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Humayunpur Diary

The tomb is gone. The Africans are gone. The Pashto-speaking Punjabis are vanishing too. Sunil Menon takes a walk through a city as a form-shifting memoir.

Humayunpur Diary
Illustration by Sajith Kumar
Humayunpur Diary
outlookindia.com
2018-05-10T18:57:29+05:30

The Tomb Raiders

If cities are like languages, ‘new New Delhi’ is a pidgin. Not a classical language, nor even a modern one, but an offspring of haphazard post-liberalisation encounters, yet to develop its own grammar of interactions. Nobody’s mother tongue, it only has a series of fathers….

But why are cities like languages? Because they have structure, they evolve, they have morphology—they change form, they are an accumulation of inflections. The other day, a Tughlaq-era tomb turned into a temple deep within the catacombs of Humayunpur. Locals moved in, painted the structure a bright white-and-saffron, planted idols, adorned it with a swastika. BMKJ. As simple as that.

Humayunpur, one of Delhi’s urban villages, forms a curious triad with Safdarjung Enclave and Arjun Nagar. The latter two are mostly Punjabi refugee by ethnography, the differentiator between them being only class. Safdarjung is upper-middle-posh. Outlook sits in one of its messiest corners. A desultory flaneur walk from my office can be like walking through many civilisational layers: an urban palimpsest. Everywhere you see traces of something older, something lost. Once I caught two Sikh shopkeepers chatting in a language that was not Punjabi. “Pashto,” they said, smiling. “We are Kabuli Sikhs.”

And within ten minutes, you are in a Jat village, walking through stricken alleys bullied by vertiginous buildings. You see a lot of Phogat nameplates. Electricity cables make a variety of avant-garde knots and tangles overhead.

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