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Maya’s elephant house rises in the rubble of Delhi’s cultural hub

In a city dominated by Mughal architecture,which also celebrates the imposing simplicity of Lutyens’ blueprints,Dalit icon Mayawati is adding her own distinct style — bright and fancy.

In a city dominated by Mughal architecture,which also celebrates the imposing simplicity of Lutyens’ blueprints,Dalit icon Mayawati is adding her own distinct style — bright and fancy.

Inside her pink Xanadu-like place in posh SP Marg,a street occupied by the Delhi’s powerful elite,labourers are busy digging a water pool. Two imposing structures with multiple rooms,and halls with intricate handiwork on the walls,stand next to each other connected with a skywalk. This was once the Shama Ghar — named after the Urdu magazine Shama that its previous owners published — that occupied the corner spot on the famed road.

Outside,in his little paan and bidi shop,Mohammed Sultan recalls the transformation. Running the shop from the same spot for 25 years,he has seen it all — celebrities like Meena Kumari,Nargis and other Bollywood actors who filtered in and out of the famous landmark building that was also once referred to as Delhi’s Taj Mahal,the numerous mushaira sessions and parties in those days,and then the packing and moving,the demolition,and the trumpet of the elephant. Sultan lived in the help’s quarters those days. “It was a beautiful white house. It was painful for the family to sell it. I have never seen any of the members come back again,” he said.

The acquisition is symbolic of the rise of Dalits and the fall of Muslims in India. That’s how Sadia Dehlvi,the writer who was born in the Shama Ghar in 1957,describes it.

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Her father Yusuf Dehlvi owned the house,but had to sell it to the BSP around 2002 after he fell on hard times and the Urdu film magazine,Shama,brought out by Shama Publishing House,was no longer a profitable venture. The glorious tradition of a house that was a culture hub ended in 1987 when there was a rift in the family and its fortunes took a beating. It’s a hard subject for her to revisit. She hasn’t even crossed the street since the house was sold.

“Life has to go on. Nobody in the family wants to talk about it. I will say one thing. The house has been lucky for Mayawati,” said Dehlvi. “You have to respect her as a woman who came from nowhere. It is a symbol of social mobility.” “Dalits have done better. They have moved one notch up,” she said.

There are rumours that the house was sold for Rs 22 crore. While Dehlvi said she could not confirm the figure as she wasn’t part of the negotiations,she added it was sold for “very little.” “Mayawati has struck gold with it,” Dehlvi said.

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Speculation abound that the BSP house,the office-cum-residence of Mayawati,will be ready by the time the results of the general elections are out.

And in true Mayawati style,it is a regal twin building,with tall,iron gates on all sides,and symbolic too with a huge elephant standing between the two structures,and a hall that has a stage with a larger-than-life Buddha statue with a queue of carved elephants that run on all sides,and winding staircases on two sides of the hall that lead to the upper chambers.

More than 40 labourers are plastering,painting and polishing the floors and the walls. Senior party leaders said the house is owned by Bahujan Samaj Prerana Trust,a public charitable trust to look after the poor.

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Previously,they had stated the structure would accommodate the BSP headquarters in Delhi. The inaugural date hasn’t yet been finalised but according to Sultan,Mayawati has been in and out of the building a few times on previous occasions.

Mayawati’s assets exceed Rs 50 crore,according to her nomination papers and include the house on Sardar Patel Marg,a property in Okhla and in Connaught Place,the value of which is pegged at Rs 35 crore.

Work is also on in full swing at 12,Gurdwara Rakabgunj Road,BSP’s central office.

Inside the wrought iron gates at SP Marg,Mayawati rules the minds. No one would talk,including the two policemen who stand guard. “Please go. We don’t want to lose our jobs,” said one of them. Party workers,too,refuse to divulge details.

First published on: 01-05-2009 at 02:54:19 am
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