Centenary of Lutyens’ Delhi
Khushwant Singh

Khushwant SinghIt is likely that New Delhi may raise a monument to honour its builders as part of its centenary celebrations. The decision to shift the Capital from Calcutta to Delhi was taken in 1911 and announced by King George V when he and his royal consort Queen Mary held the Royal Darbar. It was assumed that the new capital would be built on the same site — Kingsway Camp.

Experts found the site unsuitable, and after exploring the countryside on horseback, decided to build it on Raisina Hill with the Viceregal Lodge (Rashtrapati Bhavan) on its peak. The building schedule was upset by World War I (1914-18). It was not until 1920 that actual work was undertaken.

The Rashtrapati Bhavan (Viceregal Lodge) on Raisina Hill is Delhi’s crowning glory
The Rashtrapati Bhavan (Viceregal Lodge) on Raisina Hill is Delhi’s crowning glory

The two chief architects were Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker. Lutyens had planned to dam the Yamuna behind Humayun’s tomb to create a huge lake with a broad riverside drive along it. His extravagance had to be curbed. He did, however, lay out the basic features of the city to be built. Besides the two architects, there were a dozen or so engineers of the CPWD. There was only one Indian among them — Teja Singh Malik. Then, there were building contractors to get building material and labourers to give shape to the architects’ designs. All of them happened to be Sikhs: Sujan Singh and his son Sobha Singh, Sobha Singh’s closest friend and next-door neighbour Baisakha Singh, Narain Singh, Sewa Singh, Ranjit Singh, Dharam Singh, Manohar Singh and Ram Singh Kabli. All of them lived on Jantar Mantar Road between Ashoka Road and Sansad Marg. A later arrival was Mohan Singh, who built the American Embassy and lived in the New Friends Colony.

Then, there were the stone masons (sang tarashs), who were descendants of the builders of Mughal forts, palaces and mausoleums. They came from Agra and Delhi.

The most important section of the builders were labourers — more than 30,000 men and women, all from Rajasthan and known as Bagris. The men were paid half a rupee a day and their women six annas. They lived in jhuggi jhonpris, ate chapattis with salt and raw chillies and drank well water: They were the poorest of the builders, and yet the most cheerful.

Hidden hand

Some coincidences continue to baffle me and make me believe in the possibility of there being a hidden hand behind them. The latest is connected with a beautiful painting of Guru Gobind Singh seated on a carpet reclining on a holster (gadela). It faces my padded armchair in which I spend my days reading, writing and dozing off. I thought some verse should be written beneath it. One crept into my mind:

Gagan damaama bajeo

Pareo nishaaney ghao

(Battledrums of war resounded in the sky

A wound was inflicted on the right spot)

I could not recall the lines further. A young professor from the GTB Khalsa College dropped in and gave me the remaining lines:

Kheyt jo maandeo soorma ab jhoojan ka chaae

Soora so pachaneye jo larey deen kay heyt

Purja Purja kat marrey kabhoo na chaadey kheyt

He told me these lines from Kabir, are which quoted in Guru Granth Sahib.

A few days later, I received my copy of the monthly Sikh Review, edited by Saran Singh (retd IAS officer) from Kolkata. It always starts with a verse from Guru Granth Sahib with its translation in English. The December issue had the very verse which had been in my mind for many days:

As the battledrums reverberate

Only the brave ones take


And warriors of spirit advance in face of death

He alone is known as champion warrior

Who takes up arms to defend the helpless

Unafraid of being slashed in pieces

Never abandoning the battlefield

I am not so much concerned with the translation, probably done by the editor, as I am with the coincidence of the timing.

Indian brand

Q: What is the difference between corruption in other countries and India?

A: In the rest of the countries, corruption is either over the table or under the table but in India corruption includes the table.

Teachers’ Day

Q: On which day is the sale of ‘Teacher’s whisky’ maximum in India?

A: Teachers’ Day.

(Contributed by KJS Ahluwalia, Amritsar)