City Monument – Pandemic-Era Chhoti Gumti, Green Park
Society of the dome.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Let us go then, you and I, when the afternoon is spread out against the grass.
Like on this afternoon of March. The sky is so blue that it looks like an Instagram filter has been applied to it. While the ground is divided into two halves: a sunny one (empty) and a shaded one (crowded with people). A stone mausoleum stands at the center, as if to demarcate shade from glare.
Chhoti Gumti monument in south Delhi’s Green Park is a very chhoti (tiny) Lodhi-era ruin. There is no record of it in books of monuments. The visitor’s best approach is to slowly walk around it. The perspective is beautiful, especially from each of the four corners.
But these days, the chief reason to visit the monument is to appreciate its regained social life. For most of the two years of pandemic, there would hardly be anybody here but pigeons on the dome and squirrels in the grass. The gate would be locked oftentimes. Now, as the pandemic has eased and offices and schools have re-opened, the monument garden has won back its ecosystem. It’s 2pm and the shaded grounds are teeming with people. Some seem to be men on a break from work; others, in blue uniforms, must be school students who stopped here on their way home. Some of these people are lying on the ground, some are sleeping, some are eating from their lunchboxes. One man is clipping his toenails. Another fellow is resting his head on a concrete block, using it as a pillow. The only sound is of a faint chuckle coming repeatedly from the mobile phone of a man. He must be scrolling through funny videos, appended with that laughing sound-effect peculiar to such clippings.
To be sure, there is nothing unique about people lounging in a garden monument (think Lodhi Gardens). But this place isn’t a popular destination. They are few who come from far distances to savour its relaxed ambiance. Chhoti Gumti’s reach is chhoti. Its serenity finds favour only with people who live or work in the area, giving it a hyperlocal charm distinct to a Green Park way of life (elderly folks lounge in the evening, along with dog walkers). Sadly, for long periods of the lockdown and during its aftermaths, Chhoti had remained deserted. It is peopled again. Let’s not take this for granted.
Small but dense