One evening in Delhi, I decided to stroll through the Deer Park-Hauz Khas Fort circuit in Hauz Khas Village. As someone who grew up in the city, it is always interesting to see how monument sites evolve as public spaces and how they vastly reflect changes in culture and socio-economic dynamics.
Hauz Khas Lake
Evenings near the lake are a serious business. Clad in gym wear and basketball caps, you will find a throng of joggers committed to their evening run. The gym equipment at the lake entrance&mdashsomething you'd find in most district parks of Delhi&mdashis relatively less crowded. Occasionally, you'll also find couples stopping to click a picture next to the Hauz Khas Lake. However, outnumbered, they usually rush along before a wave of joggers comes through. Earlier, especially on overcast days, you'd find a lot of couples and friend groups sitting next to the lake. But an increase in joggers signals the popularity of running (despite the humid weather, I must add) among Delhites and how Hauz Khas Lake has evolved as a neighbourhood public space (similar to Lodhi Garden) rather than a mere visiting site.
Still, this is not to say that the Lake area has disappeared as a picnic spot. Near the Munda Gumbad, for instance, you'll find a group of singers testing their rhythm next to the daunting ruin, whose upper storey supposedly disappeared (the plaque next to the monument states).
"This place has better acoustics," I overheard an individual inside one of the tomb chambers inside the Tughlaq-era complex. Although some people might find it disrespectful, there is an ironic beauty in singing at the graves of emperors and generals long gone. One might be reminded of Shelley's Ozymandius and his verse about the ephemerality of existence.
Inside the fort, amidst Sunday wedding shoots and a crowd of college kids, there are also some outstation tourists who are here for the first time. They often stop by to look at the algae-rich lake (or "royal tank", to be precise) and wonder at some of the strange features of the fort that the otherwise informative ASI plaques cannot explain.
Looking at outstation tourists, I am again reminded that Delhi is a tourist spot and not just a cityscape that one would otherwise escape.
Of Bats and Fireflies
Apart from joggers and occasional couples, you'll also spot children overcome with curiosity, pointing at many things around the circuit. More patient parents would stop their walk and explain the history of the ruins, the lone ducks, the colour of the lake, and course, the island of bats that stands in the middle of the Hauz Khas Lake. As the "lungs of the city," this area hosts many wildlife creatures&mdashpopular among deers, peacocks and the small hutch of hamsters and rabbits.
The most prominent bats you'll find would be the Indian flying fox bats&mdasharguably, one of the largest in the world. Other species include short-nosed fruit bats and fulvous fruit. Hanging like fruits, they are a surreal sight in the middle of Delhi&mdashreminiscent of the days when Delhi was but an endless stretch of woods dotted by rural settlements.
As the sun sets, the dance music next to the entrance of the lake-side circuit (a hub for hip-hop dancers and skaters) is left empty, and the rest of the joggers also turn homeward. If you're entering the park at this time&mdashit will appear as a stark contrast from the lights and honking vehicles of the HKV village. In monsoon, this dark is the home of fireflies. As your eyes begin to adjust, the world will appear full of dancing glitter.
Whether for evening firefly walks with kids or a circuit for joggers, when a neighbourhood reclaims a monument site, it might survive the onslaught of time&mdashperhaps, not as Khilji envisioned, but as a beloved public space nonetheless.
Cover Photo Credits Shutterstock
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