City Hangout – BK Dutt Colony, Central Delhi
A cushioned world.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
In the summer, the blooming flowers of the park’s Amaltas trees paint BK Dutt Colony a shade of gold. During the rest of the year, however, the park looks as ordinary as the neighbourhood in which it is situated.
A residential locality in Central Delhi, BK Dutt Colony is named after Batukeshwar Dutt, a freedom fighter who, along with the celebrated revolutionary Bhagat Singh, bombed the Central Legislative Assembly during British rule.
Walking in its lanes transports you to the world of colonies – those autonomous republics found across South Asia that have their own government houses, community gardens, and defined boundaries. The clichés of domestic life are the principal characteristic of these subsidized enclaves. Men work in offices, women buy Mother Dairy milk packets from the shop around the corner, and the children play in the colony’s park.
Unlike neighbouring Lodi Colony, BK Dutt Colony is not a government housing scheme. With some exceptions, most residents are shopkeepers, not government officers. Running shops in nearby Khanna Market and Meharchand Market, these families migrated to Delhi as refugees from what is now Pakistan.
Over the years, many residents have extended their properties by encroaching upon vacant spaces. This has reduced the colony’s green cover. Yet, it retains its tree-lined ambiance. Cars are parked amid rows of peepals. Clothes hung on walls to dry jostle for space with money plant vines. While pink bougainvilleas crawl around the metal bars of entrance gates.
An elderly man who has been ironing clothes in the colony for more than thirty years claimed his rights as a resident by establishing a tent-like home on the roadside. His makeshift residence is lined with flower pots. You may also spot his ancient-looking coal-heated press. Close by, a barber has set up his hair-cutting salon beside a tree.
The colony is also home to the Karbala ground where every year in Muharram, Shiite Muslims from across Delhi gather to bury the taziya, the ritual coffins of Imam Husain Ibn Ali, the prophet’s grandson.
The remains of a Mughal-era mosque in the neighbourhood is the source of confrontation between the Muslims and the colony’s mostly Hindu residents.
Through an e-mail, journalist Sanchita Guha, who lives in Pamposh Enclave, recounted her experience of BK Colony. Ms Guha wrote:
“I lived in BK Dutt Colony for about four months. The best thing was its proximity to Lodi Gardens, just a five-minute walk cutting through the posh Jor Bagh, without paying Jor Bagh rents for such a privilege. The worst part, I would say, was the disorderliness of the colony itself, in every way. The houses closer to the main road had the appearance of neat private residences, but my flat was in a chawl-like building deeper into the colony, where I had to dodge everything from badly parked two-wheelers and dog muck to people blocking the staircase with their string cots for the purpose of sunning themselves. Also, though families live in such close proximity, practically cheek by jowl, they rarely come to each other’s aid. My immediate neighbours were threatened with murder by their landlord’s son over a rent dispute – he shouted loud enough for everyone to hear – but not one of the homeowners came out to tell this chap to shut up. I, personally, had no problems, though, and I rather miss the secluded terrace where I could have coffee while watching peacocks – quite a few of them came visiting the vacant plot behind my building adjoining the Karbala grounds.”
In 1929, inspired by French anarchist Auguste Vaillant, Batukeshwar Dutt and Bhagat Singh threw two bombs inside the visitors’ gallery of the legislative assembly – now known as Sansad Bhawan. There were no deaths. In 1931, Mr Singh was hanged to death after being charged with the assassination of a British police officer. Mr Dutt lived to see India after its independence. He died in a Delhi hospital in 1965 following a prolonged illness.
Nearest Metro Station Jor Bagh