Em­body­ing the city’s his­tory, a li­brary and a church pulled out of ru­ins

The Indian Express - - THE CITY - SOMYA LAKHANI


IN THE midst of a vi­brant univer­sity in the heart of Delhi ex­ists a time warp. A for­got­ten build­ing, the cor­ri­dors of the Dara Shikoh li­brary — part of the Ambed­kar Univer­sity (AUD) cam­pus in Kash­mere Gate — house two ar­chi­tec­tural in­flu­ences, as the arches from the Mughal era con­front the pil­lars that de­fine the colo­nial pe­riod.

The crum­bling struc­ture with plas­ter peel­ing off the walls and an in­jured roof, is now un­der­go­ing some cos­metic changes.

“The plan is to re-plas­ter the walls with lime af­ter re­mov­ing the mod­ern paint, and fix the ter­race. It will be made water­proof,” said Ajay Ku­mar, Direc­tor Projects, In­dian Na­tional Trust for Art and Cul­tural Her­itage (INTACH).

Although work has al­ready be­gun, and is ex­pected to be over in a few months, of­fi­cials at INTACH aren’t en­tirely pleased.

“We had ear­lier pro­posed a mu­seum at the li­brary to the state arche­ol­ogy depart­ment, but noth­ing came of it. I still hope it will take shape as that would make most use of this his­toric build­ing,” said Dr Swapna Lid­dle, con­vener, INTACH.

The li­brary was built in 1637 for, and named af­ter, the el­dest son of em­peror Shah­ja­han — Dara Shikoh. It, how­ever, stopped serv­ing that pur­pose in the 19th cen­tury, when the first “western style Delhi col­lege was housed here in 1844,” in­formed Lid­dle. A hub of mod­ern sci­ence and math­e­mat­ics,it­was­de­stroyed­dur­ingth­ere­voltof1857.“it­wasseenasasym­bol of Bri­tish rule, and that’s why it­was­de­stroyed,and­n­ev­er­recov­ered,” said Ku­mar.

For years now, it has been the of­fice of the state arche­ol­ogy depart­ment, and also a mu­seum of sorts. “Most of the ar­ti­facts con­fis­cated by the Cus­toms Depart­ment are kept here. They be­long to dif­fer­ent eras, and have noth­ing to do with Dara Shikoh or Delhi,” said an of­fi­cial over­look­ing civic work at the li­brary.

There is am­bi­gu­ity on whether AUD’S Neigh­bour­hood Mu­seum Project, run by the Cen­tre for Com­mu­nity Knowl­edge (CCK), will find it­self in the li­brary or not, once con­ser­va­tion work is over.

“For the last few years, we’ve been col­lect­ing stories, mem­o­ries and his­tory of Delhi — from Mehru­ali and Aya Na­gar to Niza­mud­din and ru­ral Delhi. I can’t com­ment on whether it will be on dis­play at the Dara Shikoh li­brary or not,” said Su­ra­jit Sarkar, as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor and co­or­di­na­tor, CCK, AUD.

Out­side the gates of AUD stands Delhi’s old­est church, St James, and this too is un­der­go­ing restora­tion work. Built in 1836, the church is listed as Grade-i un­der the North Delhi Mu­nic­i­pal Cor­po­ra­tion. “In the late ‘90searly 2000s, there was some work done here — the dome had a bad leak. Now, the foun­da­tion is dam­aged and needs to be re­paired,” said Lid­dle.

INTACH feels there is more work that needs to be done at the church — from restora­tion of pre­cious art work to the Mughal­style brick ma­sonry. This means a higher bud­get. The sec­ond phase of work in­volves the rest, and that maybe done with the help of crowd­fund­ing.

In­side the church, a stack of brochures on the con­ser­va­tion project asks peo­ple to come for­ward­with­do­na­tions.itreads,“we ap­peal to in­di­vid­u­als...ngos...to con­trib­ute gen­er­ously to­wards this project and help us save this his­tor­i­cal mon­u­ment of Delhi.”

Amit Mehra

Delhi’s old­est church, St. James, is also un­der­go­ing ren­o­va­tion work at Kash­mere Gate. Built in 1836, the church is listed as Grade-i un­der the North MCD.

Amit Mehra

The Dara Shikoh li­brary at Kash­mere Gate.

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