Historian & Preservationist
- You are here:
- Historian & Preservationist
I have a keen interest in exploring and learning about culture, traditions and heritage. Chandni Chowk, my former parliamentary constituency, is a perfect example of the multicultural and multi-religious India. On a street stretching barely a mile stands a Mosque, a Gurudwara, a Temple and a Church. On several occasions, I have fervently expressed the need to declare Chandni Chowk as a heritage city by the government and UNESCO. I reasoned by showcasing the rich culture of the walled city in my two books both published on Chandni Chowk: “The Emperor City” and “”.
Further, it’s both satisfying and humble to be a recipient of the Global Excellence Award and the prestigious Sur-Sadhna Award for my contribution in the field of Culture, Heritage and Development.
Revival of Chandni Chowk
In 2001, a major step was taken to revive the old glory of walled by promoting the culture and heritage of Chandni Chowk through a 2-day festival called ‘Chaudhawi ka Chand’. For the festival, the 3.5 kilometre stretch, from the Red Fort to Fatehpuri Masjid, in Shahjahanabad, are decorated. This involved renovation, decoration and illumination of 282 houses, 599 shops and all buildings of cultural importance heritage and religious buildings. The illumination of Red Fort and the addition of greenery to Chandni Chowk enhanced its beauty. The entire neighborhood from the Jain Mandir to Fatehpuri Mosque came alive. The entire locality was vibrant and even the lamp posts were refurbished. Several kiosks were setup to sell traditional crafts of Chandni Chowk and provide delicious bites from the exotic cuisine of old Delhi.
After the restoration, the traffic was limited to only 200 rickshaws and 8 open buses. All the other vehicles were allowed to park at Red Fort to avoid cramping the Chandni Chowk area. Besides, preservation of the heritage of the walled city, festival also helped in propagating peace and harmony in the multi-religious area like Chandni Chowk. Realizing the impact such festivals have on the general morale of the people, I took regular inspections during the preparation days to ensure the highest standard were maintained. The veteran theatre artist Amir Raza Hussain and Mrs. Raza Hussain were specially roped in to design the concept and assist in organizing this event. To promote the festival, I led a procession called the “Heritage Walk” across the walled city along with ornately painted and colored elephants followed by flower decked tongas.
A meeting involving muslim organizations, activists and other stakeholders was convened to discuss the growth and development of old Delhi areas. It was at this meeting that I suggested constituting ‘Walled-City Development Board’ for conservation and holistic development of culturally important buildings like heritage homes, Havelis and memorials. It was constituted of the representatives from all government agencies concerned & was tasked with reviving Chandni Chowk to its former glory. Accordingly, all agencies pertaining to power, water, law and order/police and transport department agreed to work under the newly constituted board to ensure timely resolution of any issues.
This step got immense appreciation from several religious groups, social activists and local citizens, who came forward to show support and help achieve the goals.
Walled City Museum
A museum depicting the glorious 350-year old history of Delhi’s walled city was set up in a 100-year old heritage building at Lahori Gate. It was the first-of-its-kind museum that was established utilizing Rs. 75 lakh from my MPLAD fund. The museum brought together the lifestyle, heritage, architecture and blended culture of Chandni Chowk under one roof. It had a rare collection of old artifacts, photographs of Havelis in the 16th century and artifacts of shahjahanabad like Jharokhs and Jaalis. Details about this collection and more are extensively featured in my book ‘The Emperor’s City’, a prologue of which was written by Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The museum had been a tourism spot for domestic and foreign visitors to Delhi.
Kites are a special sort of aircrafts that have held the world’s fascination for a long time. Kite-flying has been a symbol of communal harmony in India since ages; it was at its peak during the Mughal era. It’s been told that the emperors along with their begums and shezadis would fly kites for entertainment. However the art of kite flying is dying in India due to lack of encouragement. I wanted to ensure that our future generations continue to enjoy this wonderful sport. So in order to maintain the enthusiasm I organized the “All India Kite-Flying Tournament” in 2002 at Red Fort after a gap of 30 years. The event oversaw the participation from 120 teams from all over the country, competing for 21 days. The festival was graced by veteran kite flier, Nasseruddin sahib, who brought with him several kites that were made 150-200 years ago. Since then I’ve been organizing an exhibition with kite-flying tournaments every year.
Kite-flying has always helped in strengthening the bonds of communal harmony. To ensure more people take up our traditional sport of kite-flying as a cherished activity, I also set up a museum in 2003 to highlight the history of kites. It included kites from across the world, detailing wonderful tidbits of information about the fascinating world of kites and kite-flying. This endeavor helped me realize the role of the kite manufacturing market, Lal Kuaan, could play to help keep this tradition alive. I could still recall the event when I was given a rousing welcome by kite-sellers when I took a round of the Lal Kuan Area. I had asked the Union Minister of Commerce to include kite manufacturing in the small industries umbrella.
Additionally, there were several initiatives that I took to turn Chandni Chowk into the beautiful place, like funding renovation of Haj Manjil, restoring Urdu Poet Ghalib’s haveli, promoting Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb, encouraging traditional “Purani Dilli’s” food and art-forms, building Marghat Wale Hanuman Mandir and restoring heritage buildings like the Huxar Haveli (place where the baraat of Pt. Nehru stayed) and Chunnamal haveli.
I also organized several seminars on ‘Save the Walled City’ at Indian International Center in order build a movement to preserve the cultural and architectural heritage of the walled city. To bring mutually-beneficially alliance to aid the implementation, I pulled-in people from agencies involved in framing policies that provided services to the area. My suggestions were often around the decongestion of the area by moving the wholesale markets and godowns. Looking back, it is extremely satisfying to find that the people were delighted with the initiatives I had undertaken to highlight the composite culture of this place.
I was pleased to see your reply. You are the first politician who care what his supporter wants and reply in a very humble manner. It's very praise worthy. My all best wishes for upcoming election. It's a changing moment of history.
Sir, it's a request to you kindly raise the issue of unalloted plots to DDA Rohini 1981 scheme. We are waiting for it for 33 years as well as 25000 families are waiting too but DDA has given just paper assurance. Kindly look into the matter sir.