The Dogs of Ajitgarh
Mutiny Memorial, the gothic tower built in Delhi to commemorate the 3000-odd
English officers and men who were killed in suppressing the rebellion known as
theFirst War of Independence of 1857, killing hundreds of thousands of the
residents of the city and the rebel soldiers, stands a few metres uphill along
the Ridge Road from the Hindu Rao Hospital (formerly Fraser House).
This is also
the spot where Timur encamped and oversaw the slaughter of more than 100000
Delhiites over three days and nights in 1399. Fraser House which served as the
command centre connected to the slaughter of several hundreds of thousands of
Delhiites in two episodes five centuries apartalso feature in persistent ghost
stories narrated by famed local raconteurs. The Mutiny Memorial was renamed
Ajitgarh or the ‘Site of the Unvanquished’ by the Central Government on the 25th
anniversary of Indian Independence in 1972, and a new plaque was installed,
describing the ‘enemy’ mentioned in the original inscription by the British at
the site, as ‘the freedom fighters and martyrs of India who fought bravely
against the repressive colonial rule in the First War of Independence.’ I,
along with my daughter and my niece, visited Ajitgarh and other nearby
monuments in July 2016. The visit inspired the poem.)
a rebellion is the bounden duty of all power-centres.
the blood of the warriors of
first War of Independence, was built
Mutiny Memorial to celebrate the Company’s dead.
mid-July afternoon. Post-lunch inertia-ridden
trundle up the Ridge Road. The air
humid beneath the thick-summer green;
swim up, breathing through our mouths.
up the base, we hardly make a round on the plinth,
deep growls from the dark recess stop us.
pairs of glowing eyes flash. The first one stalks out
blocking our path, followed by another,
another, a couple more, in a convex arc formation:
to brook history’s twist—Ajitgarh.
I revisited the Juma Masjid area and Ballimaran, which inspired two poems. The
first one is on the Martyr Sarmad who was executed by the Emperor Aurangazeb)
king is naked, cried the innocent child.
is naked, the unsheathed sword.
is naked too. Innocence can see it.
two often clash in battle, sparks flying.
to nudity is the ultimate truth-speaking.
what Sarmad did–the absolute unconformity,
the frames of the established.
Mansūr Al Hallāj declared ‘I am the Truth’ chanting Ana’l Haqq,
did something similar, saying only the La
Ilāha part of the kalimah
out illā-llāh, perhaps implying
no God outside, but within oneself.’
by the unravelling, Aurangzeb had him beheaded
the Eastern Gate of the Juma Masjid
the headless Sarmad danced on the steps
his head in his hands, before giving up the ghost,
the legend goes.
on the very steps, I frame a picture of his Red Dargah below
the Quila-e Mualla, — or, the Exalted Fortress which was eventually reduced to
simple Lal Quila to suit the latter-day reality of total decrepitude–
in the skyline behind.
Ghalib’s Haveli in Ballimaran Road
spite of being in Delhi for the last 22 years, I was visiting Ghalib’s Haveli
on Ballimaran Road, off Chandni Chowk, for the first time.
timeless poet shares his home now
a shop—never mind, faring better than many
Delhi’s beloved bards who upheld
yet have left no earthly trace.
can only gaze around at the relics of his life
a lump rising to one’s throat.
exalted conceits, word-craft, humour;
sense of honour bruised by
nasty turns. Perpetually in debt
never perturbed in his angelic self.
ever roaming in spirit, he’d have little value
a majestic dwelling place like this.
even forgive the garish facelift given
his long-lived-in, one-time quarters.
knows these, and the countless tomes churned out about him,
well-meaning attempts to keep his memory alive. He’d even forgive
my lame verse in his name.