Photo Essay – In Search of Lost Time, Shahjahanabad
The black & white Delhi.
[Text by Mayank Austen Soofi]
A city is built of dreamed memories. More than three centuries have elapsed since the founding of Shahjahanabad on the banks of the Yamuna.
Shahjahanabad today is a different country.
The river’s course has drifted further east. The dynasty that established the Walled City has been extinguished; the palaces are in ruins; the nobility has disappeared; the wall has been destroyed. The straight lines of bazaars, mohallas and kuchas have broken ranks.
Time cannot be turned back.
While strolling in Shahjahanabad’s streets, The Delhi Walla is sometimes suddenly jolted by a sign from long ago – a doorway, a window, a pillar, or a tomb. In a flash I’m transported to a faraway civilisation that once was here. From the abyss of Shahjahanabad’s wretched present, I climb into a half-baked bookish comprehension of its courtly beginnings.
Delhi’s older neighbourhoods like Mehrauli are buried deeper into time. There I come across landmarks that were raised when there was no Shahjahanabad.
Since the past dies only partially, its living portion overlaps into the present and makes for itself a very different kind of existence, which has a special kind of regret. As if everything was more beautiful ‘then’. In Shahjahanabad, the essence of such sensibilities is absorbed into the crevices of old surviving buildings. You find it within the cracks of red sandstone walls, on the smooth surface of steep stairs, in the cool dampness of dark alleys, or in black and white photographs.
[At the time of writing this piece, the author was trying to read Marcel Proust’s novel]
Delhi of Long Ago