It all began with a tring, or a tring tring perhaps. Or maybe not, because mobile phones are, sadly, not landlines. So, it must have gone ‘Mauja hi maujha’. Our tastes are profound. The author then went on to say Hi.
“Hi, my friend told me that you conduct Heritage Walks in Delhi. I would love to come, if you are hosting one this weekend”, said the girl.
“Have you been on the Mehrauli walk?"
“Ooh what shall we get to see there?”
"Besides the versatile spread of architectural genius of the many dynasties that comprised the Delhi Sultanate? Well, thou shall also see a massive number of love messages scratched on largely uncared for yet beautiful monuments. And some peacocks. Oh, and a few leering men, here and there."
"Only a few? Must be my lucky day"
One must always like a woman having a sarcastic sense of humour.
“Haha, don't worry. If I cannot deliver what I promise, and if we see no sign of anything that is masculine, walking on two legs and being creepy and lecherous, I shall try my best to don that role myself."
“Thank you, kind sir, you move my soul. Hey, listen, I am not Indian, FYI”
“With that sexy (err cough).. I meant husky.. husky accent, of course you can’t be. South American?”
"Not bad, close enough. Central American. I am from Belize. And I am sure the cocky guide hasn't heard of it."
"Belize ooh. Belmopan is the capital, jes?"
“You know Belmopan!!! That’s the first time someone in India has known.. never mind, I mean will I be charged more, being a foreigner?”
“Tch tch, you insult me now.”
“Haha, so I shall see you at ten am tomorrow?”
And it was hence that at 10 am the next day, an Indian boy was cursing himself for waking up late, and was riding his bikes as fast as he could on Mehrauli Badarpur road. Somewhere ahead in the distance stood the towering edifice of Qutub Minar. Unbeknownst to him, a girl from Belize was right behind in an auto, looking unhurried and unflustered, the wind in her hair, looking yonder at a fort’s ramparts and admiring the city where she had now been staying for the last one week.
If only he would tell her then that this was exactly where Delhi had started 1400 years back in 731 AD ,when the Tomars came marching. They called it 'Dili'. In 1180, Prithviraj Chauhan renamed it as 'Qila Rai Pithora', after vanquishing the Tomars. Quila Rai Pithora – the first of imperial Delhi’s 7 cities.
A few minutes later, they met (I mean him and her, not Prithvi and the Tomars) outside the gates of the Qutub Minar complex. A thousand years back, this area became Delhi's second city - Mehrauli.
“Hello, Belizean girl!”
“Hello, Indian boy!”
And after having greeting each other and shaking hands shyly, they ignored the tallest minar in the world, and walked down the road towards a little complex. On its outside, a board read “Mehrauli Archaeological Park”.
She stopped to click photographs of the rose garden that stood just metres ahead of the entrance , and he gazed at a group of boys playing football in a small makeshift space on his left. And then, they walked towards the first of the ‘sights’ – Metcalfe’s ‘Folly’.
"Oh I can see the Folly . It is the one on top of that hillock, right?" she asked.
"Hillock. Nice! Very Enid Blyton-ish"
“I have a degree in Journalism, dimpled boy. Let’s walk up and go inside. It does have a low roof though.”
“Exactly the reason I chose not to grow too tall.”
“Such foresight. Not come to commit a folly, are you? Why would they call this arched building a ‘folly’ though?”
“ Well the British were always known for their follies. Jokes apart, 'folly' is a British architectural thing. In short, it is a new building meant to look like as if it was old. Usually set in a pretty landscape. Charles Metcalfe, after whom this one has been named, loved India. Loved Mughal palaces even more, apparently. There was a king called Akbar..”
“Akbar as in Jodha Akbar?”
“Drat, Bollywood seems to be doing my job better than me. Right, yes the same Akbar. Well, he had a nurse who had two sons – Quli Khan and Adham Khan. Quli Khan’s tomb was built in this area, and bizarrely Metcalfe bought it, maybe because it gave the best view of the Qutub. He then turned it into a rest house for honeymooners and of course charged them money to stay there. Added a little lake and boat house nearby. Should have been a businessman, I think, not a Colonial army man.”
“It looks like a nice place for a honeymoon. But I’d still prefer the sea. There is one knows not what sweet mystery about this sea, whose gently awful stirrings seem to speak of some hidden soul beneath.”
“Herman Melville, right? Moby Dick. I love those lines.”
“I read it as a child.”
“Haha, make that two of us then. See that huge tomb across the Mehrauli road. That is Adam Khan’s tomb. Also known as Bhoolbhulaiya – a maze - People have been known to get lost there.”
“And you being the great guide, and saviour, bring them back?”
“Sarcasm will take you places, senorita.”
“Aah, the first hint of Spanish. Well done, tour guide.”
“Again, courtesy of Bollywood. Shahrukh Khan won't be too pleased though, that you know of Jodha Akbar and not DDLJ”
“It’s so pretty from up here. And what building is that yonder?”
We looked at the Jamali Kamali tomb complex, that long red building with tomb and mosque, of the Sufi saint Jamali and his friend.
And after walking together through that building full of pretty frescoes, we started back for the Qutub. But not before, we had run up the Rajaon ki Baoli, weaved our way through the Lodi Mosques and stared admiringly at Balban’s tomb. Balban, the Turk, kidnapped when he was a child and sold as a slave, was then bought by Iltutmish in Central Asia and brought up with care under the same man’s patronage in Mehrauli. Balban, the favourite slave of the Delhi Sulanate’s first Slave King, and later himself King of the same land.
Ahead of us, two men walked, swaying their hands in each others'.
"I wonder why so many Indian men hold hands", she asked.
"I wonder if we should do something to balance the equation", I said.
“From wanting to leer, to wanting to hold hands, up ‘folly’ and down tombs, I wonder if it has been as educational a journey for you as for me, Indian boy”
--- The End ---
You can also look at Mehrauli Heritage Walks pics here
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