culture and their ability to assimilate it all, is what makes this city ‘dilwalon ki dilli’.

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