I remember one time, when I was a kid, there was a power cut on Republic Day in the locality where I lived. It was a freak incident due to a problem with the transformer. People came out on the streets, furious that they were unable to see the Republic Day parade on TV. They mobbed the electricity office nearby and almost dragged the engineer to the spot to fix the problem. Power came back midway through the procession of floats (I remember we missed seeing Karnataka’s). The reason I mention it now is because I wonder if people would be similarly agitated today if there was a power cut on Republic Day. Methinks they would barely notice its occurrence; most people wake up late and miss the parade anyways.
One of my childhood dreams was to visit the Red Fort and climb up on the rampart where the flag is hoisted. To my disappointment, I found out that we common people are not allowed up there; only if you are the Prime Minister or the one who runs him are you allowed to go there. Since I was neither, I had to content myself with gazing up at the flag fluttering in the blue sky.
Red Fort, the residence of the Mughals for nearly 200 years, was constructed by Shah Jahan in 1648, and was their seat of power until Bahadur Shah Zafar was captured. You enter through the Lahore Gate, named so because it faces the direction Lahore is in, and pass through the Meena Bazaar, which has a row of small shops selling jewelry, clothes, knick-knacks et al. I tried to find out who this Meena was who was so fond of shopping that they named a bazaar after her, but nobody could tell me. If you know, do let me know in the comments.
There are two main structures in the Red Fort- the Diwan-i-Am or the Hall of Public Audience, and the Diwan-i-Khas or the Private Audience Hall. The marble canopy where the king sat when he met the public in the Diwan-i-Am (a ceremony called jharokha darshan) was a favorite for couples to take photos in front of (there was a queue, almost). Again, I don’t know what the attraction of that particular spot was; yes, the balcony was exquisitely crafted, but the people were not the least bit interested in architecture or history. Maybe they thought the Peacock Throne was kept there?
As it turns out, the Peacock Throne was the star attraction of the Diwan-i-Khas. The original throne on which Shah Jahan sat was carted off by Nadir Shah, but when he died, the throne disappeared. A replacement throne was made, which was also ‘lost’ during the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny. It’s probably good that both thrones got stolen so long ago. Had they survived until now and by some miracle been left in India by the British, it would have been stolen within no time. I mean, when we can’t protect the Nobel medal of the man who wrote our national anthem, how can we protect a throne with enough gold to ‘adorn the girdle of the Sun’?
There are many structures in the Red Fort- the Khaas Mahal in front of which the kings organized animal fights, Aurangzeb’s Moti Masjid which looks as cold and fearsome as Aurangzeb was reputed to be, the Mumtaz Mahal that was Shah Jahan’s queen’s private quarters, later turned into a military prison by the British. Walking around the Red Fort is a strenuous exercise; we walked in a couple of hours an area that the kings and queens probably took an entire day to stroll around.
So it was with some thanks that we entered the Hayat Baksh, or the life-restoring garden. True to its words, it restored life into our tired legs by giving us shaded walkways and seats under trees (though we had to do some searching to find one that was not occupied by lovey-dovey couples). With the benefit of rest, we were able to appreciate more the beauty of the garden, flanked by twin pavilions, Sawan and Bhadon, named after the rainy months of the Hindu calendar. We were also able to enjoy the melange of colors: the red sandstone Zafar Mahal contrasted against the white marble pavilions, set amidst lush green lawns, silhouetted against a blue sky.
The British destroyed much in the Red Fort, and many things were stolen, but it is a testament to the grandeur of Shah Jahan’s fortified palace that today, even without all the jewels and treasures and the palaces of yore, the fort inspires awe and wonder. It was a childhood dream of mine to visit the Red Fort, and I know that I’ll be back again.