A city that is currently most identifiable as the capital of the free and democratic nation that is India has had a history that is painfully beautiful. She has served as the capital for modern India, since the year 1911, when the British made her their capital seat. She served as a center for political thought and control for the Mughals before and continues to do so for the Republic of India 65 years after Independence from the British Raj. Effectively making Delhi a third generation capital city.
In approximately 3400 years of her meandering existence, where she has grown, shrunk, disappeared and been resurrected time and again, with a new name, a new landscape and new people, Delhi has been dressed by her Rulers for very specific roles, be they political, cultural, sexual or a combination of the three. Modern day historians are happy to broadly classify her many identities, faces, feelings, transformations, manipulations, triumphs and losses into the following 6 avatars. As
Indraprastha, the centre for the Pandavas circa 1450 BCE
Laal Kot by the Tomars and Qila Rai Pithora by Prithvi Raj Chauhan, circa 736-1060
Dar-ul-Khilafat, under Alauddin Khilji, later was came to be calle Siri, a stronghold against the Mongols, circa 1297-1307ACE
A Centre for many Mughal rulers, from 1321 ACE through to 1639 ACE, under changing rulers, the city took on many names: Tughlaqabad, Jahanpanah, Ferozabad, Dinpanah, and Shahjahanabad.
Modern Delhi, (now known as Old Delhi), designed by Sir Edwin Lutyen under the directive
Of the British Empire was identified and the shift was made officially in the year 1911ACE.
It’s inauguration as a completed city in the year 1931ACE.
New Delhi, national capital for the Republic of India, circa 1947ACE
As illustrated briefly by the various forms Delhi has taken, it is evident that Power & Change are synonymous with Delhi. Today Delhi is not only the power and political capital of India, but it has also found alternative identities as the media capital, the publishing capital as well as the culture capital of a fast changing India. With added identities come new ways in which the city choses to display its power. In a city that holds power as the ultimate brokering commodity, it is interesting to watch as professions and government align themselves, but what is even more interesting to observe are the means by which that very same power is exhibited and put on show.
20 years ago, the people of Delhi showcased their power through education, status, and lineage. Though this still holds true, there is a rise of a new power class that is displaying their power through the process of acquiring cultural capital, be it through the purchase of modern art, South Delhi homes, designer labels or being patrons to the performing arts.
The peacocking whilst brilliant, dazzling and awe inspiring, is also excessive and draining. The barrage of imagery that accompanies every metaphorical rain dance can be overwhelming for the outside observer, however, once the vision gets clearer and the distractions get filtered out, one quickly realizes that Delhi is a city of Survivors and Entrepreneurs, Opportunists and Visionaries, all of whom were seduced by the allure of the City. Their successes and failures are marked by their attitude, an attitude of never giving up, of determination and indeed a dash of recklessness, in the words of the taxi driver from William Dalrymple’s “City of Djinns”
“Mr William, he said, in my life six times have I crashed, and on not one occasion have I ever been killed.”
Note under/above images: Images from from Tales of Historic Delhi. Written and illustrated by Premola Ghose, children’s book published by Amber Books in association with Young Zubaan (2011)