Tuesday, July 8, 2014


Maggie Krueger

NEW DELHI - The idea of “ruin,” defined as the “the physical destruction or disintegration of something” is reserved for the most devastating of circumstances when used as an adjective. “Ruin” when referring to someone’s career, emotional state or lifestyle, alludes to the most abominable acts.

But living in Delhi, a city with sections over 3,000 years old, I have witnessed a grave difference between the adjective “ruin” and the noun “ruins” -- stunning forms of disintegration that still holds great beauty and awe. To behold such a ruin, most frequently a cluster of ruins is an immeasurable gift quite entirely unimaginable in such a new country as the United States.

The Red Fort was a fortress founded between 1638 and 1648 under Emperor Shah Jahan, declaring his new capital. The fortress has been subsequently used by many ruling powers since, including the British.
So as I sat leisurely on a stone bench of Old Delhi’s Red Fort with my colleague, passing the time before our next article assignment would begin, I admired a set of ruins, by definition, so expertly preserved that the infrastructure of one building inside this Fort’s walls is able to house the Indian War Memorial Museum on its second floor, which 8,000-9,000 people visit per week.

It is for this museum – one of the oldest in India -- I was brought for the second time within the barracks of the Red Fort, suffering a hefty foreigner tariff for my admission ticket once more (while a national’s ticket of admissions costs 10 rupees, foreigners will find themselves paying Rs. 250).

Inspired by a series developed by the New York Times, I was interested in reporting on India’s role in World War I, with the beginning of the Great War’s centennial on July 28<sup>th</sup>. India, then under the rule of the British government, provided over 1.27 million men to the war effort by the time of the Armistice, according to one Guardian article, with the soldiers predominantly Muslims and Sikhs sent to fight in France. Moreover, while India’s contribution is often overlooked in our own history books, the country financial provided 100 million pounds to the effort, nearly twice India’s whole net revenue before the war (according to scholar Sneh Mahajan).

Naubat Khana (Drum House)
It is for these reasons, and many more, that I believe there was a story to tell when we entered the Indian War Memorial Museum located in the Red Fort’s Naubat Khanan (Drum House), exquisite and historically memorable in its own right.

The Naubat Khana, once served as a kind of parking lot for royal horses and elephants – modes of royal transportation – and the musicians that would announce their entrance. Now, housed in the stuffy second floor of this ancient building is a collection of weaponry dating back to swords of Mughal time.

After fairly successful interactions with a handful of tourists and the museum curator, we had a chance to linger further on the grounds, which also included a pavilion for royal proclamations, the emperor’s private apartments, a women’s quarter, a royal bath, and my personal favorite – the Chatta Chowk – an open bazaar within long entering passage of the fortress, stocked with colorful silks and jewels.

After a long history of changing hands, beginning with its founder Emperor Shah Jahan building the fortress between 1638-1648 but losing it to his corrupt son who imprisoned Jahan without him ever living in the residence, the Red Fort has witness its own share of ruin through the course of history. Even under British rule, the fort was converted to barracks, and the influence of Western architecture can be witnessed in two of the Fort’s newer, more administrative-looking buildings – perhaps ruining some of the authentic 15<sup>th</sup> century architectural façade within the fortress.

Even still, the work of the Archaeological Survey of India, and the admiration of thousands who bring foot traffic and support to this disintegrating piece of history, help restore its erosion. Being able to sit quietly on a humid afternoon in Delhi, watching thousands of pigeons perch on the copper dome of a private place of worship for the emperor – I was grateful to enjoy the simple pleasure of looking on at something removed from its original purpose but not disintegrated from its past.

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