City Hangout – Unnamed Lake, Sunder Nursery
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Some places evoke ethereal poems that have never been written, but which you’ve always been looking for in poetry anthologies.
One of them is just here, in your own city, an auto ride away from home. Walking around this unnamed lake in central Delhi’s Sunder Nursery is like stepping into a nazm or a ghazal, the kind that could have been composed by a Ghalib of Delhi or a Hafez of Shiraz.
This morning, the Nursery’s sprawling gardens are empty but for a few morning walkers from nearby Nizamuddin East, and a handful of gardeners. The place is looking like a Hindi movie set, in which you feel like singing and dancing with your lover. The hedges are crammed with dazzlingly colored flowers. Peacocks are brazenly flitting past pathways, like highway trucks. Birds are perched on the higher branches of a leafless tree.
Yes, all of this is very beautiful — but it pales against the haunting beauty of the lake. Something seems to pierce through the surface —recalling the fate of the great Titanic. On approaching, one realizes that it is the reflection of the Lakkarwala Burj, the old monument that stands beside it.
There are a few experiences in Delhi that you have to be part of at least once. A stroll about this lake is one of them. The adjacent Burj, and its reflection flickering in the water, appears to be a relationship that has been going on for hundreds of years. Which is an illusion. The early Mughal-era monument has been here since 16th century but the lake is new—it came into the world some years ago, as part of the Nursery’s ambitious renovation by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.
With grebes and spot billed ducks nesting by its edges, the lake was created around the lowest point in the Nursery to enable its utilitarian use as an rain water harvesting facility. Indeed, Sunder Nursery is like a panoramic painting in which a landscape of flowers, trees and monuments are crisscrossed with streams and channels.
“We have a series of water bodies here,” confirms Ratish Nanda, CEO, Aga Khan Trust for Culture, India, explaining that the aquatic network starts with small channels in the eastern part of the complex, mimicking the river landscape and vegetation, and expands into a central lake, having lots of fish now, and finally drains into the large lake at the end of the central vista—which is the object of our affection.
Water was an essential part of the Mughal landscape, Mr Nanda reminds. Of course, most of the 20 monuments in the Nursery date from the Mughal times. And Humayun’s Tomb, the first truly grand Mughal mausoleum in India, is just across the lane.
Now, suddenly, a splashing sound. The image of the stone edifice that was so gloriously shimmering on the lake’s surface instantly disappears, as if somebody had spilled water color on a painting. A young gardener is wading towards the fountain installed in the center of the lake—to clean it of the floating algae and leaves.
The monument soon returns to claim its place in the water.
The Lakkarwala Burj’s imagery on the lake is not an accidental beauty. “It’s the doing of Shaheer Sir,” Mr Nanda says, referring to Muhammed Shaheer, the architect who designed the new Sunder Nursery. He died in 2015, three years before the parks were thrown open to the public. “He was an incredible landscape architect, who always wanted everything perfect,” says Mr Nanda. “He spent many days examining the vantage points to figure out how the reflections (of the monument as well as of the surrounding trees) would fall on the new lake.”
There are steps leading into the water, and apparently are popular as a seating space among the visitors. But a true delight is availed only by walking around the lake. Like a parikrama that devotees perform by circling around Hindu temples, this circumambulation is an apt homage to a late architect’s passion for beauty and history. As well as a salutation to aesthetics that is as fragile as it is lasting.
Sunder Nursery’s watery aesthetics