City Landmark – The Arches, Lodhi Colony
The see-through taaks.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
An arch-shaped niche in the wall, the taak is almost history. Some are still sighted in the Walled City. In days gone by, when Delhi homes had no Western-style sofas and people sat on mattresses laid out on the floor, a gawtakiya (bolster) would be placed directly under the central taak. Such alcoves are rarely spotted in multi-storey flats—taaks have been made obsolete by sideboards and shelves.
But nobody needs to bother about the congested historic quarter to experience the most unusual taaks in the Delhi region. They came up recently in the newer parts of the city, in the 1940s, and were the work of a foreigner, the British-born architect William Henry Medd.
Lodhi Colony has gigantic taaks of most haunting beauty. Scooped into the facades of government-owned residential blocks, the taaks fill these drab concretes with art, air and lightness. Strolling past the successive arches is like scrutinising a long brocade embroidered with a taak motif. (At this point, taak purists might tweet objections, stating that they are more like taak-shaped holes than taaks. Indeed, Lodhi Colony aesthetes tend to describe these hollow shapes as arches. But then taak, of course, is an arched niche.)
Tonight, it is lightly drizzling, and the broad paves of Lodhi Colony are empty of their otherwise boisterous mohalla life. It is dark all around, but for a housing block’s taak-shaped void, illuminated by a solitary lamp. The golden light is diffused by the falling raindrops, acquiring a grainy texture, while the unwieldy trees behind the arch are swaying in the strong breeze. The sight is surreal. Since taaks are also believed to be doors and corridors through which djinns (spirits) travel from one house to another, the surface-less niche, at this hour of the rainy night, feels doubly surreal.
Lately, Lodhi Colony has been remodelled into Lodhi Art District. Many of the blocks have had their taak-walls painted with thematic designs by foreign artists. Perhaps a few of the blocks will be allowed to stay untouched, so that the original adornment of Lodhi Colony, the hollow taak, remains in focus. Like this haloed arch, see photo.