Abdul Latif loves to “imagine”. “Look closely and imagine a mural of a pehalwan,” the 62-year-old says, pointing to a brick wall. The mural is faded beyond recognition and the smell of cow dung is ripe in the air. Twenty minutes earlier, in a chamber up a dark flight of stairs, Latif had imagined drums. “I had seen many dhols here with my own eyes. Over there, imagine a dome-like structure,” he says, pointing outwards through a Mughal-era window.
The Indian Express visited Jaunti, a village bordering Haryana but very much a part of the capital. The village, where the green revolution began, is home to a 17th century shikargarh (hunting lodge). Built during Shahjahan’s time, the shikargarh has been stripped off much of its splendor with pieces of the Mughal-era architecture — ornate doorways, wooden beams and decorative pillars — finding a place in different homes in the village.
The ‘Qila’, as the residents call it, is now home to nearly a hundred families. The main structure stands dilapidated — patches of fresh cow dung litter the ground, a sole pillar stands in a corner and the ceiling is exposed to the elements. Around the structure, rooms have been modified into homes while buffaloes, tethered to wooden sticks, chew cud. Villagers say the qila originally stretched up to 30 bighas.
Area MP Udit Raj is keen on turning it into a “rural tourism hub”. He had first floated the idea nearly two years ago and is waiting for government approvals to come through. Latif says, “People from the Archaeological Survey of India came by many times to look around, take pictures and videos, and measurements.”
Raj’s colleague, Rekha Vohra, the director of the project, says it would be the capital’s first PPP-run ‘rural tourism’ hub. “It would give urban kids an opportunity to see things they otherwise wouldn’t. Even though it’s an urban village, it’s still rural,” she says.
Latif, meanwhile, enters a small ante-chamber filled with remnants of a discarded life — an old sewing machine, a broken cot, paint tins, rusted pots, and a large plastic vat. At the far end, the windows are boarded up with modern bricks — a sign of “encroachment”, says Latif.
Latif’s neighbour, Ranbir Singh, says the entire village — back when it was barely 60 families strong — lived inside the qila. “As the population grew, the village grew. Now, people who shouldn’t be encroaching on this qila are doing so,” he says.
“Sixty-nine families, who won a court case, continue living inside or near the qila. There are no land records, but it is gram sabha land and they are entitled to live there,” says Vohra. “It is a mirror to our society on what we have done to our public structures.” Yet, Raj and Vohra say the project can be successful only with the help of villagers. Latif agrees, and would apply for a job as a guide if the option ever came up at a later stage.
For now, he walks into another poorly-lit chamber and stops in front of a ditch. “This is a tunnel that some say goes all the way to Red Fort. They also say the walls of the fort were packed with gold,” he says. His teenaged grandchild grabs a brick and attempts to break a part of the wall. Latif laughs and yells: “Milgaya sone ka sikka?”