In Delhi-6

The stairs leading to Sharif Manzil Haveli in Ballimaran are carved beautifully,a reminder of what the mansion built in 1740 once was.

Written by Meher Fatma | Published: February 1, 2009 3:13:45 am

Two havelis,one a textile market and the other an optical hub now,show why old Delhi never ceases to charm

The stairs leading to Sharif Manzil Haveli in Ballimaran are carved beautifully,a reminder of what the mansion built in 1740 once was. Up in the room,a tiny area cordoned off with wooden panels,Razia Mumtaz,woken up from her afternoon siesta,goes on to narrate the story of the house.

“When my father-in-law Hakim Jamil Khan hosted dinners here for prominent men,we rolled out red carpets on these stairs that went all the way to the entrance of Chandni Chowk. His father Hakim Ajmal Khan was a close friend of Mahatma Gandhi. It was in this room that Maulana Azad met Gandhiji for the first time,” says the 75-year old.

While the soon-to-be-released Delhi-6 is recreating the ambience of purani dilli,Razia Mumtaz says old Delhi’s charm could soon well be a slice of history—or films. “We get a rent of Rs 30-40 from the shops below which is hardly enough. No organisation has shown interest in preserving this place but life goes on,” she says.

The walled city is still home to many crumbling havelis: the curiously called Namak Haram ki Haveli,Begum Samru ki Kothi and Haider Quli ki Haveli. Some have been converted into dharamshalas while others have turned into wholesale markets. While most of the older occupants have moved out of the walled city,some like Mumtaz have stuck on.

From a window close to Mumtaz’s bed,you can look down into the bustling lane that houses nearly 70 shops. People elbow their way through the lane and the market,an optical hub now.

Mumtaz’s family traces its roots to famous Unani doctor Hakim Sharif Khan,who came to India during the reign of Babar,and remained here,serving maharajas and nawabs with his magical potions. “The haveli has witnessed many landmark events,like the Revolt of 1857,when it was home to freedom fighters,” says Mumtaz,pointing out to a small patch of shops. “Where all these shops stand now,was once our central hall which was where the Congress was established,” she says.

A beautiful niyamat-khana tucked in one side of the room showcases a ceramic crockery set,one of the prized possessions of the family. “Where else but here can you come across a house which has witnessed such historical events,” she adds. “I spent my childhood here and even now when I see tourists and curious first-timers in these lanes,I can see that this city has a magical effect on most,” she adds.

A few kilometres ahead in Chandni Chowk stands the famous Rai Lala Chunnamal ki Haveli built in 1864. A teenager guides us up steep stairs into a majestic living room. The haveli’s current occupant Anil Pershad is used to curious tourists and smiles patiently. From the terrace you can catch a panoramic view of Chandni Chowk. Inside,the tastefully furnished room with old Belgium mirrors and chandeliers with sockets for candles,carefully preserve the past. Since the haveli falls on the route of most heritage walks,a corner is devoted to photographs of visiting celebrities,including actor Kate Winslet.

“Every block of this city has a story to tell. It is a shame that the city is getting shabbier every day and there is no authority to keep a check on this,” says Pershad. Spread across half an acre,the ground floor of the haveli is dotted with cloth shops. “We try and maintain a part of this haveli in its old charm. It reminds us of the glorious days it had once witnessed,” he says.

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