While the government may be having heritage conservation as one of its agendas, senior BJP leader Vijay Goel has come across as an epitome of heritage restoration, a process which can recreate the old charm and culture of Delhi, now seen mostly as a cosmopolitan society dotted by concrete jungles.
It took Goel six long years to restore the dilapidated haveli at Dharampura, with no official from the Archaeological Survey of India or government departments in a position to offer him financial support or the knowhow. The restored haveli exudes splendour in every frame and it also suggests that it is possible to restore old Delhi to its bygone glory that generations of people have only heard of.
“I’m a heritage lover and I am a strong Dilliwallah. I am connected to the historical walled city since childhood. I had business there and I also owned a shop. Heritage is in my blood, and I had the good fortune to represent Chandni Chowk twice. When I would be campaigning in the tempo, my attention would drift from the crowd towards the arches of the buildings in Chandni Chowk. I want to bring back the glory of Chandni Chowk, I want to restore the havelis to their old grandeur,” said Goel, a Rajya Sabha MP, who took six years to turn the haveli in Dharampura from a crumbling structure used as godowns into a brand new edifice that can be used for promoting heritage tourism or any other high-end commercial or cultural activity.
“The locals call it Goel Saab ki haveli in a mark of appreciation for my work. It was a very difficult task as neither the tourism department nor the ASI was in a position to help me. They did not have the knowhow nor could they provide the financial support for the restoration project which I had in my mind. But my son Siddhant encouraged me,” Goel told this correspondent, enumerating the long list of ordeals that he faced while beginning the project from the scratch.
Goel says that the first commitment which they made while restoring the haveli was that its structure will not be altered. Goel along with son Siddhart and architect Kapil Agarwal used conservation technology. For the restoration, the three relied on the culture of Chandni Chowk. “I know the history of Chandni Chowk as our family has lived here for generations. The houses here have blue doors, so when we set out to restore the haveli we made sure its doors were painted blue. It was a fashion in Chandni Chowk to use cast iron grille, and we used that in the haveli. We could have used iron grille that comes at a much cheaper price, but we wanted the haveli to be a true copy of what it once was. There were certain kind of carvings in the wood in the haveli and we made sure there were no deviations,” Goel told The Sunday Guardian.
The two-time former Lok Sabha MP from Chandni Chowk added that although there was ample open space in the haveli, they resisted the temptation to build additional rooms. “I brought carpenters from the Red Fort. There were 1,000 trucks of malba (debris) that had to be cleared. I visited Jodhpur, Jaipur, Aligarh, Moradabad, Ferozabad to take ideas from havelis there, and to shop for glass material, iron material and many other things that were not available in the markets of Delhi,” Goel recounted.
He said the location of the haveli prompted them to select it for restoration. The haveli is on a 100 foot road, two minutes from Jama Masjid police station. There are more havelis on that lane. There is so much that can be shown to foreign tourists, he said.
“Heritage ko bachane ke liye dil chahiye hota hai (you need heart to conserve heritage),” exclaimed Goel, adding he was drawn to the haveli and that its chajjas (roofs), pillars, balconies, everything fascinated him.
This is the first haveli in a hundred years that has been restored. The government wants these havelis to be protected. But ironically, it is yet to develop the mechanism to do so. The government has notified that the havelis cannot be altered, and that no construction altering the original structure is to be done without bringing it to the notice of the government and seeking its approval. But Goel contradicts, “The government has no right to declare the havelis a protected site when it is not supporting the endeavour to restore them. If the members of a family increase, more number of rooms will be required. What option do people have other than building additional rooms?”
While Goel is hopeful the government will one day offer him support for his endeavour, he has already adopted the whole of Dharampura which is of special attraction to him. “My son encouraged me to adopt Dharmpura. This place is called Dharampura because it had been the seat of religion and it still boasts of two Digambar Jain temples. These temples are not known to many but they are as beautiful as the Taj Mahal. We are working to develop Dharampura as a tourist attraction. We are addressing issues such as roads, street lights, sewer system, encroachments. It’s a movement,” Goel asserted. He believes the havelis are crumbling down because of the rampant illegal construction. “There is no attempt to stop it. I had had meetings with the Police Commissioner and the Governor and I sought their intervention,” he said.
Goel’s passion for old Delhi made him pen the book Delhi, the emperor’s city: Rediscovering Chandni Chowk and its environs, which was published by Roli Books in 2003. Goel is also the president of Heritage India Foundation, which aims to restore and conserve places of cultural value. “If anybody wants his/her haveli to be restored, he/she can do it through Heritage India Foundation. We can give the know-how, which no government department is in a position to give,” Goel claimed.
Goel wants to develop the Dharampura haveli as a cultural centre. “The havelis in Chandni Chowk can be restored only when commercial activities are allowed. The havelis can be transformed into beautiful heritage hotels, restaurants, bars, etc. This will create a boom in tourism and make foreigners flock to old Delhi like never before,” Goel suggested.
Is the government listening?