[Reader-list] secret history of delhi

sidharth srinivasan sidharth.srinivasan at gmail.com
Thu Apr 27 10:46:47 IST 2006

Dear Fellows,
                       I seem to finally be getting my bearings in
understanding a "secret" history of Delhi. At times I even feel like a
paparazzi voyeuristically peeping into the past. Somewhere, the
filmmaker in me has to make a distinction between fact and fiction –
the fiction that is to inform my photo roman as well as the fiction
that is intended to be the photo roman itself and the fact of history
that weighs down on the monuments I am exploring. I have tentatively
titled my film "Beeti Bahaar" – hopefully it evokes the past and
suggests a sense of nostalgia…

I recently met someone who gave me a lot of idle gossip regarding the
Delhi of yore and also advised me very politely against making a
tragic love story as it may unduly influence the youth of today –
which got me thinking that maybe I have a Rang de Basanti on hand!!!
The Delhi of yore is a Mughal Delhi, a Muslim Delhi, by all accounts.
Aside from the emperors, it is the poets and the pirs who created this
beautiful city and the historicity of the capital stems from the
folklore and myth surrounding these very people.

Some of the gossip I gleaned from my encounter was rather colorful. I
was informed by the gentleman that anything and everything imaginable
actually happened and, despite never being documented, had been passed
down from generation to generation through idle banter and gossip.

Of course Hindi cinema immortalized Jahan Ara's love for her childhood
friend Mirza Yusuf Changezi in the 1964 film JAHAN ARA by Vinod Kumar
starring Mala Sinha, Bharat Bhushan and the great Prithviraj Kapur as
Shah Jahan. In the film Jahan Ara's mother, Mumtaz Mahal's death
disrupts the romance between the two lovers. Before dying Mumtaz Mahal
makes Jahan Ara promise that she will take care of her father in her
absence. As a result of this the princess is unable to commit herself
to Yusuf and he wanders the earth waiting for Jahan Ara to return to

According to other sources Jahan Ara and her admirer, who was a poet,
only glanced at one another once, and it was love at first sight.
Pigeons flew back and forth from the princess to the poet carrying
messages of love and poems brimming with romantic yearning. Though the
classic film suggested that they consummated their affair, in all
probability they never actually met. Jahan Ara's lover apparently died
of a broken heart.

Rumor also has it that Jahan Ara had an illicit affair with her father
Shah Jahan because she resembled his dead wife (Mumtaz Mahal). This
story would be in keeping with the film, as Jahan Ara was being true
to her word and in effect "looking after" her father.

The Mughals were very wary of marrying off their daughters for obvious
reasons of property and dispute. As a result many princesses remained
spinsters till their dying day. The Persian couplet, Bar mazare ma
gariban ne chirage ne gule/Ne pare parwana sozad ne sadai bulbule is
by Zaib-un-Nissa, Aurangzeb's eldest daughter, who was a poet and
wrote under the pen name Mukhfi.

She earned the wrath of Aurangzeb because of her emotional attachment
to Aqilmand Khan, also a poet, and her suspected involvement in the
revolt by his younger son against him. She was jailed for nearly a
decade and remained unmarried until her death at the age of 63.

Behind the Red Fort is an area called the Suhagpura where many young
women who had been with the emperor only once but were nonetheless
married to him, resided. Needless to say, often their biological and
emotional instincts got the better of them and they embarked on
illicit affairs with commoners and outsiders as a result of which they
were impregnated.
Yunani medicine, it is believed, could re-join a severed arm to the
shoulder, and was used in aborting these discarded wives lest the
emperor discover their indiscretion. The fetuses of the countless
illegitimate heirs to the throne were all clandestinely buried behind
the Suhagpura and the burial ground is still in existence today.

I also learnt of the story of Sarhad Shaheed, a story that you know of
perhaps, but one that really fascinated me. Sarhad was an Armenian
merchant from Sindh who used to come to Delhi to trade. In Delhi he
fell in love with a Baniya boy. However the young boy was married off
and Sarhad was heartbroken. He renounced the world and became a mystic
wandering the streets of the capital. He even removed all signs of
clothing from his body and took to walking around naked, singing sufi

Word got round to Aurangzeb who ordered him to offer prayers clothed
at Jama Masjid. But Sarhad refused to comply. Finally he was taken
captive, forcibly clothed and made to stand in front of the head
maulvi at Jama Masjid. While prayers were being offered Sarhad could
divine that the maulvi's mind was on other matters – namely, the lunch
waiting for him at home and he loudly proclaimed in front of the
congregation – "Mulla ki neeyat mere pair ke neeche!!".

Aurangzeb ordered him to be beheaded in public in front of the jama
masjid. But miraculously, after being beheaded his headless body
started to dance holding its own decapitated head in its hands.
Aurangzeb was disturbed and the public thought that calamity had
struck. The king begged forgiveness and requested sarhad to stop
dancing, which he did. To this date his grave, painted bright red (to
symbolize his blood), lies at the foot of the Jama Masjid and is
called Sarhad Shaheed.

All for now, am following up on a few more leads and studying a bit
more closely the poetry of the time…till the next posting…

Warm Regards,

Reel Illusion Films
New Delhi/Mumbai

More information about the reader-list mailing list