City Monument – Indira Gandhi Memorial Museum, Safdarjung Road

Inside the Lutyens’ bungalow.

[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]

The former residence of India’s first female Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, here she was assassinated by her own bodyguards in 1984. But this memorial is more than just a museum.

Besides showing the usual bedrooms, dining rooms, libraries and even the last saree of a powerful politician once described as “the only man in her cabinet”, the house is also a window into the world of famed Lutyens’ bungalows. Built during the twilight years of the British Empire, there are 800 such bungalows spread over 550 hectares in New Delhi.

Responsible for giving the city much of its colonial-era charm, most of these elegant white houses have been taken over by politicians and bureaucrats and so are barred to visitors. But this museum gives a peek into this charmed world of single-storeyed mansions.

Marked by wide, open verandahs that keep inner rooms shielded from Delhi’s searing summer sun, these mansions have high ceilings that carry the hot air up to be whisked away through the ventilators. Creepers climb the walls, potted plants deck the doorways and the disproportionately large wooded gardens ward off claustrophobia. It is with some reason that these bungalows are called the heart and lungs of Delhi.

After Mrs Gandhi’s assassination, her son, Rajiv, became Prime Minister. The family lived here for a few months before leaving for a nearby bungalow at 7, Race Course Road for security reasons. The house was then thrown open to tourists.

While most rooms in the museum were left unchanged, some were emptied to make way for newspaper clippings, framed pictures and relics of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. The decor in the book-lined rooms is simple, yet tasteful. There is one exception: one glass case displays the shreds of a kurta that Rajiv Gandhi was wearing when he was assassinated by a suicide bomber in 1991. The sight is disturbing.

Where 1, Safdarjung Road, Near Delhi Gymkhana Club