The Hold of Hauz Khas | Delhi

Modern cities are points of intersection between the past and the present however when the city is an antique one like Delhi, the past, steeped in histories & stories, runs through our senses, overwhelms, sticks and is celebrated while the present, often viewed from the shadows, is seen as something that disturbs, under-awes and disrupts that narrative. And then there is Hauz Khas Village!

I walked into the “village” unknowingly many moons ago -it was one of the go-to places mentioned in Delhi “best”, “top 10” and the rest and I was curious to know why. The first thing that struck me was that the rainbow to the pot of gold was a very crowded one! You had to negotiate with many cars, some strewn monuments along the way, a temple and people to reach the no-car zone of the small little pocket, tucked right at the end. Once you crossed the barrier, very literally so, it opened out in gentrified glory with the café’s, edgy restaurants and bars, a couple of art galleries, graffiti walls and kitschy boutiques grappling for visibility in the front and back lanes of Hauz Khas. These back lanes immediately transported me to the by-lanes of Old Delhi with little sunlight, a lot of scope for a chinwag between the buildings and the criss-cross of electric cables. However, the shops were more on-trend, arty and up-market. And then it occurred to me that the space belonged to a different sociology. One created by Bina Ramani in the late 80s when she discovered it and drove the elite into Hauz Khas Village. One that was erased, to give way to artists, musicians and intellectuals looking for alternate space plugging the artistic ethos in. One that has been rebuilt on as it tosses cosmopolitanism and consumerism in equal measure, one changing the palate and the other fanning the appetite.

And just when I was making such observations, history tapped me on the shoulder and led me to the Hauz Khas Complex with its royal water tank built under Alauddin Khilji from which the place gets its name, the madrasa built by Firoz Shah Tughlaq, his tomb and the mosque with a unique qibla wall. Interestingly, the central mihrab of this wall is a jharokha with a flight of steps going down to the tank and the other two are windows with jaalis. All this laid out in a garden hemming the water that also boasts of a walking/ running track that further leads you into the Deer Park dotted with tombs like the Munda or Headless Gumbad, Tohfe Wala Gumbad and Kali Gumti belonging to the Tughluq Period and the Bagh e Alam ka Gumbad and Wall mosque from the Lodi period. To my eyes, it almost felt as if monuments from different dynasties with different architectural sensibilities took a walk in the park one evening and decided to stay.

The history lovers might not like the bypass of monuments, the youngsters might not engage with the historical backdrop except for cool Instagram worthy images or dating, the cool urbane might have moved out to other places, the rents might be disproportionate, the traffic terrible but there is point where you can stand and meet two simultaneous expressions. There is a conversation between the past and present. That truly is the hold of Hauz Khas.

Words by Shriti K Tyagi  | photos by Vaydehi Khandelwal