Old views of an old city.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Camels wandering around Humayun’s Tomb, an elephant standing by the mausoleum of Safdarjung, and deserted mansions in Old Delhi. Every place looks so quiet and serene, especially the hauntingly bare shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya (top).
These are some of the images of Delhi as seen in The Oriental Annual or Scenes in India Comprising Engravings from Original Drawings by William Daniell; he was an English landscape painter and engraver. This set of seven hardbound volumes was published by Bull and Churton in London during the 1830s — a time when Delhi was still ruled by the Mughals from the Red Fort and when Old Delhi was not referred to the Old Delhi that we call today but areas in the south such as Mehrauli and Hauz Khas.
The yellowing books belong to the library of Omar Adam Khan. A wildlife filmmaker and painter, Mr Khan belongs to the erstwhile royal family of Tonk in Rajasthan. He travels across India’s national parks for photography assignments, and he has a house in Delhi. During a recent stopover in the city, he kindly shared his precious set of The Oriental Annual with The Delhi Walla.
According to an old 1951 clip of The Sunday Statesman that I discovered between the pages of one of the volumes of The Oriental Annual, the aforementioned artist William Daniell toured India extensively with his artist uncle Thomas about the turn of the 18th century. They both spent a number of years in the subcontinent.
The newspaper’s writer described in some detail about their visit to Delhi:
“From a letter by William Daniell, transcribed by Jospeh Farington, it appears that the artists travelled from Caclutta to the Imperial Capital by boat as far as Kanpur and then, in company with a party of fifteen plus 1,500 camp followers, through Mathura and Agra. At Mathura, William Daniell made a drawing of Mahadji Scindia, then in camp there. Fourteen days after leaving Agra the two reached Delhi, where they were hospitably received and a palace assigned for their residence, “but the curiosity of the people to see them obliged them to retire to the skirts of the city.”
The article went on to say:
“During their three weeks in the city they were plainly struck by its magnificence; their method was to get up and breakfast by sunrise and then go to work “with their materials”. Eventually they crossed the Jamuna and went to Bijnor district, seeing more of Delhi, including Tughlakabad and Safdarjung, on the return journey. These old views of Delhi have a marked serenity which makes them particularly suitable for a library. I do not know whether they represent “emotion recollected in tranquility”; they certainly have that quality for me.”
1. (Omar Adam Khan)
3. (Humayun’s Tomb)
7. (“Deserted house of Patan chiefs at Old Delhi”)
11. (“Ancient gateway, Delhi”)