Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Rediscovering Shahjahanabad I – From the Kashmiri Gate

Often things turn out to be different from our expectations which we develop through books. I underwent a similar experience; during my walk to Kashmiri Gate and the remains of Shahjahanabad and British colonization. I wondered how history is so densely camouflaged here, and how is it that the ramparts of Shahjahanabad were hard for me to trace. Most of the British buildings are now continued in use; such as the old British Deputy Commissioner’s House (A white mansion with a central dome), which is currently being used as an office for Northern Railways.
As we walk down to the double arched Kashmiri gate which bore its importance as northern gateway to Sahjahan’s Delhi; we find its remaining ramparts which were breached by the British to seize control of Delhi in 1857. Eight thousand British soldiers fought against thirty thousand mutineers at these gates. If we look in closely at the fragments of past still present there; the story does feel alive even in the crammed old city. The history there brings in a fresh perspective; that of the British. Nicholson and Lothian cemeteries host uncountable graves of British soldiers who faced the blow of 1857. As an Indian we were told that the mutiny was subdued by the British tyrants; but today I realize that they died too and they too were soldiers fighting for their empire even if its purpose was ambition. The former cemetery is named after brigadier general John Nicholson; the man who led the assault on Shahjahanabad, and died in the process of annexing Delhi from the mutineers. Demolished British Magazine provide us an insight into how the British avoided their resources being annexed by the Mutineers, when they were taking over Delhi; and the obelisk, the telegraph memorial holds testimony to the officers and engineers who just managed to call for British reinforcements from the north.
My enthusiasm towards the British soldiers grew as I came about Colonel Skinner. Col. James Skinner; was the son of a Scottish Officer, Hercules Skinner in East India Company and a Rajput Princess. He wanted to join the British Army; however due to his Indian lineage his plea was rejected. Hence he went on to fight for the Indian forces at the young age of eighteen as a junior officer; and soon grew to fight for the Maratha Chief of Sindhia. After facing defeat in an Anglo-Maratha war; he went over to the side of East India Company and raised his own cavalry regiment which were also known as the skinner boys, or yellow boys (since they uniformed in yellow). At the young age of 22; he vowed to build a church when he was heavily wounded in one of the battles. We know it today as St. James Church; opposite to the Kashmiri Gate and I managed to attend an early Sunday morning prayer session during my walk. The cemetery in the Church complex hosts graves of those in his family. Col. Skinner’s own grave is present at the altar of the Church. (However, I do recall a funny incident: A religious Baba with a ‘serpent’ tried to mug me right outside a Church.)
My walk insisted me to go on till to the red fort. But rains as usual have a way of changing one’s mind.

1 comment:

  1. the effort put behind the piece is evident.. really loved the article!! keep up the good work! :)