An old, ornate gate standing on the periphery of Doordarshan’s building at the Mandi House circle here is perhaps the only reminder of a royal house that once stood here, lending the area its name. ‘Mandi House’, now synonymous with the country’s public service broadcaster, was originally a palatial house with a beautiful garden, owned by the Raja of Mandi. Mandi is a place which now falls in Himachal Pradesh.
The untold story of this legendary house, which today survives as merely the name of a popular city landmark, has now been presented before the public as part of a permanent exhibition that has come up inside the premises of the new, eponymous metro station.
The exhibition has been organised jointly by the city-based Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) and the Delhi Metro Railway Corporation (DMRC) inside Mandi House metro station, which recently opened to the public as part of an extension of the ‘Violet Line’. The exhibition encompasses two backlit panels of dimensions of about 37ft by 6ft covered with a protective sheet. The panels depict monuments and historical and cultural buildings around the Mandi House station.
ICHR, under the Ministry of HRD, provided two artworks for Mandi House metro station with the vision to make history “more popular and accessible” rather than keeping it confined to books and libraries. “People hardly pause and look back on a city which has been transformed in every aspect, physically, topographically. “We thought that since metro stations are points of intersection of various regions and cultures, we can offer people a visual hook for appreciating the history of the city,” Gopinath Ravindran, Member- secretary, ICHR told PTI.
He said that when ICHR approached DMRC with the idea in late December, “(the latter) sounded quite enthusiastic about it and, without much paperwork, we finished the project within a span of three to four months.” The exhibition brings alive the history of the Mandi House area, chronicling its journey from brick kilns to a culture hub now frequented by artistes, actors, journalists, businessmen and musicians.
The panels showcase digital prints of original maps and vintage photographs sourced from personal and institutional archives, which are supplemented with running texts. Among the exhibit are a rare aerial view of Modern School at Barakhamba, an old photograph of first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru literally throwing open the ‘Sapru House’, actor Naseeruddin Shah seen in a 1973 production of “Danton’s Death” by theatre doyen Ebrahim Alkazi.
Rare images of Dadi Pudumjee, under whom the Sri Ram Centre established the first modern puppet theatre, American architect Joseph Allen Stein, who built some of Delhi’s iconic post-colonial landmarks like IIC and IHC, architect Habib Rahaman and his prized ‘Rabindra Bhawan’, which came up in 1961, are also on display.
“The entire process took three to four months, including deliberations on the kind of exhibition which was to be put up, installation of artwork by ICHR, etc.” the spokesperson said, adding that DMRC is mulling beautification of its other metro stations as well.
As per an old map of New Delhi on display at the exhibition, the current Mandi House circle was about 100 years ago called the ‘J-Circle’ and the area near the village of Jaisinghpura had brick kilns and some villages, gardens and ruins. After the British shifted the imperial capital from Calcutta (now Kolkata) to New Delhi, plots around the J-Circle were allotted to princely states like Nabha, Bahawalpur, Jind, Malerkotla, Mandi (before creation of Himachal Pradesh), according to the exhibition.
The Raja of Mandi built the house some time between the late 1930s and early 1940s and noted historian Narayani Gupta, who contributed to the research for the exhibition, recalls her early days of having lived in the legendary house. “The house was a two-storeyed one and had a small dome over it and a beautiful betel-shaped garden that added to the charm. Everyone who stayed there still recalls the house with great nostalgia. I wish it had still stood like the neighbouring Bahawalpur House (NSD campus),” Gupta told PTI.
The building, which like other royal houses, was taken over by the government after Independence, was used for housing government offices before being dismantled in the 1970s to make way for the headquarters of Doordarshan. “We wanted to be assured of factual correctness as we were putting things in the public domain. And, therefore, a host of historians, artists, architects, photographers and art historians were commissioned to research the material,” he said.
“Many actually volunteered, for little or no monetary reward, to contribute to this project. It is actually a labour of love,” he said. Among the rare nuggets of information is the one about the christening of the Barakhambha area, another city landmark, after an old house whose roof was supported by 12 pillars. It was also used an office of the Executive Engineer in 1914.
ICHR said that Delhi Metro’s decision to come forward as a patron for the idea of promoting history has encouraged them to “carry forward” the work at other stations. “We have requested DMRC to give some space for history at a few other stations also, especially the smaller ones, standing apparently at places ‘without’ history. So, commuters travelling through Mayur Vihar station would hardly imagine that the neighbouring Patparganj area is registered in history books for the ‘Battle of Patparganj’,” Ravindran said.
Speaking at inauguration of the Mandi House station on June 26, Union Urban Development Minister Venkaiah Naidu had commended the efforts of DMRC and ICHR for installing artwork of historical importance. “They have depicted the historical background of these areas at Janpath as well as at Mandi House so that it gives an idea of the background of this region and also of the archaeological importance of this place to the new generation,” the minister had said.