Last Sunday morning as families gathered for a picnic and a local bhajan mandali sang praises to the gods, the rain-washed Roshanara Gardens came alive with a theatre walk. The garden near Pul Bangash metro station, has a baradari (a building with 12 arches), which serves as a tomb, its defaced red sandstone walls carry hints of lapis lazuli.
A group of about 20 had gathered at the tomb of Roshanara Begum, the daughter of Mughal ruler Shah Jahan, to hear the story of a father who favoured his eldest son, Dara Shikoh, and a younger son, Aurangzeb, whose ambition led to the bloody end to his family.
The narrator, Yuveka Singh, co-founder of Delhi-based Darwesh, organised this walk as an extension of an earlier walk — Her Story — through Chandni Chowk that told the stories of important women characters in history as well as the contribution of nautch girls in Delhi’s culture. “We chose Roshanara Gardens because Roshanara is an interesting character and the theatre walk was most suited here as there are not many structures, and people can spend a little more time than usual,” says Singh.
In five scenes, with only a two-minute break in between scenes, Madhavi Menon, as the elder sister Jahanara, and Nikita Arora, as the younger sister Roshanara, took the audience through the intrigues of a 17th century Mughal court. The story was of Jahanara favouring Dara Shikoh over Aurangzeb, who had the support of Roshanara.
The entire baradari served as the stage, as the group moved from one corner to the other. In one scene, the actor playing Jahanara appeared at the window of one of the upper chambers. The last scene enacted inside the tomb chamber was particularly poignant when an ambitious Roshanara met her end at the hands of a brother she loved.
It was the setting of a ruined tomb that made a difference to the narrative. Both Menon and Arora gave their characters a contemporary interpretation without tampering with history. However, their costume could have been better. Singh’s narration was interspersed with little-known facts such as how the de facto ruler Roshanara imposed high taxes and was ruthless towards anyone who opposed her. A little more information on the baradari and the empty tomb chamber would have been interesting.
When the hour-long walk ended, children who were out playing cricket, the gardener, and few women on their mid-morning walk had also joined in to discover history beyond the din of everyday life.