City Monuments – H.A. Mirza & Sons Postcards, Muslim & British Delhi
The beautiful untruths.
[By Mayank Austen Soofi]
The fragmented past lives on in memories. Sometimes it gets marinated in more tangible objects. In the early decades of 20th century, the photo studio of H.A. Mirza & Sons in Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi, produced a series of postcards showing the capital’s Islamic monuments and Colonial-era landmarks. The cards were photographed in Delhi and printed in Germany. The firm is history now.
In the postcards, the buildings have an aestheticised exactness, not discernible in real life. This is a mythical Delhi, a longed-for city that we see only in our dreams, the memory of which fades on waking.
The straight lines, symmetrical harmonies and people-less spaces of these postcard images actually belong to an unstable world. When these photos were taken, Delhi was replacing Calcutta as Colonial India’s focal point. The city was recovering from the 1857 uprising against the British that had ended in the fall of the Mughals and the massacre of thousands of Delhiwallas. The old certainties were vanishing.
A new catastrophe was imminent. The creation of Pakistan would spell the death of the Muslim Delhi style. The gentry would leave the city, the Urdu language would be strangulated, the havelis would be destroyed, and the Walled City would become a ghetto.
The postcard photos assure us of a place that would never be lost. A beautiful deception.