Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Delhi - Those Times and Lives - 4

(Continued excerpts from The Last Mughal by William Dalrymple)

Mirza Ghalib
But the biggest draw of all were the poets and intellectuals, men such as Ghalib, Zauq, Sahbai and Azurda: 'By some good fortune', wrote Hali, 'there gathered at this time in the capital, Delhi, a band of men so talented that their meetings and assemblies recalled the days of Akbar and Shah Jahan.' Hali's family tracked him down eventually, but before they found him, and hauled him back tio married life in the mofussil (provinces), he was able to gain admittance in the 'very spacious and beautiful' madrasa of Husain Bakhsh and to begin his studies there" 'I saw with my own eyes this last brilliant glow of learning in Delhi,' he wrote in old age, 'the thought of which now makes my heart crack with regret'.
Chandni Chowk (By Michael Kluckner)
Meanwhile, on Chandni Chowk, although Mr. Beresford, the manager of the Delhi Bank, had been at work since 9am, it was eleven o' clock before the first shopkeepers began turning up. They opened the shutters of their booths, fed their canaries and caged parakeets, and began fending off the first of the beggars and holy mendicants who bounced coins in their bowls as they passed up the gauntlet of shops. Some of these figures were well known and even revered Delhi characters, such as the Majzub (holy madman) Din Ali Shah: 'He is so careless about the addairs of this world,' wrote Sayyid Ahmad Khan in a sketch of Delhi's most famous citizens, 'that he remains naked most of the time and when surrounded by a crowd is likely to break out in to intemperate language. But when the desirous seekers ponder over the words, they find that behind the outward senselessness there is a clear answer to their queries'. Some of the most revered mendicants were women such as Baiji, 'a woman of exceptional talent who spent all her life under a a hay thatch near the Old Idgah of Shahjahanbad. While conversing she often quoted Quranic verses...whatever she had said would take place exactly as she predicted'.
Out on the pavements, tradesmen too humble to have their own premises were now filling their appointed places: the ear cleaner with this pick and probe, the tooth cleaner with his bundles of neem twigs, the astrologer with his cards and his parrot, the quack with his lizards and bottles of murky aphrodisiac oils, the kabutarwallah with his fantails and fancy doves. Meanwhile, in their workshops off the main street frontage, away from the eyes of the passes-by, the jewellers were preparing their emeralds and moonstones, topaz and diamonds, rubies from Burma, spinels from Badakshan and lapis from the Hindu Kush. Shoemakers took their cured leather and began curling the toes of their juties on the last; the sword-makers began lighting their forges, the cloth merchants pulled out their bolts of fabric; the spice merchants smoothed into shape their orange-gold mountains of turmeric.
Chunnamal Haveli today (taken from Wikipedia)
In the largest premises of all, guarded by mace bearers, were the great Jain and Marwari moneylenders of Delhi with their family credit networks and groaning registers stuffed full of debtors' names, which included, after Mirza Jawan Bakht's wedding, Zafar himself. Down they slumped against their bolsters, dreaming of schemes for recovering the implausible sums of money they had so unwisely lent to the impecunious princes of the Red Fort - men like Lala Saligram, Bhawani Shankar and the richest of all, Lal Chunna Mal, the largest single investor in Mr. Beresford's Delhi Bank, in his massive and opulent haveli in Katra Nil.
Just as Chandni Chowk was waking up, 2 miles to the north, in the cantonment, the working day was already drawing to a close, and most of the soldierly duties were already completed. A bathe, a quick read of the papers and a game of billiards filled an hour or two, before the heat in the small brick bachelor bungalows became unbearable and all that remained to do until late afternoon was to sprawl around in "loose dishabille, reading, lounging and sleeping'. With little to occupy them most of the day, for many British soldiers boredom was the principal enemy they faced in India.

Also in the series:
Delhi - Those Times and Lives - 1 
Delhi - Those Times and Lives - 2 
Delhi - Those Times and Lives - 3

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