Monday, 5 June 2017

Gurgaon - a Hundred Years and more

My association with Gurgaon starts with the moment when my Paternal Grandmother's eldest sister settled in Gurgaon in the early nineteen hundred. Miss Mall as she was called worked with the Health Department.  She, along with my grandfather The Revd. Moti Lal, who later became the Principal of the St. Crispins School Gurgaon, and the Presbyter in Charge of the Church of The Epiphany,  and my Grandfathers younger brother, Mr D.K.Lal bought a plot on what is now the New Railway Road Gurgaon which would later accommodate the Mall family, the D.K. Lal family and the Moti Lal family to which I belong. My grandfather, Revd. Moti Lal was once a resident of Subzi Mandi, Delhi. My Grandfather's younger brother, Mr. D.K.Lal had joined the British Navy during the Second World War and he had been involved in the sinking of The Bismark. His ship had been sunk in the process and he had been adrift in a lifeboat in the ocean for a few days. He would later become the head of the I.I.T. in Batala.
My Grandmother's eldest sister, Miss Monica Mall once owned a couple of buses now merged into the Kamal bus service. These buses were however acquired by the Government during the Second World War. Besides owning a couple of buses, Miss Mall, my grandmother's elder sister also owned a horse carriage known as a Tonga, and a couple of horses to draw it. Gurgaon in the nineteen forties and fifties was a sleepy and peaceful town. If I remember clearly what my Grandmother once told me, our house was the third last house on the New Railway Road. My father used to tell me when he was alive that the road to the aRailway station was fraught with dangers. The road was once covered by a canopy of trees, and robbers attacked people going to the Railway Station.
My association with the once sleepy town of Gurgaon started when I migrated from Ethiopia after completing my grade twelve. In 1985 I got admission to the English Honours course in the Sri Venkateswera college in Dhaula Kuan, New Delhi. In those days my Grandmother and I would visit the vegetable market or the Subzi Mandi to purchase vegetables. Later I began to go alone. Just recently when I visited the Subzi Mandi it was to see it almost as it existed in the middle 1980s!

The only change in the vegetable market is that the stalls have become 'pukka'.

The Subzi Mandi, or the vegetable market remains more or less unchanged.

In those days, the Sadar Bazaar was not so crowded, and my Grandmother's favourite provision store used to be the Messrs Prabhati's store and Messrs. Amri's stores from where all our provisions and rations used to come. Today Sadar Bazaar is overcrowded and I wouldn't dare to visit it during rush hours.I prefer visiting the stores close to my house on New Railway Road rather than visit the Prabhati store. When I clicked the picture below of the Sadar Bazaar road, it was in the morning, much before the market had opened.

I stayed with my grandmother, Mrs. Saloni Lal in our the house that my grandfather, Revd Moti Lal had got constructed in 1961.  There was a lot that I would learn about the history of Gurgaon from her. I learned that Kaman Sarai, that housed the Shyam Sunder Printing Press and the Gurgaon City Police station was once an Inn, a secure resting place for weary travelers. Today all that is left of this inn is the Facade of the entrance that retains its original structure. This neglected and historical structure close to the bus stand is in danger of being completely wiped off and in its place become the premise of a fancy Shopping Mall. Right now Kaman Sarai is being used as a parking lot.

There is another Inn, or rather just the facade in the Sadar Bazar area of Gurgaon. The history of this building is lost in time, and like all the other buildings of historical significance, this one too has fallen victim to encroachment and civic apathy regarding the preservation of out ancient heritage. I have posted a couple of snaps that I have taken of the second Inn in Gurgaon below:

Gurgaon a hundred years back was very different from what it has become today, a megacity gasping for breath and basic amenities. Rich nobles who settled in Gurgaon brought with them artisans and workers and they then set up whole localities. A hundred years back, Gurgaon was just a hamlet, the base of a British Garrison. My Grandmother's eldest sister, Miss Monica Mall, 'Miss Mall' as she was fondly called worked in the Health Center located in Sadar Bazar. Next to the Health Centre was a prayer hall where the Hindi speaking Christian community worshiped in the Hindi. Miss Mall settled in Gurgaon in 1916, thus indirectly marking my hundred years of association with the town. Jacobpura in Gurgaon is said to have been settled by a British officer by the same name. Remarkably enough, My ancestral house, Moti Niwas, on New Railway Road was the second last house in the locality and the road to the railway station was often deserted. People traveling to the railway station were robbed by miscreants so they preferred to travel in groups.

The District Health Center where Miss Monica Mall once worked

The Prayer Hall for Hindi/Urdu speaking Christians

The John Hall has an old history. The ICS British Officer, F.L. Bryne was posted as Deputy Commissioner in Gurgaon and when his son, John Goble Bryne died at an early age, he had a grand hall built in his memory in the early 1800s. I remember my father telling me about how important exams were once conducted in John Hall in Civil Lines, Gurgaon. 

Talking about sweet shops, I remember from earlier times when my family and I used to visit India, My Grandmother would get us 'Mixed Sweets' from the Rewari Sweet shop in Sadar Bazaar. The Rewari Sweet shop was established in 1935. Another equally old sweet shop that is still doing business is the Laxmi Sweet shop. My brother and I used to buy Cholley Bhature from Laxmi Sweet shop whenever we did not feel like cooking. Along the Cholley Bhature we would also buy yoghurt from this shop.

Talking about street food and sweets, well one of the most famous 'Jalebi' sellers still gooing strong is 'Sardar Jalebi Walah'. This outlet is crowded with people rushing to have their daily course of Jalebi with milk. Burnt down during 1984 disturbances, the outlet is doing brisk business.

Maman used to be the best for 'Bhalla Papri' and 'Dahi Vada' and other such street food. I remember having some of his bestsellers. Maman used to have a cart next to the Kitchen Collection store. I really am not sure whether he still sells 'Bhall Papri!'

This is where Maman had his 'Chaat Papri' Cart.

I guess one of the oldest buildings in Gurgaon is the Jama Masjid close to the Sadar Bazar vegetable market. It is an important mosque for Muslims of the town and for others in the outlying districts. Below and around the Mosque are the numerous eateries that provide traditional Moghul street food.

One of the oldest buildings in Gurgaon is the Church of the Epiphany, Civil Lines. Just last year we celebrated its 150th anniversary. The church has been serving the community for almost one and a half centuries now. My Grandfather, Revd. Moti Lal served this church as Presbyter in Charge from 1960 to 1966.

Unofficial sources, relatives did tell me that the name of this city was Gurgaon because Gur or Jaggery for Delhi used to be stored here. I cannot confirm the veracity of this story. When I arrived for a short period in 1984, Gurgaon, the city was limited what is now called 'Old Gurgaon. which included old DLF, Sector 4, Sector 7, Laxman Vihar, Mianwali Colony, New Colony, Urban Estate, and houses along the New Railway Road and Old Railway Road.Yes, how could I forget, Gurgaon Gaon, or Gurgaon Village was also part of the town of Gurgaon. There was a huge water body where the present day Tau Devi Lal Stadium is located. There was a stream that flowed all the way from Gurgaon to Badhshahpur. Gurgaon was surrounded by farmlands with wheat crops and mustard crop. Sparrows were in huge numbers, and the Indian Vulture (now extinct) did service, cleaning the town of animal carcasses.

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