Delhi : The Palimpsest City

Beloved of poets, emperors and merchants

I am the palimpsest city

ascending from my ashes as the phoenix


Indraprashtha and New Delhi

on the same bank of the Yamuna

just three millennia apart


umpteen monuments, mosques and tombs

remnants of the ancient cities,

some still breathing, some crumbling into dust


the Pandavas founded me, legend says

then long centuries of obsolescence

Tomars brought me into prominence, founding Lal Kot,


Prithviraj rebuilt me into Qila Rai Pithora

Illtutmish turned me into Qutub

my first empress Razia ruled me


with her feminine charm

but how could a woman rule in a man's world?

she couldn't carry on for long––


the Slave dynasty ended and Khiljis took over

Allauddin founded the Siri, my third avatar

Tughlaqus raised their own Tughlaqabad


Muhammad Bin Tughlaq stripped me of the last man,

Ferozeshah returned me to my past grandeur,

I reincarnated as 'Kotla Ferozeshah'


Timur invaded and plundered me,

herding my best to Samarkand

Then the Mughals arrived


Humayun built Purana Qila

exactly where Indraprashtha stood once

but was soon chased away to Persia


Shershah Suri built

the magnificent Shermandal

but could not live long to rule


Humayun returned once again

but the muezzin's call brought the emperor

tumbling down the stairs on a cold January winter


Akbar, under the regent Bairam Khan

abandoned me for Agra,

and my glory gradually faded


but Shahjahan could not resist my seduction;

I reincarnated as Shahjahanabad

the emperor’s new capital


his successor Dara Shikoh

was assassinated by his own treacherous brother

Aurangzeb sowed seeds of successive wars


invaders and marauders started hovering over me

as fleas over a rotten fruit

Nadir Shah, Abdali, Marathas plundered me


Rangeela revelled in wine and women

while blood flowed through my streets and alleys;

this was not the end of my woes


after the battle of Patparganj,

I fell into the hands of the British

who plundered me brutally.


One day, the mutinous sepoys came galloping

from Meerut, exhorting Zafar to take me back,

begging him to be their glorious emperor


but indecisive as ever he didn't know what to do

The last Mughal was exiled (to Burma)

and my glory ebbed once again


The British left me for Calcutta

but couldn't resist my charm for long––

they returned to my arms in 1911


His Majesty George V

decreed at the Coronation Durbar––

'Delhi will be the new capital'


One fine morning, Hardinge and Hailey found a habitable hill

not far away from the banks of the Yamuna

where once centuries ago Indraprashtha stood


Then came independence and partition

as two wheels of life ––joy and sorrow

the Kingsway became the largest refugee camp


and when the world slept

at that momentous mid-night hour

I awoke to freedom wrapped in the tri-colour.


From The Seduction of Delhi by Abhay K. (Bloomsbury India, 2014)