City Monument – Chor Minar, Hauz Khas Enclave
Life of a ruin.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
History is intrusive, and always finds its way into our today. Sometimes that intrusion is barely perceptible, as the touch of a gentle breeze on the skin. Like the Chor Minar tower in south Delhi’s Hauz Khas Enclave.
Perched at the center of a residential roundabout, the centuries-old edifice has the vibes of a once-tough family patriarch, peacefully passing his days with his newspapers and WhatsApp forwards, largely ignored by kind but busy descendants. As it happens, the tower has a most dreadful past. Built around 13th century in the Khilji era, it was said to display the severed heads of chor, or thieves — a convincing way, if there ever was one, to discourage petty crime. Towards the top of the tower, the regularly-spaced niches must have been the very places for the ill-fated heads.
Today these dreadful holes have become a refuge for pigeons, who wheel about the tower, returning to the niches after every round. This afternoon the grassy ground about the ruin is utterly serene, littered with no headless corpses but fallen leaves. Squirrels are running about aimlessly. Dry leaves clinging to the barbed wires, on the monument’s boundary wall, are looking like delicately woven embroidery.
But you can’t absorb Chor Minar by simply standing close to it. Its modern-day appreciation is comprehensively experienced only by taking a long aimless round in the neighbourhood. The monument has a commanding presence upon the area, and pops into view most unexpectedly, often appearing like a side-character in the local sights and sceneries. Hauz Khas Enclave is very upscale, and its wealthy residents remain unseen, cloistered inside their great houses — it is the security guards stationed outside the bungalows and apartments who frame the foreground to the Minar.
But now a young woman enters a connecting lane with three little kids. The perspective from this spot makes her look as if she and the little ones were heading straight to Chor Minar, knowing nothing of its gory old days.
The most poignant sight of the monument, however, is not anything about the building but a signage board bearing its name—it is juxtaposed by a crude cardboard hoarding that bears the handwritten mobile number of a drain cleaner. The terrifying souvenir of the past has become a harmless oddity, and in fact has been upstaged by an honest man’s listing. Good end to a bad beginning.