City Monument – Stranded Column, Chirag Delhi Village
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The pillar is slender, and swells up towards the top like a sonata soaring to a crescendo. It appears to be of red sandstone but the red has faded.
You may spot this kind of fluted column inside the old houses in the Walled City, and also within temples and mosques.
But it will be rare to find it by a footpath so matter-of-factly. Here, snuggled deep within south Delhi’s Chirag Delhi village, the column is half-embedded into the adjacent concrete, the other half exposed to the street like a dead body washed ashore. The column lies under a weather-beaten cement platform, which has four benches facing each other. It is a popular meeting point for the villagers. This afternoon, a bunch of men are playing a card game. One of them turns around and bends down his head to examine the column. “It is called column in angrezi,” he explains (in Hindi).
A black dog jumps down from the platform, his tail fleetingly brushing the column. The scene vividly evokes Delhi’s multilayered past. Much like in Rome, Cairo and Istanbul, the previous lives of our ancient city exist in its ruins, many of which continue to survive, while many others have disappeared, or lie concealed from plain sight. Indeed, there is no knowing how often we Delhiites unsuspectingly step upon our city’s underground relics as we walk along the streets and parks. But this column doesn’t belong to any buried site. One of the card players identifies it as a discard from a nearby haveli—the area has a handful of period houses with intricately built doorways and windows. “The khamba collapsed some years ago, and was thrown out by the house owners… it was (eventually) used to lay the foundation of this platform 6-7 years ago.”
A middle-aged shopkeeper contradicts the claim, insisting that the column has been on this spot since his infancy. Perhaps an archaeologist might correctly determine its antiquity. May be it isn’t old after all. Either way, the object succeeds in summoning the spirits of the dead. Lying forlorn along the muddy pathway, the stone column mutely substantiates the credence that histories and eras are literally littered over this city in material form.
Meanwhile, in a neglected yard some steps away, a similar column is lying unclaimed under a neem tree.
Not just another footpath sight