A date with Tughlakabad...
A FORT full of the splendour of the past, that was Tughlakabad. It's in ruins now and few visit it. But those who do hear in the mind's eye the blowing of trumpets, the clash of arms, the neighing of horses and the shrill commands of the officers as invisible armies move out to make fresh conquests. Several hundred years ago it must have been a beautiful structure, strong and capable of breaking the heart of the most determined enemy who dared to cast covetous glances at the Tughlak Empire. It was Ghyasuddin who built it and his son Mohammad bin Tughlak, unjustly nicknamed the "mad'' who inherited it. They both lie buried within its precincts, almost forgotten and rarely visited by the thousands of tourists, both Indian and foreign, who come to Delhi every year.
Time does take its toll even of the most magnificent of constructions. Tughlakabad is no exception though legend would have us believe that in this particular case it was the curse of a saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya that was responsible for the decline and decay of the fortified city, actually the third Delhi, which at one time afforded protection to thousands.
Ghayasuddin fell out with the saint, who cursed the emperor and his city in these words, "Ya rahe barbad ya base Gujar'' -- either it will remain desolate or be inhabited by the nomad. The curse seems to have come true, for the city built with so much love and care by Ghayasuddin is now a wilderness where the wandering shepherd find pasture for his flock. Even among the battlements, which are overgrown with plants and shrubs. But there are those who think the reason for the desolation of the fort was more political than religious. Mohammad Tughlak was a devotee of Nizamuddin Auliya and had differences with his father on other issues too. On the other hand, Ghayasuddin did not like the "mad'' prince and would have liked his younger son to succeed him. But fate willed it otherwise when a pavilion erected to honour the emperor on his return from a campaign in Bengal gave way and both he and his favourite son perished. The emperor's body was found cradling that of the little prince whom he loved so much.
Mohammad ascended the throne and began his own grandiose schemes. It was he who neglected the fortified city to build his own, Jahanpanah. His successor Firoz Tughlak was also a great builder who carved out a separate city for himself, Firozabad. Thus, the theory of the curse does not find many adherents.
However, what is important is the fact that the fort is neglected. It could be restored to at least some of its pristine grandeur and become a place of great tourist interest now that the Archaeological Department and the Tourism Ministry have joined hands to launch such a project. Then when the scheme is implemented one would not have to extend one's credulity too much to imagine what Tughlakabad must have been like in its heyday. Until the scheme materialises, the Gujar will continue to hold sway over these ruins. The Gujars are also linked with the gypsies, thousands of whom were taken away by Mohammad of Ghazni in the 11th Century to Afghanistan. Many of them migrated to Europe where they are known as Romanis. Gypsies in India continue to be nomads who wander from place to place for work.
Spring brings the gypsy girls to Delhi. They walk ever so gingerly in the lanes and by lanes, selling toys and tribal bric-a-brac for a song. But the tribes are dwindling fast and so are the girls. Perhaps, it is modernisation that is driving the gypsies out of their nomadic existence or perhaps it is wanderlust that makes them give the wide berth to the fast developing urban regions. Many of them became puppeteers but television spoilt the show. Now their only forte is a fast-eroding tradition.
Still they come to Delhi though in fewer numbers. There is Tara, coy beyond her years, and Malini the flower-gatherer, and the best of them all, Bindya, who sings the prettiest songs and charms the children with her come-hither looks. But they don't stay long at one place for the gypsies do not go by the months, they follow the seasons and their whims.
Right now they are camped in the piece of land behind Pandu Nagar in West Delhi. The tents are pitched on one side and on the other there's a railway line and an open space where the horses and cattle belonging to the nomads can graze. Several families dwell in the area, which is criss-crossed with nullahs and overgrown with weeds, but the gypsies find it a sort of heaven where they can live with the sky as a canopy and count the stars, which they seem to follow in their wanderings.
When not mending their drums and feeding their cattle the clans' folk, who have come from Rajasthan, sit watching the trains go by to Jaipur and beyond. But they bestir themselves at twilight when they go to distant areas in the city to perform puppet shows and sing half-forgotten songs. Back in their tents they sleep it out till the forenoon when the long wait for twilight begins again as the trains go by. Do they still camp at Tughlakabad? Yes, some do but squatters have encroached upon Tughlakabad, like Pandu Nagar. And now with strong Government action, even the gypsy Gujars find it difficult to wander about in Tughlakabad.
So is this the end of the curse?
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