Delhi lives in its multiple stories
Dilli jo ek Shahr tha
Alam mein intakhaab
Rehte the muntakhib Jahan rozgaar ke
Jisko Falak ne loot ke bezaar kar diya
Hum rehnewale hain usi ujre dayar ke
Delhi the premier city of the world, which was devastated by heaven's wrath and made into a desolate garden, I am a resident of that ruined place.The pain of poet Mir Taqi Mir is expressed through these lines, when he was displaced from Delhi to Agra. The evening about stories and anecdotes of Delhi before 1857 narrated by Asif Khan Dehlvi at Oxford Bookstore, started on Mir' s note and offered a feast to Delhi lovers. The stories offered on platter had tales of Shahjahanabad to Jahanabad, Kabootarbazi and cock fights, Dargahs and Mandirs, dancing courtesan and princesses, banke Jawan and invaders, the list is just endless.
We humans have unremitting appetite for stories and there are some stories relished best when told by someone. The ones which aren't to be found in books but their survival rest on being passed on from generations to generations by oral rendition. Ye muh aur masoor ki Daal, the oft repeated phrase of disgust has its bearing actually in Masur ki daal which was considered to be a delicacy. The daal was patronised by the kings or Sultans and was referred to as Sultaani daal so its consumption was confined to the royals and its use out of the royal realm was frowned upon.
Delhi bawarchis or chefs were excellent and scored no less than their Lucknow counterparts. They were paid well and held in high esteem. Delhites were great ghee connoisseurs which is well referred in the couplet,
Ya to khaiye ghee se ya jaiye jee se
Delhites of that period had a notorious distinction of being tale spinners and red chilly eaters. They fed their senses on gossip heavily laden with spices. There were stories with quirky crispy titles like,
Shahi Bakawal ki Bahu aur ghode ki poonch ka Baal which shows the tricky equation between mother in law and daughter in law. Then another was Gular ke Phool ne bana diya Sardar Begum, Jane Azam ki kahani, Til bhar Saltanat aur Qudisia Begum ka Naurata, Panch ungliyon ki kahaniyan.
Dilli ke Banke was equated with Robinhood as were the custodians of the people in need. One of the Bankas dressed as a female fought successfully with the bandits and earned for himself the title of Banka Begum from the king. It was frequently said that, Dilli ke banke jinki jooti mein sau sau taanke.The tawaifs or courtesans flourished well in Delhi and were known for their beauty, grace, sophistication, dance, melody and eloquence. The area they dwelt in was famously called Paristaan . Even the apsaras of heaven would shy away from them in matters of beauty.
Phool waloṅ ki Sair a festival of communal harmony observed in Sawan has its origin in Red fort in an incident of insult of an English Officer Seṭoṅ. Mumtaz Mahal Begum prayed to God that if her son Mirza Jahangir returns to Delhi from arrest, she will offer a floral canopy at shrine of Hazrat Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki and at the Yogmaya Mandir. Her wish got fulfilled and since then this tradition started.
At times the lack of written history turns out to be delightful when anecdotes from bygone era are so well narrated. They bring the scenes of mythological and historical tales from old era come alive, the monuments some in ruin some in repair start speaking.
Kuch yakeen kuch guma ki Dilli
Anaginat imtihaan ki Dilli