City Monument – Dilli Gate, Daryaganj
A Walled City Survivor.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Crenellation. Of course, you know the meaning. Some of us might not, and we can always Google it. But certainly all of us ought to head to a particular monument in Delhi, and gaze upon this word as it exists in the real world.
Cambridge dictionary explains crenellation as “a wall around the top of a castle, with regular spaces in it through which the people inside the castle can shoot.” This detail is most clearly illustrated at Dilli Gate in central Delhi. The top of the stone gateway is punctuated with large tablets of stone, which are separated from each other by vertical slits through which the warriors of old times must have aimed their guns, or spears, at the barbarians gathered outside the gate.
A landmark of more than 400 years, Dilli Gate is one of the 14 gateways that punctuated the protective wall of the Walled City of Shahjahanabad. Even as most of those gateways are lost to Delhi’s violent history, along with most of the wall, this gate is not unique. Three other gateways of its kind survive. But there is something distinctive about Dilli Gate. Stranded amid the hubbub of a modern-day avenue (Netaji Subhash Marg), it is imbibed with a spirit of wilderness, and feels far, very far. In contrast, its other cousins —Ajmeri Gate, and Turkman Gate especially—have evolved to become a seamless appendage to Delhi’s contemporary pulse. You see neighbourhood men hanging out 24/7 in front of the Turkman Gate, with a police chowki attached to it like a limpet. While snack carts abound around Ajmeri Gate. But Dilli Gate stays deserted. May be because it is in the middle of a busy road, and stands aloof, like a monumental road divider.
The gateway is always locked. From a distance, it looks like a rugged Hebridean island, with stones protruding out of a stormy sea (of traffic). The stairs going towards the top are easily noticeable. Until some weeks ago they were covered with weedy grass. At night, as the darkness descends, the gateway appears like a translucent monolith exuding mystery and gloom, and acquires the solemnity of a forgotten tragedy. Indeed, it will be a most appropriate place to stage Hamlet, Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy, with the doomed hero seeing the ghost of his murdered father dissolutely passing down the stone stairs.
Naturally, the most dramatic time to view the gateway is late at night. In the day, the crenellations teem with peace-time pigeons, compromising Dilli Gate’s intimidating essence.