Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Delhi - Those Times and Lives - 2

(Continued excerpts from The Last Mughal by William Dalrymple)

(Picture Courtesy:
As the cantonment memsahibs awaited the return of their menfolk from the parade ground, inside the city walls Padre Jennings would be conducting the early morning service in the hush of St. James Church. Soon the courts to one side of the graveyard would come to life too: the two chief magistrates, John Ross Hutchinson and Charles Le Bas, would already be in their offices, as would their assiduous assistant, Arthur Galloway, and the Sadr Amin Mufti Sadruddin, often known by his pen-name Azurda. At the same time, riding in through Kashmere Gate, Theo Metcalfe, the other joint magistrate, would be
heading late towards his day's work, regretting that he had not prepared his briefs as thoroughly as he might have, and that he had not been up as early as his father, who had already conducted half his day's business, besides taking a swim, organising the household and reading the papers. George Wagentrieber would be up too. Having kissed his wife Elizabeth goodbye, he would now, like Theo, be heading down from the Civil Lines to the Kashmiri Gate offices of the Delhi Gazette, to begin his day of writing and proofreading the latest issue.
Painting by Canadian artist and writer Michael Kluckner (
Among the people of Delhi, the poor woke long before the rich. As the sun rose, and as the British were returning from their morning rides and preparing for breakfast, up near the shrine of Qadam Sharif, the first bird catchers were laying their nets and baiting them with millet, to catch the early birds out for their morning feed. Past them on the dusty road came the sellers of fruit and vegetables, some on bullock carts, most trudging on foot, streaming in from the villages of the Doab down the Alipore road, bringing their goods to the new suburb of Sabzi Mandi just outside the Kabul Gate, to the north-west of the city.
"Puja" painting by English artist Jon Duplock, 2009 (
At the Raj Ghat, the earlier-rising Hindu faithful - at this time of day women in their cotton saris far outnumbering the men - were streaming out to perform their pujas and have their morning bathe in the waters of the holy Yamuna before the crowds gathered and the dhobis appeared. Only the pandits kept them company this early in the morning: in small shrines lining the banks of the river up to Nigambodh Ghat, where according to Delhi legend the Vedas emerged from the waters, the bells were ringing now for the morning Brahm Yagya, celebrating the creating and re-creating of the world over and over again, morning after morning. As the differently pitched bells sounded against the Sanskrit chants, so in the dark of the inner sanctum the camphor lamps circled the images of Vishnu and the marigold-strewn black stone Shiva lingams.
From deep inside the city - from the Maszid Kashmiri Katra in the south to Fatehpuri Maszid in the west, to the great Jama Maszid itself and on through to the elegant riverside minarets of the Zinat-ul-Masajid - the last cries of the dawn Azan could now be heard, each call slightly out of time with the one before it, so that the successive cries of spiritual longing and assertion came to the listener on the riverbank in a series of rolling waves. In the silence that followed the end of the call to prayer, the songs of the first Delhi birds could suddenly be heard: the argumentative chuckle of the babblers, the sharp clatter of the mynahs, the alternating clucking and squealing of the rosy parakeets, the angry exclamation of the brain fever bird, and from deep inside the canopy of the fruit trees in Zafar's gardens at Raushanara Bagh and Tis Hazari, the woody hot-weather echo of the koel.
(To be continued..)

Also in the series:
Delhi - Those Times and Lives - 1  

About the sketches and paintings
The paintings I have used in this post are by two artists - Michael Kluckner and Jon Duplock. 
Michael is a Canadian artist and writer while Jon is an English artist. Both of them have painted / sketched India in their different styles. Both have gracefully allowed me to use these images. 
For more details, you could visit their websites mentioned below their works.

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