Feature – Delhi, the City of Villages

Contact mayankaustensoofi@gmail.com for ad enquiries.

Shooping Collectibles in Delhi

There are 275 of them in the metropolis.

[Text and picture of the Hauz Khas village by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Delhi is India’s capital but it may as well be a separate planet. Even as the country’s urban-rural divide gets wider, the city’s urban sprawl is appearing to mix seamlessly with its rural backyard.

Err, backyard is not the right term. Most villages of Delhi, there are 275 ‘revenue villages’ in all, do not lie at its periphery. They are right there in the Capital’s heart.

Sometimes you don’t even know you are in a village. For instance, the short walk from Kailash Colony to Zamrudpur won’t propel you into a shock sight of green pastures and grazing cows; it will still be the same concrete, electric wires, internet cafes, gyms, grocery stores, though everything a bit run-down, a bit less stylish. It is only if you stumble into a street corner where old men are smoking hookah on a jute khaat that you would realise – Oh God, it’s a village!

The research firm IIMS Dataworks revealed in July, 2008, that while the nation-wide proportion of urban earners in the highest income bracket rose by 3.7 percent during 2004-2007, their rural counterpart’s income clambered by just 0.9 percent during the same period.

However, go to Hauz Khas village and you won’t believe the urban-rural divide – everyone looks wealthy amidst the swanky art galleries and charming curio shops. Or walk into Rangpuri, a village that borders Radisson hotel where Jat kids drive flashy cars and dance in NH-8 clubs, thanks to dad’s farmlands sold for a fortune.

According to the Directorate of Economics and Statistics, out of 33.60 lakh households in Delhi, 1,79 lakh live in rural areas. Once upon a time there must have been more villages in the city.

Lucky Peck, author of Delhi: A Thousand Years of Building, says that during the colonial era, the expansion of the city swallowed up nearly 50 villages and during the first decade after independence another 50 were engulfed. Some of the villages like Malcha and Raisina survive only as street names. Raisina, of course, was shifted to build Viceregal Lodge, later re-named Rashtrapati Bhawan. The exact site of the village is said to be where the Press Club sits today. Such are the vagaries of time.

But the death of certain rural hamlets hasn’t led to the extinction of the city’s ruralscape. Delhi’s urban villages are mainly a product of the last 60 years. True quite a few could trace their origin back to several centuries when they first developed around tombs and mosques but the present edition bore no resemblance to the past, except, of course, if you are lucky to discover those ruins sweltering amidst concrete structures.

Unlike during the construction of New Delhi when the British cleared away entire villages, the era after independence saw the city being planned around these villages. The villages remained, but not their farm fields that soon sprouted residential apartments in place of sugarcanes. So there is Vasant Enclave next to Vasant Gaon, Khirki Extension next to Khirki Village and Nizamuddin West next to Nizamuddin Basti.

The villagers of Kotla Mubarakpur, next to South Ex I, once sent their cows to graze in what is now the uppity Defence Colony. The villagers of Shahpur Jat, that modern-day hub of designer boutiques and basement workshops, had their farmlands spreading from today’s Hauz Khas and Andrewsganj to as far as Greater Kailash and Malviya Nagar. Unbelievable, you may say.

Though there may not be a stark difference in the distribution of wealth between Delhi’s urban and rural sprawls, the starker social difference makes its presence felt in this status-driven metropolis. “I know a Miranda House graduate who refused to marry a suitable boy from a wealthy family just because he lived in Rangpuri,” a friend told me.

The sassy girl should know better. In Delhi, there’s no getting away from villages.