Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Adhchini and Andha Mughal

Have been reminded, thanks to a comment by thalassa_mikra on another post, of places in Delhi that have interesting names. (S)he mentioned Ahchini, which is of course one of the coolest. I wish I had some sort of idea about its provenance, but I don't. I'm curious whether the 'chini' could possibly have anything to do with China, rather than sugar, which is what I've always assumed is the case. Why sugar came to be called Chini in most Indian languiages is actually something else that bears thinking about. I'm always fascinated by the etymology of words, particularly where the etymology tells us something about a the quirks of history.

Hence Andha Mughal. I am not even sure exactly where this is, except that it's near Old Delhi proper. Old Delhi is of course a treasure-trove of names with interesting associations. Apparently Andha Mughal refers to the blinding in 1788, by invading Rohilla tribesmen, of the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam, who if I remember my history correctly, was the one who came after Aurangzeb. The site of the blinding is allegedly the neighbourhood of Andha Mughal today, which quite fittingly is close to Sarai Rohilla, where presumably the Rohillas camped (before blinding the emperor and decamping with a lot of what remained of the jewelled ceiling of the Diwan-i-Khas).

Another place whose association with history I came to know of only several years into travelling past the area itself every day, was 'Camp'. As in 'Mall Road, Camp, Ajadpuuuuur' in the argot of the Blueline conductor working the Mudrika route. Camp, as it turns out, is really Kingsway Camp, which gets its name from where the Durbar of 1911 was held. While on the topic of Raj associations, it's also quite cool that the somewhat downmarket locality named Malkaganj near the University of Delhi is named after the then 'Mal(li)ka' of India, which I presume was Queen Mary. Incidentally, I've heard tell that had it not been for Lutyens' utter distaste for the idea, the brilliant administrators of the Raj considered naming the new capital either 'Georgepore' or 'Maryabad'. I shudder. Apparently Lutyens scoffed and said 'Nonsense, it can't be called anything other than New Delhi', or words to that effect.

Has anyone, I wonder, ever solved the mystery of the names Panchkuian Road and Barakhamba Road? I suppose there were five wells or water tanks or some such at the site of the former, but which twelve pillars does the latter name refer to? it has been suggested that if you stand in the middle of Barakhamba Road (assuming you can do such a thing without being run over, the impossibility of which might explain why nobody has either confirmed or debunked this notion) then you can see exactly twelve of the whitewashed pillars of Connaght Place. This might or might not be true, but I see no reason why it is truer of Barakhamba Road than of any other radial road in CP. Anyway, if you've been to Connaught Place in recent years, you might have noticed a new piece of architecture that plays a self-referential joke on its location: I refer to Gopaldass Bhawan, which is at the intersection of Barakhamba Road and Connaught Circus. It's quite hideous, but I love the little in-joke played by the architect: at street level, all by themselves and serving no purpose whatsoever, are twelve white pillars.

Post-independence planning contributed several other gems, some now (thankfully) lost to the mists of time. My favourite is the four residential government colonies now known, as far as I know, as Rabindra Nagar, Bharti Nagar, Netaji Nagar, and Sarojini Nagar. Those at all familiar with the obsessive hierarchising of the government machinery would know that these were meant for different classes of government employees, sort of in descending order of rank. The original names (in place at least till the late 1960s, as far as I know) were - hold your breath - reflective of this hierarchy. They were Aan Nagar, Maan Nagar, Vinay Nagar, and Seva Nagar. Priceless.

More fascinating Mughal stuff. Any idea why Shahdara is called Shahdara? I'd never thought about it until I learnt that there was a neighbourhood in Lahore also called Shahdara. Turns out it's a corruption of 'Shah Dwar' (or Darwaza, both words have the same root anyway) and refers to a ceremonial gate through which the Emperor and his retinue entered the city. Obvously, they also entered Lahore, and so it has a Shahdara too. Wonder if Lahore's is on the western edge of the city.

One final snippet. There's a place near Jor Bagh/Lodi Colony called, of all things, Karbala. I was always intrigued by this one. Turns out it used to be a major Shia settlement before Partition, and is still the site of Delhi's only (or certainly largest) Imambara, from where the Muharram procession leaves every, well, Muharram.

Names in general are quite fascinating. In a foray through the walled city one Id-time, I found that there is a popular old-city dessert eaten at festival times called 'Hubshi Halwa'. Apparently, this was a recipe brought over by African harem-guards and mercenary soldiers employed by the Mughals. In case the connection is unclear, most of these people were either from, or came through, Ethiopia, which of course used to be called Abyssinia - Hubshi is the Hindi/Urdu for Abyssinian, it seems (apparently even in contemporary Nepali, the word for an African is 'hupshee'). So there you are. Bet you didn't know this one before.

11 Comments:

Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

Absolutely fantastic post! And to think that my comment brought it on :)! I had no idea about the "Nagar" hierarchy for sarkari babus. So Sarojini Nagar is bottom of the heap?

I'm also very fascinated by all the Sarai in the city, Ber Sarai, Lado Sarai, of course Sarai Rohilla. Were there ever any actual Sarai from which the places derived their names?

Halwa is a Middle-Eastern import, so every kind in India has a Middle-Eastern equivalent. For example, sohan halwa is based on an Iranian dessert.

8:59 AM  
Blogger shakester said...

absolutely did not know about hapshi halwa!
fascinating post, by the way. The only thing I knew about Karbala was that I had gotten seriously drunk once somewhere in the vicinity, but little else!

12:49 AM  
Anonymous Pradeep said...

Thanks for the explanation on Andha Mughal.I always wanted to know about "Andha Mughal". Andha Mughal is in Kishan Ganj of Old Delhi.

here is the Google Map Link of Andha Mughal

2:46 PM  
Blogger Somadly said...

Regarding Thalassa_mikra's query on Sarais in Delhi...well sarai in Urdu means rest houses, which were built by the rulers ( Afghan and Mughal) of Delhi starting from somewhere in the 11th Century AD.

Theses places were shelter for travellers moving in and out of Delhi, complete with free fills of food and beverages sponsored by the rulers.
These also acted as "Dak- Post" or you can say a post-office. Sarais were built at a distance of every 2km by Sher Shah Suri, and the Mughals.

4:39 AM  
Blogger Valentina said...

in my recent trip to dlehi I discovered that Lado was concibine to the Mughal emperor who buil the Qutub Minar and it was her actual Sarai, it was women's colony where Lado and her fellow maids could reunite and do their activities

1:37 AM  
Blogger Shefali Tripathi Mehta said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2:39 AM  
Blogger Shefali Tripathi Mehta said...

wow! this is fascinating. thanks for sharing. i saw adh chini in an address and googled to come here to so much more :D

2:41 AM  
Blogger Anand said...

Amazing info about the names of 'Dilli'. Am going to send this link to all my Delhi friends. Thanks! : )

6:11 AM  
Blogger twds a greener earth said...

hey dude .....u hv done quite a good research........

6:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

None of the African Americans acknowledge the word Hupshee in America.

Its interesting how people in south east asia coined the word

4:25 PM  
Blogger Neeraj Sharma said...

How about Bhooli Bhatiyari on the old road connecting Pusa Road to Panchkuian Road ?

And Bara Hindu Rao? And Chitli Qabar?
I remember ( from early 1950s)the construction of the Link Road which provides the new bypass for this

7:55 PM  

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