It’s an old bungalow, if I can be allowed to use such a conservative word for the endless array of rooms and lobbies that line up intricately to form its striking silhouette. Endless still is the garden that has been built around it. So large is the expanse that my eyes hurt as I try to find the boundaries of the place. There are men in uniform guarding the place. There are men working busily in the gardens. There are men announcing my arrival on their walky-talkies to other men at the entrance gallery.
I decide to walk in the garden for some time before entering the building itself. There are some very different looking trees there. Trees I don’t know the names of, but those that I am sure I haven’t seen before. Some I suspect have their branches trimmed at their peripheries to give them different shapes making them look very different from their usual forms. Most of these trees are very old, perhaps from the time when this place used to be much more active than it is now. How many stories do they hold in their steady silence I wonder?
It’s a pleasant afternoon for an otherwise wintry December and the sun is shining bright. My walk in this expansive and indulging garden is made even more surreal and tranquil by the occasional chirruping of sparrows or the sight of healthy green parrots here and sundry.
The building inside is quiet despite the presence of caretakers and other staff. It’s as if everyone is under the orders of the owner to maintain perfect silence and decorum, even though no one occupies the place anymore.
I feel transported in time as I try to imagine the occupants sitting on these chairs or using these telephones discussing matters and taking decisions years ago that framed our present and continue to frame it. I imagine the voices of people who now are only names in history books reverberating in the corridors. I imagine shadows cast on the walls as figures of familiar but famous people moved around in these rooms and corridors. Did they discover this nice spot overlooking the garden from the stairway where I am standing right now?
I am overwhelmed by the number of books I see around, tempted for a crazy moment to pick a few up and sneak them out. It’s not just the sheer number, but also the diverse range of topics these books cover that amazes me. Was it plain sham or did someone actually read these uncountable number of books filling shelves after shelves in multiple rooms and even some corridors?
It is hard to believe that I am in the midst of the hustle bustle of Delhi. Delhi with its crazy traffic and tempers seems to be a story of another universe. The stillness of this place defies every trace of identity that the urban Delhi of today has chosen to adorn. It ridicules the nouveau riche of a city of ostentatious dwellers with big cars and bigger debts. Standing at this place which undoubtedly is one where some significant decisions of modern India’s fate were taken, I wonder if this is real… if this ever was real…
I make a last stop at the study to look at the books again before leaving. The three statues at the gate greet me for a fleeting moment before they continue their vigil of the roads ahead. With a deep breath I get on with life after this short break.
Until another time…
Location: Teen Murti Bhawan, New Delhi