City Monument – Dilli Gate, Najafgarh
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The world has many Dilli Gates. There is a Dilli Gate in Lahore. There is a Dilli Gate in Ajmer. In Bharatpur. In Aligarh. In our very own Ghaziabad. All these centuries-old stone portals must have faced the direction to Delhi. Old Delhi also has a Dillii Gate—it is one of the four surviving gateways of the mostly vanished wall of the Walled City.
Sadly, Old Delhi’s Dilli Gate is as dead as a grave. Locked, empty.
But this Dilli Gate in Delhi’s Najafgarh pulsates with hyperactive life. A government website on monuments explains it as “the main gateway of Najafgarh fort built by Mirza Najaf Khan during the reign of Shah Alam II.”
This afternoon, the longstanding landmark is milling with crowds. They aren’t tourists but townfolk exploiting the edifice for the practical purpose it was built for—to go from one side to another. One side of the gateway faces a road dangerously dense with buses and autos. The other side is far politer to pedestrians, opening into a bazar crammed with shops and carts stocked with amla murabba, NCERT text books, “ladies chappals,” water bottles, sunshades, Nasik wale oranges, toy scooters, butterfly stickers, cotton candies, “fancy fabrics,” keys, jalebis…. one eatery is called Munch Station.
The double-storeyed gateway itself is a bazar. The imposing vaulted ceiling looks down directly to scores of stalls attached to the stone walls, piled up with fragrant incenses, French beans; lemons, and many more this-and-that stuff. Dilli Gate’s cheeriest hawker is Fakeeru ji, The elderly woman has a brilliant smile; she sells “rat poison.”
The gateway was redone with modern construction material some years ago, and rechristened to Vad Kishan Lal Dwar. The old name lives on, as do some segments of the monument that hold on to their original lakhori bricks. A haveli next door is topped with a magnificently carved balcony.
On gazing at Dilli Gate from a distance, it looks somewhat lonesome. The blurry crowds, the adjoining peepal tree and the bazar’s red plastic awnings deepen its graceful isolation, setting it apart from the contemporary clutter. The panorama triggers mixed feelings about times new and old.