New Capital of Imperial India

In the time when the government approved central vista redevelopment project for Lutyens Delhi, the book will serve as a rich guide & reference material for the upcoming heritage researchers in the changing landscapes of Imperial Capital.

Cover page of the book

Connaught Place & the making of New Delhi| Book Review by Rehan Asad

The book Connaught place & the making of New Delhi was authored by historian Swapna Liddle & published by speaking Tiger, 2018. Its a story of the new imperial capital of Colonial India.

It was a grand ceremonial coronation Durbar of George V held at Delhi (1911) from where commenced the idea of the new capital of British Raj. In 1931, the New Delhi was formally inaugurated as the capital of Colonial India. From the birth of the idea in (1911) to the post independent changing face of New Delhi, the authors presented a vivid perspectives on the making of new capital. The book gave a detailed narratives of the controversies echoed in the imperial corridors from the stakeholders who opposed the idea of shifting a capital from Calcutta. How the middle of the Raisina hills was chosen as the site after rejection of initial plans with an intense struggle between the ideas of Lutyens & Lanchester. From the role of Lanchester in final plans to the inclusion of Swinton Jacob & Herbert Baker, the account discussed how the syncretic Indo-Islamic architecture got the final approvals in the plan of new city. Then the author explicitly discussed challenges & the task done by the city planners to preserve the ruined remnants of its by gone monarchies. While going through the text , a reader can find many interesting narratives & facade of Delhi that existed in the form of ignored ruins. The book is not only about the making of new capital but also gave you an insight of dilapidated monuments of its grandiose past. The formation of the grand Imperial capital, an idea that commenced with coronation Durbar ceremony held in December 1911. Once the decision & site was finalized, the biggest challenge was about its mighty ruined monuments that existed on its flanks. A huge exercise of marking those monuments was done. The Archaeological society of India (ASI) listing (1912) served as a preliminary record for creating another collaborative document. One of the three foremost monument that was located on the last point of the newly planned city was 16th Century Old fort/Purana Qila. The historic old fort as we saw today was inhabited by the farmers & zamindars as a village Indarpat. In 1913, the fort was cleared of its population & enormous work was done for the conservation in collaboration with ASI. The subsequent chapter discussed how the stratified layers of Colonial India social fabric played a role in creating a different grades of accommodation in the new capital city. Here the readers will also came to know, how each of the lanes got their names from its old remnants to the bygone days monarchs & the Indian princes of the Raj.

Back cover of the book

As a reader I came to know about some microcosmic facts such as the establishment of the plant nursery in Jhorbagh to meet the plantation supply for the new city. Finally the project was completed with an unexpected high cost & overcoming the backlash of world war I on 12 February, 1931. In this chapter, the authors weave the entire ceremony in a vivid story telling style integrating the role of all stakeholders with its landmarks. From the generous participation of princely estates to the art work headed by Munshi Ghulam Hussain, every fine details of final touch of project has been unveiled in this chapter. The chapter “Connaught place” that also form the part of the manuscript title discussed the detailed plan of its formation, it connectivity with other sections of Delhi & its pioneer stores from the luxury watches to the culinary joints.

The role of Connaught place as the living pulse of the imperial capital was elaborated. The concluding chapter presented the changing face of the New Delhi & Connaught place with Indian partition, its demographic shift & growth pf the urban sprawls in expanding metropolis.

Inner circle of Connaught place, c 1950s by Harrison Forman Source: University of Wisconsin online archives

This is how, the authors initial journey as an project initiative (2015) for the UNESCO world heritage site recognition of New Delhi & Shahjahanabad was transformed in a rich & well reviewed manuscript. The authors rich experience ingrained with her heritage awareness walks of Indian National Trust for Art & cultural heritage is deeply reflected in the writing. The citation of archival illustrations, maps & wide range of the references gave an added research value to the work. In the time when the government approved central vista redevelopment project for Lutyens Delhi, the book will serve as a rich guide & reference material for the upcoming heritage researchers in the changing landscapes of Imperial Capital. Hope it will serve the objective of heritage awareness.