Old Delhi’s Haksar ki Haveli where Nehru married Kamala is now a heap of rubble

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As the built heritage in Old Delhi continues to fall apart, the remnants of Haksar ki Haveli exist only as a proof of neglect and a dispassionate modern life.

Sarup Narain ki Haveli, as it was known during the early 19th century, was originally a three-storeyed grandiose structure located at the end of Sadak Prem Narain Bazaar – intersection of Churiwalan and Bazaar Sita Ram. It was the abode of one of the locality’s distinguished Kashmiri pandit families.

The residence of Haskars once served as the venue for one of the city’s most high-profile weddings in 1916. The relatives and family members of the first Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru stayed at the mansion when he married Kamala Kaul on February 8. Kamala’s family owned another manor called ‘Atal House’ in the neighbourhood of Bazaar Sita Ram.

The mansion of Haksars had all the distinct features usually associated with a traditional Shahjahanabad haveli such as a large hall, a courtyard, a tehkhana (cellar), jharokhas (overhanging enclosed balconies), arched gateways, and main entrance decorated with motifs, and fluted columns.

As the property stayed largely unused for decades, it started crumbling due to lack of maintenance. Gradually, it turned into ruins as a major portion of walls, arches, columns, and gateways ended up collapsing.

On Wednesday, the Delhi High Court issued directions to area station house officer and the commissioner of North Delhi Municipal Corporation to conduct a joint survey of the property after a petitioner – Kusum Sehgal — approached it alleging that builders were “destroying” the haveli to construct a multi-storey building in its spot.

“I was appalled by the way heritage structures like havelis and dharamshalas are being razed and converted into godowns and residential units. Whenever I would visit my maternal grandparents’ residence in Old Delhi, I became upset after seeing poor state of affairs there. Therefore, I decided to move the court to prevent destruction of our heritage,” said Sehgal, a New Delhi resident.

Little left of a once-grand building

“I have seen it as a two-floored house since my childhood. Part of the building collapsed in the 1980s. Another significant segment caved in around the mid-1990s” said Radhey Shyam Goel (64), of Churiwalan.

Haksar ki Haveli (above) today resembles a heap of rubble encased by dilapidated walls. (Hindustan Times)

Today, none of its distinctive features are visible. With continuous dumping of trash and uncontrolled growth of Peepal trees, the structure resembles a heap of rubble encased by dilapidated walls. The imposing gate has been replaced with a rusting iron-sheet door.

The two sides of the haveli, which faced the lanes, now have a row of shops selling sweets and tea, a salon, and two grocery stores.

“I know it as haveli of Prem Narain Haksar. This is where Nehru’s baraat (wedding procession) assembled and later proceeded to Atal House, where Kamala’s family then lived. Haksar’s residence had an imposing sandstone entrance with fish motifs and jharokhas on either side,” said Kishori Lal Yadav (84), a Bazaar Sita Ram resident.

According to a book on havelis in the Walled City — ‘Mansions at Dusk: The Havelis of Old Delhi’ —authored by former Indian Foreign Service (IFS) officer Pavan K Varma, the mansion suffered major damage during the 1857 revolt. The British soldiers ransacked it, rendering it unsuitable for habitation. Sarup’s father Bishan Narain Haksar had it rebuilt in 1887 with financial assistance from the British administration.

The Haksar family sold the property to the Delhi Yarn Association in the mid-1970s.

“The rich cloth merchants of the association wanted to use the premises for some charitable purpose. They toyed with the idea of converting it into a hospital or a dharamshala. However, before anything could be implemented, a property dispute within the association had frozen all plans,” says the book.

“Till the 1960-70s, an elderly couple was residing here. A trust bought the property, which wanted to develop it as a hospital. Later, we heard rumours that the trustees had some internal dispute and the hospital plans never materialised. Since then, the mansion has been lying abandoned,” said SK Jain (64), who runs a grocery store near the haveli.

The entrance to Haksar Ki Haveli at Bazar Sita Ram in Chandni Chowk. (Anushree Fadnavis/ht pHOTO)

Locals said that since then the property has been acquired by some builders, though the claims could not be independently verified. The residents added that the builders would have started construction for a multi-storeyed structure in its place, had the high court not intervened on Wednesday.

The high court has made Shahjahanabad Redevelopment Corporation (SRDC) as respondent in the matter.

“As per the rules, the owner of notified heritage property requires permission from Heritage Conservation Committee and concerned Municipal Corporation for repair only. If one is short of funds, he can approach SRDC to seek financial assistance. And the building is conserved and used to promote tourism and heritage of Old Delhi, the owner can seek (property, excise, and sale) tax waiver,” a senior Delhi government official said.

The article first appeared in Hindustan Times

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