Hauz Khas Series – A House in the Village, Chapter 3
Life in Delhi’s prettiest neighbourhood.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Late September morning. The shadows are cold. I enter into a part of the Hauz Khas ruins that is not frequented by tourists. May be they are here. I’m searching for Pappu and Usha, the couple I met the other day while walking towards Green Park. They are daily wage labourers, migrants from Jhansi. Pappu had said that they were living in Hauz Khas ruins.
Is that possible?
The monument closes at sunset. In the night you don’t find anyone except a love-sick guitarist or a love pair hungry for a French kiss, who manage to slip inside just when the guards get a bit sleepy. No one is supposed to live inside an ancient building protected by the Archeological Survey of India. Delhi Sultan Feroze Shah Tughlaq had built it in the fourteenth century as a madrasa, an Islamic seminary.
But here is Pappu, standing quietly below the arches. He shows no sign of recognizing me. I enter into a courtyard. A stone grave is at the center. A long arched corridor is fashioned into living quarters of three families; each section divided by a string with clothes hanging on it. Women are making rotis on the stove. Children are playing without making any noise. Men are sitting cross-legged. A cell phone is connected to a electrical switchboard; its FM radio is playing a Hindi film song. An electric lamp and a table fan are other material luxuries.
Despite being a popular tourist destination, this world is hidden, like a secret community of people whom this city can’t see.
Centuries ago when students from across the Muslim world came to Hauz Khas to study Islam, the complex was like “the palaces of ancient Babylon” – according to chronicler Barni. Delhi poet Mutahhar of Kara had found it “a soul-animating courtyard as wide as the plain of the world”. In 1398 when the Central Asian invader Timur sacked Delhi, he set up his camps in the Hauz Khas monument where princes and generals waited upon him to pay their respects. By next year Timur had left India. Centuries later his descendant Shahjahan would establish a new capital north of Hauz Khas, now called Old Delhi.
As Pappu’s wife ladle out dal to him in a brass bowl, I remember reading Mutahhar describing the food served to students in the Hauz Khas madarsa: “Pheasants, partridges, herons, fish, roasted fowl, grilled kids, fried loaves, brightly-coloured sweets of different kinds and other good things…” Diners sat on carpets brought from Damascus and Shiraz.
What does this 5-star history means to the present dwellers of the monument? I turn to Pappu.
He looks furiously at me. The friendliness of the other day is missing.
“Me and my wife earn Rs 200 each daily,” he says. “We have many children. Give us money, if you can. Or leave us alone.”
I walk out of the monument. Across the road is Yeti, a restaurant specializing in cuisines from Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan. The Nepali thali is priced at Rs 400 plus taxes, more than twice the daily income of Pappu.
A living ruin
Pappu can’t smile
Where’s your school uniform?
Signs of life
Rs 400 + taxes, the Nepali thali at Yeti