One can’t get enough of Delhi. The city, rich in heritage, has enticed many writers who have come here to explore the varied historical and cultural narratives of Delhi.
An area where the historical and cultural streams combine is architecture. Delhi’s Mughal monuments, British-era government offices, contemporary malls lend a kaleidoscopic feel to the city’s landscape.
Delhi Darshan, written by architectural historian Giles Tillotsan, is a fine attempt at capturing that feel. The book takes readers on an architectural tour of the city. Tillotsan visited Delhi some 40 years back as a student and has since taken an active interest in Indian art and architecture.
“I have known Delhi since 1980. I was 18 when I first arrived here. 40 years ago, Delhi was a much quieter and smaller town. The city has a special history and that’s my connection to the city,” he says in a telephonic conversation with Guardian 20.
Into this engaging account of Delhi’s architectural sights, Tillotsan has weaved elements of history and culture. He looks at the heritage buildings through a contemporary lens. “As an architectural historian, I would look at the building and be concerned about its place in its own time and culture. But in Delhi, you can’t look at the buildings like this. There are always layers attached to them. People identify with a building surpassing its historical significance,” he says.
According to him, Red Fort is not just remembered as a monument constructed by the Mughals. It was a site of the uprising of 1857. And it is now used by the Prime Minister of India to deliver his Independence Day speech. “Similarly, Lodhi Garden too falls under this perspective. It is much more than a place constructed in the 15th century. It is used by people for morning walks and also by couples who want privacy from prying eyes,” says Tillotsan.
The architectural historian’s own preferred monuments in the city are Humayun’s Tomb, for its “magnificence”; and Lodhi Gardens, for its “landscape”.
Lutyens’ Delhi also holds a special significance for Tillotsan. He says, “Lutyens was given the project of constructing the city at the peak of his career and he was asked to do so taking Indian references. He was horrified by this instruction. For Lutyens, the greatest architecture in the world was the Catholic architecture of the West. Nevertheless, he approached his project in a very profound way. Viceroy’s House [now Rashtrapati Bhavan] has references from the Sanchi Stupa. Other architects were inspired by him. And people now often refer to central Delhi as Lutyens’ Delhi.”
According to Tillotsan, the development model of contemporary Delhi is taking its toll on the city. “There has been an increase in the prosperity of people which is good, but the more dispensable income is putting huge pressure on the city. The agenda is not set by deep-thinking acclaimed architects like Raj Rewal, but by developers.”
Still, it is a welcome change that people here have started acknowledging the heritage aspects of the city, and that many architects are working on the restoration of old havelis and monuments.
Delhi for Tillotsan has lost none of its historical intrigue. He says, “It is a garden city of the 19th century. It is also based on the grand bazaar planning, as of Paris. And there is also a deep presence of the military cantonment here.”