Inside the walls.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
One afternoon The Delhi Walla knocked at the door of Vij Bhawan in Roop Nagar, a neighborhood in north Delhi. The bungalow is home to the extended families of four brothers: Yashpal, Vishwanath, Ram Prakash and the late Lali.
The two-storied house consists of 17 rooms and 5 kitchens. It is home to three generations of 16 family members.
In their book Social Aging in a Delhi Neighborhood, authors John Van Willigen and N. K. Chadha says that Roop Nagar and its nearby ‘colonies’ such as Shakti Nagar, Kamla Nagar, and Vijay Nagar ‘provided housing to the people who were part of a dramatic increase in the population of Delhi following the division of the country into India and Pakistan after independence in 1947.” According to the book, “there was more than a 103-percent increase in Delhi’s population in the 1941-1951 intercensus decade.”
Chuni Lal Vij, the family’s patriarch, was perhaps a part of that stream of migrants who settled in the capital. He moved to Delhi from Amritsar, Punjab, in 1942, and anchored his roots in the city with a jewelry business in Chandni Chowk that he co-owned with three partners.
Bratha Ji Di Hatti Jewelers no longer exists. The jeweler’s sons took up other professions. The third brother, Vishwanath, who was a general manager in Dabur, worked for 20 years in Canada. The other two brothers became chartered accountants. The youngest brother, Lali, who was a radio broadcaster in Toronto, died in 1991.
Vij Bhawan was built in 1955. It was designed by T.R. Mahendru, the architect behind buildings such as Gangaram Hospital and Hans Raj College. Although a substantial part of the house has undergone renovations, it has been allowed to retain a few souvenirs of the past.
The staircase of chipped marble looks most dignified – its solidity appears to represent the deeply-entrenched foundations of the family. The wooden door with its old-fashioned latch, the similarly old-fashioned electric switchboards, the Singer sewing machine with its wooden cover, the red Godrej refrigerator, the gently-curving lampshades, the sparsely-designed teak wood chairs, and the old taps in the bathroom have not been replaced. One microwave oven resembles a Philips radio of yesteryear.
There is also an extremely old key and lock. A treasured heirloom, the pair has been promoted to the status of a decorative item in the drawing room.
One of the most beautiful elements of the house is the veranda in the back. Although it has substantially reduced in size due to creation of additional rooms over the years, the remaining open space symbolizes the determination of the Vij family to hold on to at least some material fragments of its early years in Delhi.
The story of a mansion