City Monument – Old Stephen’s, Kashmere Gate
A white-washed tenderness.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The old building of St Stephen’s College dates back to the 1890s. Today it houses Delhi State Election Commission. Visit it in the weekend when the office is closed.
The two-storied edifice lies opposite St James Church in north Delhi’s Kashmere Gate. New structures have come up within the compound and it is difficult to catch a view of the entire monument from any one spot. The architect’s arched colonnades, circular staircases, domed pavilions, stain-glass windows and semi-octagonal turrets unravel to the visitor like parts of an elaborate puzzle.
The building was designed by Samuel Swinton Jacob, the chief engineer of Jaipur State, who was known for incorporating Indian-Islamic architectural characteristics with European Neo Classical and Gothic Revival styles. Jacob’s other prominent buildings include Rambagh Palace in Jaipur and King George Medical College in Lucknow.
Before it moved here in 1891, Stephen’s was housed in a Mughal-style haveli in Old Delhi’s Kinari Bazaar. The college went to its present address further north in 1941.
The modern-day Stephen’s is of red bricks but the older building with its sandstone and quartzite stands with solemn solidity appropriate to the temperament of an institution more than a hundred years old.
However, the old Stephen’s is surrounded — no, disguised — by street stalls and concrete rises and it demands a greater concentration on part of the viewer to be moved by it. The situation is aggravated by the Election Commission’s whitewashed walls, painted doorways, potted flowers, dish antennas, parked cars and air conditioners.
Even such a grim scenario holds the possibility of an aesthetically pleasing moment; and for that we do not necessarily need to resort to history. To salute the vicissitudes of this old building, all you must do is to look for a certain green vine climbing up between the stones of the outer wall and thrusting a slender branch into a half-opened window. The sight is poignant.
Where Lothian Road, Kashmere Gate Time 10 am to 5 pm Nearest Metro Station Kashmere Gate
Glimpses of beauty