Delhi encompasses a number of worlds. There is the Delhi that you see around you today — a ‘world city’ with wide, well-maintained roads, numerous flyovers, landscaped roundabouts and parks; a cosmopolitan city home to 21.5 million people, most of them settlers for only a few generations. And then there’s a Delhi that rises up as you drive along Pragati Maidan — the crumbling sandstone ramparts of Purana Qila, haunting for the way it evokes a lost magnificent era.
There’s yet another Delhi, the one you encounter in, say, Chandni Chowk, places that not just look more or less the same as they did centuries ago, but also continue to be used in much the same way. Like other really old cities around the world, such as Istanbul or Damascus or Rome, “history” is not enclosed in glass cases in a museum in Delhi, or fenced off out of sight; it is a constant presence in the here and now — it is a lived heritage.
“Delhi: A Living Heritage”, Intach’s three-month-long show supported by the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA)and the World Monuments Fund, does a fairly competent job of capturing the many Delhis — starting from the stone age settlements around 8000 BCE down the ages to Lal Kot, the stronghold of the Rajput Tomar ruler Anangpal II; Firozabad, Jahapanah and Tughlaqabad, the citadels of the Delhi Sultanate rulers, around Mehrauli; Din Panah, Humayun’s city by the Yamuna river for the poor; the grand Shahjahanabad, whose riches were the envy of the world; and finally Lutyens’s imperial New Delhi.
The display is imaginative in parts, especially in the use of large topographical maps showing the city’s expansion over the centuries. The interactive kiosks, too, are a good idea — containing a wealth of information such as a list of Delhi’s heritage buildings, with historical details and photographs. Others, like the dioramas of the “typical” kirana shop of Dariba Kalan or of Delhi’s microhabitat (a thorny bush with an owl on a bare tree, a deer and so on) are charming and quaint.