"When I reached the city’s gates, I carefully reconnoitered its towers and walls, and then returned to the side of the Hauz Khas. This is a reservoir, which was constructed by Sultan Feroz Shah, and is faced all round with stone and stucco. Each side of the reservoir is more than a bows–shot long, and there are buildings placed around it. This tank is filled by rains in the rainy season, and it supports the people of the city with water throughout the year. The tomb of Sultan Firoz Shah stands on its bank.” (Timur-i-Lang)
(He had earlier drunk the blood of over one lakh innocent people of Delhi).
Ruins of the past are indeed the bedrock of its identity, but today Hauz Khas is much more than a village having a pond and a madrassa. Over the last three decades Hauz Khas has seen unprecedented change, and now it’s one of the most sought after residential areas in Delhi, inhabited by the classes. The entrance to the Village is quite chaotic, before one reaches the old compound. This consists of the tomb of Feroz Shah Tuglaq, a madrassa, and a huge pond, followed by large gardens – including the Deer Park. There is a buzz around; Hauz Khas is today a centre for fashion, arts and history. “This is one of those places in Delhi that offers something for both the quiet ones and the Bohemians. Here one can see people from different nationalities ‘brainstorming’, while sitting in terrace cafés facing the old and beautiful Hauz Khas, ‘love birds’ sitting in the ruins, and others exercising their sartorial brilliance at many of the fashions outlets here,” said Latika Sharma, an owner of a cloth shop.
The Hauz Khas pond was excavated during Alauddin Khilji’s reign (1296–1316), in the second city of Delhi, to meet the water supply needs of the newly built fort at Siri. It was originally known as Hauz-i-Alai, after Khilji. Feroz Shah Tughlaq (1351–88) chose its banks to make some incredible structures, including a tomb for himself. The madrassa, built by Tughlaq Sultan, was one of the biggest centres of Islamic teachings in the world. It is said that the first Director of this madrassa, Jalal al-Din Rumi, knew fourteen sciences, and could recite the Quran according to the seven known methods of recitation, and had complete mastery over the five standard collections of the Traditions of the Prophet. A very well researched essay titled “A Medieval Center of Learning in India: The Hauz Khas Madrasa in Delhi”, authored by Anthony Welch of the University of Victoria, British Columbia, refers to this site as “far and away the finest spot in Delhi, not only in the ingenuity of its construction and the academic purpose to which it was put, but also in the real magic of the place”. Said Satish Mehta, a small restaurant owner, “Be it the old times or today’s modern world, Hauz Khas bears the same meaning. I haven’t seen any other place in Delhi where people from different faiths and races assemble together in such large numbers. Even the foreigners here feel very comfortable. The cafes, restaurants, book shops and art shops are the main source of attraction, apart from these historical monuments.”
The Global Village
“To me, Hauz Khas is the Paris or Venice of Delhi. This place is full of art and artists, and people love to come here to see the eclectic mix of the old and new, modern and traditional, eastern and western culinary and sartorial traditions. If anyone wants to see the true merger of various cultures of the world, come to the Hauz Khas Village. Tourists and locals mingle comfortably in the cafés. Writers, painters, professionals, students, fashion tycoons, and even celebrities from Bollywood often come. Hauz Khas Village means ‘comfort in chaos’,” stated Vikrant Singh, who owns a garment shop. As Mitushi Khurana, cultural co-ordinator at Alliance Francaise de Delhi, explained, “We have been doing events with a café, Out Of The Box, for the past three months, as part of the ‘Funkophonie’ series. Now, Fete de la Musique, coming up, will be a big event.” The Café boasts a terrace that overlooks the ‘lake’, and has in the past hosted performances by Kailash Kher, and bands like Soulmate, Them Clones and Half Step Down. Apart from cafés and fashion outlets, the Village has several book-stores-cum-cafés, serving exotic coffees. “This place is peaceful. One can also see artists and writers ‘at work’,” said Ankita, a working professional sitting at Kunzum Cafe, which also functions as a book store.
Where strangers become friends
Shweta, Anurag and Arnav didn’t know each other before they met here in Kunzum Café. “We met here in this Café. Our discussions on various issues, and this coffee, brought us together; and now we three are fairly regular here,” said Shweta, who is a law student. Both Arnav and Anurag too believe that Hauz Khas Village, and this Café in particular, has something special to offer. “The biggest USP of this place is peace. Although the area is densely crowded, one can still have solitude. You can find many stories such as ours. This is a place to interact, as well as to enjoy the solitude while sitting in a crowd,” explained Anurag, who is a Mass Communications student. Arnav, an IIT Hyderabad student, chose solitude – lost in a world inside his ear-phones.
A heaven for food lovers
A Nepali restaurant; exciting pan-Asian cuisine; an English tearoom sitting cheek-by-jowl with a South Indian eatery; an eat-and-pay-what-you-like photographer’s café; a string of new, eating-out concepts – all edgy, some rather experimental (and nothing like the fine-dine places of Khan Market and Vasant Vihar) feed into Delhi’s latest fad: eating out. So when 24-year-old Anisha Maker decided to set up her first-ever restaurant, Lah, she chose the Village. “This is a place where you could do something new and different, and it doesn’t have to be sophisticated or high-priced in the predictable Delhi way. We can be quirky, because the crowd that comes here is different,” she explained. One of the newly launched, interestingly-themed restaurants, Lah offers a diverse pan-Asian menu, at surprisingly affordable rates. Take a walk around the Village and you will stumble upon small, quaint places serving culinary delights. Arnav Banerjee of Kunzum Café, sees a pattern that is absent in other urban villages. “Places like Shahpur Jat and Mehrauli haven’t developed like this because they are too spread out and fragmented. Hauz Khas Village is compact. It lends itself better as a market. “This is the place for the true classes, and not the materialistic ones,” summarised Arnav.
An example of avant-garde vision
The Hauz Khas pond and monuments, built in the 14th century, have much to teach us even now – and especially in water deficient Delhi. The purpose of Hauz Khas was to provide the City with water in times of distress. The architects designed the pond such that all the water in the rainy season flowed into this pond; and to make this possible, the terrain was dug all over the ridge area. Even now this terrain is functional.
Apathy and encroachment
India has a rich heritage, since we are one of the oldest civilisations on earth. But we don’t believe in preserving our past, or learning from it. In the last three decades rapid urbanisation has taken place in Hauz Khas, and now there are concrete buildings all around the old village. The old stone walls of the village can barely keep the encroachers out. In some places there is no difference between the contours of the Hauz Khas compound and the newly-built houses that have been turned into café-cum-hotels. “I don’t know how the government allowed these houses so near the old compound. Somehow I feel that the government should have preserved the old area,” said a small tea stall owner – an old timer.