January 25, 2016

Lodi-era Tombs, Zamrudpur village, Delhi

“For the most wild, yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief. Mad indeed would I be to expect it, in a case where my very senses reject their own evidence. Yet – mad am I not – and very surely do I not dream. But tomorrow I die, and today I would unburden my soul. My immediate purpose is to place before the world plainly, succinctly, and without comment, a series of mere household events. In their consequences these events have terrified – have tortured – have destroyed me. Yet I will not attempt to expound them. To me they have presented little but horror – to many they will seem less terrible than baroques. Hereafter, perhaps, some intellect may be found which will reduce my phantasm to the commonplace – some intellect more calm, more logical, and far less excitable than my own, which will perceive in the circumstances I detail with awe, nothing more than an ordinary succession of very natural causes and effects.”
– Edgar Allan Poe, “The Black Cat”

Tomb II  - The odd man out

On the rare occasion when her memory would not fail her, my octogenarian grandmother, unbelievably obese and ceaselessly censorious, would instantaneously and quite pompously invite the grandchildren to her boisterous court and burst forth into a flurry of meandering half-remembered mythological folklore and historical fiction, primarily concerned with opulently extravagant pre-partition life, but also occasionally transforming into perplexingly convoluted yet seamlessly interconnected bedside stories composed of myriads of mythological deities, mythical creatures and anthropomorphic entities perennially endeavoring to caution simpleminded folk against the intolerable sin of avariciousness, represented most often as an inverted, putrefying and obnoxious human skull which can apparently never be filled with enough gold.

Were she alive today, I could have similarly recounted to her about the shockingly obscene conditions of the small urban village of Zamrudpur immediately adjoining the posh Greater Kailash (GK-1) area where existential, in the form of an all-encompassing malignant mushrooming agglomeration of box-like multistoried, multicolored residential apartments acquisitively festering with not the slightest regard for civic planning, physical hygiene or heritage conservation, is a repugnant exemplification of the vicious malevolent evil she repeatedly warned us kids about. As the unbelievably strong stench threatens to overpower casual passer-bys and the decrepit, gaudily-painted buildings huddle close together to render roads narrow stinking pathways thoroughly drenched with garbage, putrid slime and detergent-laced water runoff, crystal-clear rays of sunshine beat an unsolicited hasty retreat, restricting themselves to infrequently transgress only as an intermittent obscure patch here and another brilliant streak there, until eventually the ground surface and several floors succeeding it above are utterly drenched in an unnatural darkness which further vindictively aggravates the threatening spiral down into unhygienic filthy living conditions.

Hide-and-seek - Tombs I (left) and II

Existential in terribly inhumane conditions within this small warren hole of immeasurably appalling living conditions, exceedingly narrow slithering streets and foul-smelling grimy cul-de-sacs, the whole entirely submerged in a deluge of decaying domestic wastes, fetid animal excreta, irritatingly dense spider-webs and unspeakably filthy water runoff, is a cluster of five solemn mausoleums where repose in eternal slumber the immediate family and the closest associates of Zamrud Khan, an Afghan noble in the court of Sikandar Lodi (reign AD 1489-1517) who was provided the bountiful estate (“jagir”) of Kanchan Sarai (thereafter christened “Zamrudpur”).

Crowned by thick clumps of vegetation sprouting from, and branching around, the very pinnacles of their enormous domes, the two greatest of these mausoleums can be perceived as perfectly plump flashes of textured dirty brown peeping inconspicuously from amongst this impermeable maze of multi-hued high-rise apartment buildings in the immediate vicinity of Bluebells International School while travelling between Kailash Colony and Moolchand stations on the violet line of Delhi metro.

Of these two mausoleums, the larger (Tomb I), so gigantic that it fairly easily outsoars the neighboring massive buildings, has been so appallingly molested and encroached upon that one frightfully shudders to even look at it – divided into individualistic corners, a portion of it, accessed by traversing through infinitesimally narrow, garbage-covered and exceedingly cold and damp streets, has been converted into a substantial cowshed by a septuagenarian deaf-and-mute man who also shares these drenched, damp and cow dung-spattered accommodations with his bovine charges.


The perplexed animals, accustomed to adhering to their monotonous undisturbed lives but presently as shocked upon noticing us as we were on discovering them cheerfully lodged in this wretched imposing monument, confusedly stumbled and trampled about endeavoring to escape through the constricted opening where we stood, until the frail old man shooed and pushed them away and sympathetically switched on a high-wattage incandescent bulb precariously hanging overhead to facilitate our clicking some photographs. Bored eventually after a few minutes, he shooed us away too and the impressive monument despondently reverted to its dimly lit, mistreated existence.

Another portion of the mausoleum, externally entirely cut-off from the first and accessible only after circling through several intermediate ever-constricting streets, has been converted into an atrociously dreadful living quarter by an ingenious neighbor and is perennially leased on rent to garbage-collectors who, besides sleeping here in makeshift hammocks stretched between the walls, also horrifically light fires within the medieval edifice and store huge stacks of non-perishable rubbish like irredeemably broken toys, fragments of punctured tires, unfixable electric fixtures and damp rotting cardboards! Despite the indescribably miserable squalor they inhabit and the freezing cold they were enduring sitting in a small, garbage-littered opening adjoining their grand residence, the impoverished garbage-collectors were heartwarmingly quick to share tales of destitution and penury, concerning their livelihood and living conditions (bitterly describing the freezing wafts of cold January air blowing through the enormous entrances as murderous!), as well as simplemindedly asking why we do not petition the government to save these monuments from such inexcusable humiliation and certain obliteration. If only the government would listen!

A few good men?

They, like the elderly cattle-keeper, respectfully welcomed us into their meager hearths and undeniably earned sanctuary in our hardened hearts, not so however the foul-mouthed middle-aged man who had covetously encroached upon the second-largest mausoleum (Tomb II) by converting it into a proper family residence complete with iron double-gates and whitewashed medieval walls, and arrogantly proceeded to threaten us when we attempted to click photographs, stating, I quote, “This is Lal Dora land. What will the ASI officials do when even the policemen can’t help you here?” “Lal Dora” are those unregulated colonies/urban slums which are exempted from construction guidelines and civic planning protocols as regulated under the Delhi Municipal Act, and quite glaringly, seldom do the municipal authorities have any noticeable presence here. What is most reprehensible however is the knowledge that this particular notably enormous monument, which flamboyantly displays all the telltale structural and ornamental motifs of Lodi-era architecture, including decorative recessed alcoves externally adorning its walls and a dexterously chiseled inverted lotus finial crowing its prominent dome, is not even within the claustrophobic village cluster but barely skims its expansive, relatively uncluttered peripheries! Its resilient walls might have been cleverly whitewashed and the celebrated medieval nature of its cavernous interiors might have been entirely obliterated, but what cannot be wished away is the certainty that, given its conspicuously outstanding architecture and the magnificent harmony of its traditional design relentlessly and starkly contrasting against and contemptibly shaming so-called modern building designs burgeoning around it, it shall never cease to visually stand out as a majestic beacon amidst the abysmal squalor and detestable turmoil of its disgraceful surroundings.

History vs Modernity

Positioned at the acute vertex of an extraordinarily narrow street where it forcibly branches off into two even more congested streets (if these can be referred thus!) which eventually culminate into cul-de-sacs after a couple of steps, Tomb III’s entrances have been temporarily cordoned off with heavy wooden boards and it has been converted into a makeshift warehouse by neighboring residents to store unusable junk and rotten rubbish. Nauseatingly, one of its thick sides has been entirely assimilated as a not inconsiderable fraction of the perimeter of the adjoining unhealthily cramped building; even more horrendously, the quarter off the adjoining corner has been surgically sheared off to accommodate yet another building. As measly relief in the spirit of the legendary beneficence and forbearance of this city, the unevenly-constructed staircase of the densely populated tenement on the third side only barely skirts the mausoleum’s dome and doesn’t really incorporate the edifice within its own structure except for the matter of the small assistance where it raises its entire support configuration over a corner of the latter’s roof! Magnanimously did the inhabitants also spare a small opening between to be used as a community dump yard, and besides the unavoidable unpleasant stench, the mausoleum is now also gleefully richer by an abnormally intriguing diadem composed of colorful, multi-textured plastic wrappers and polythene rubbish.

Eternal damnation! - Tomb III

Furthering these marvelous monuments' incorrigible helplessness, where humanity’s ceaseless avariciousness and heartless barbarity eventually relents, the perpetually incriminatory forces of nature take over – a gnarled Peepal tree (Ficus religiosa), the ultimate bane of monument conservation in the subcontinent, rises from the last remaining corner, imperceptibly gradually yet certainly strangling the monument to indiscernible powder.

“Three or four young pipal-trees have begun to spread their delicate branches and pale green leaves rustling in the breeze from the dome of this fine temple; which these infant Herculeses hold in their deadly grasp and doom to inevitable destruction. Pigeons deposit the seeds of the pipal-tree, on which they chiefly feed, in the crevices of buildings.

No Hindoo dares, and no Christian or Muhammadan will condescend, to lop off the heads of these young trees, and if they did, it would only put off the evil and inevitable day; for such are the vital powers of their roots, when they have once penetrated deeply into a building, that they will send out their branches again, cut them off as often as you may, and carry on their internal attack with undiminished vigour.

No wonder that superstition should have consecrated this tree, delicate and beautiful as it is, to the gods. The palace, the castle, the temple, and the tomb, all those works which man is most proud to raise to spread and to perpetuate his name, crumble to dust beneath her withering grasp. She rises triumphant over them all in her lofty beauty, bearing high in air amidst her light green foliage fragments of the wreck she has made, to show the nothingness of man’s greatest efforts.”
– Major-General Sir William Henry “Thuggee” Sleeman, British East India Co. Administrator
“Rambles and Recollections of an Indian Official” (1844)

Classical architecture - Tomb I interiors

I would be memorably surprised if there are even a dozen people not from Zamrudpur who have ever set eyes on Tomb IV. After spending several minutes traversing the bewildering streets in unordered circles, we could only barely catch a glimpse of some of the irrepressible stone brackets of this small mausoleum startlingly incorporated within the dingy, uninhabitable corner of an irregularly constructed residential building at the very end of a blind alley so unnaturally dark that there was little scope of visually making sense of the congested, garbage-infested, dust and spider web-carpeted surroundings without switching on the camera’s flash! A common toilet exists barely a couple of steps away and stacked against the dingy moldy corner were old rusted motorcycles, political hoardings, wooden furniture and semi-rotten fragments of clothes and other miscellaneous organic wastes. It was only afterwards, when a kindly local lady, feverishly incensed against the neighbors for having nearly obliterated the entire medieval monument, took us up her building that we could make complete sense of the torturous and yet outlandish events that really preposterously transpired here – it appears that an entire multi-storied building, was profanely conceived in a crooked U-shaped manner, had one of its asymmetric extreme branches miraculously arising midair, tenuously supported structurally by the equally unbalanced central branch and the similarly haphazard building on the other side – where the vanished ground floor of this extreme branch of the U-building should have been, there instead exists the aforementioned dingy moldy corner framing a tiny knoll.

Abandon all hope! - Tomb IV hiding in plain sight

To our indescribable horror, masquerading as the tiny hellhole infested with terrifying mold, spiderwebs and the accumulated dust and rotten wastes of several years past, the shabbily crumbling, rubbish-infested knoll was Tomb IV, whitewashed and cunningly camouflaged by a tiny apartment built greedily embracing it! From the adjoining buildings’ roofs, we were looking down at it as if it was within a haphazardly constructed well! One can observe its sheared-off extremities and the moderately-proportioned, perfectly-rounded dome, slowly yet persistently being submerged under a dreadful deluge of plastic wastes, polythene wrappers and other garbage. How long before the entire monument disappears under this wretchedness?

“Fearful, indeed, the suspicion – but more fearful the doom! It may be asserted, without hesitation, that no event is so terribly well adapted to inspire the supremeness of bodily and of mental distress as is burial before death. The unendurable oppression of the lungs – the stifling fumes of the damp earth – the clinging of the death garments – the rigid embrace of the narrow house – the blackness of the absolute night – the silence like a sea that overwhelms – the unseen but palpable presence of the Conqueror Worm – these things, with the thoughts of the air and grass above, with memory of dear friends who would fly to save us if but informed of our fate, and with consciousness that of this fate they can never be informed – that our hopeless portion is that of the really dead – these considerations, I say, carry into the heart which still palpitates, a degree of appalling and intolerable horror from which the most daring imagination must recoil. We know of nothing so agonizing upon earth, we can dream of nothing half so hideous in the realms of the nethermost Hell. And thus all narratives upon this topic have an interest profound; an interest, nevertheless, which, through the sacred awe of the topic itself, very properly and very peculiarly depends upon our conviction of the truth of the matter narrated.”
– Edgar Allan Poe, “The Premature Burial”

Tomb V - The monument stands, modernity around crumbles!

Thoughtlessly degraded and bitterly injured, if these mausoleums too could have spoken, would not they too have hopelessly lamented this unjustified and intolerable burial under garbage? Were these gorgeous epitomes of architectural heritage in some other, more discerning country, they would have been painstakingly and honorably conserved and restored to their original outstanding grandeur, and cherished as magnificent embodiments of the glorious achievements of their unparalleled art, architecture and culture. Here, they have been devastatingly condemned, intermittently shattered and wait to be demolished entirely!

Judging from the outstanding remnants of its artistic ornamentation and physical immensity, especially the exquisitely incised plasterwork medallions inscribed on the underside of its large dome, Tomb V is unarguably spatially the largest and artistically the most celebrated of all the pavilion mausoleums (that is, possessing a massive umbrella dome symmetrically surmounted on several relatively slender pillars, in this case twelve, four to each side) in the city. Or it would have been were it not so heartrendingly converted into an immense clothesline stiflingly located at the end of a claustrophobic road in an extraordinarily dark-damp opening tightly bordered on all sides by several irregularly-conceived high-rises!

Tomb V - The multipurpose clothesline/playground/makeshift temple/garbage dump/hangout zone!

Howsoever irredeemable be their crimes towards these mute edifices, given the bone-chilling cold and the unusually fierce draughts storming this small opening in this otherwise thoroughly densely congested colony, somehow one cannot help pitying the impoverished locals who are condemned to miserable life in such a gloomy and drenched hole, that too in the national capital of one of the self-proclaimed "socialist" global superpowers. It does become near impossible to efficiently argue for the dedication of greater financial resources for heritage conservation and monument restoration in the face of such staggering destitution and criminal inhumanity towards fellow individuals. Wonder when do we get our act together – it's another 26th January tomorrow.

Meager remnants - Dome medallion, Tomb V

Location: Zamrudpur village, immediately behind Bluebells International School, a short walk from Kailash Colony metro station. I could not determine the coordinates of tomb V, however the other monuments should, I believe, approximately correspond to these coordinates – Tomb I - 28°33'26.6"N 77°14'11.8"E, Tomb II - 28°33'28.0"N 77°14'12.9"E, Tomb III - 28°33'26.4"N 77°14'15.5"E (tentative) and Tomb IV - 28°33'25.6"N 77°14'13.7"E.
Nearest Metro station: Kailash Colony
Remarks - Since most of these monuments have been entirely encroached upon and converted into private residences, entry and photography might be restricted by the locals and/or the person(s) living within. It is advisable to be careful and cordial while photographing/documenting. None of these monuments are under the aegis of Archaeological Survey of India and no charges of any kind are applicable.
Relevant links -
Other monuments/landmarks in the immediate vicinity -
Other Lodi-era funerary monuments in the city -
  1. Pixelated Memories - Bada Gumbad (Lodi Gardens)
  2. Pixelated Memories - Bagh-i-Alam ka Gumbad (Green Park)
  3. Pixelated Memories - Gol Gumbad (Lodi road)
  4. Pixelated Memories - Imam Zamin's Tomb (Qutb complex)
  5. Pixelated Memories - Lodi-era Tomb (Lado Serai)
  6. Pixelated Memories - Lodi-era Tomb (Mehrauli Archaeological Park)
  7. Pixelated Memories - Lodi-era Tomb (Mehrauli Archaeological Park)
  8. Pixelated Memories - Sheesh Gumbad (Lodi Gardens)
  9. Pixelated Memories - Tombs in Hauz Khas (Choti Gumti, Sakri Gumti, Dadi's Tomb and Barakhamba)
  10. Pixelated Memories - Tombs in South Ex. (Bade Khan ka Gumbad, Chote Khan ka Gumbad, Bhure Khan ka Gumbad and Kale Khan ka Gumbad)
Suggested reading -

1 comment:

  1. Great article. Amazing insights. Although i believe it would have been better if you could have provided a foot map for the place rather than coordinates.