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Patparganj - then and now!

The trans-Yamuna colonies were not highly regarded once but not any more, says R.V. SMITH as he traces the history of Patparganj in East Delhi

Mention Patparganj and people wrinkle their noses and wonder, "where the hell is it". Some have a vague idea that is on the other side of the Yamuna - may be back of beyond for those staying in West or South Delhi. The trans-Yamuna colonies, till lately, were not very highly regarded and that is a common bias not confined to Delhi alone. In Agra too the trans-Yamuna colonies are regarded as step-sisters. Jaipur also is divided into two parts - the areas towards Gandhi Nagar are not so well developed and hence not so highly rated.

Patparganj is not a new area developed as a colony. It has been there since pre-Moghul days. Francois Bernier, who came during the time of Shah Jahan, mentioned that among Delhi's faubourghs or isolated pockets of habitation were Shalimar on the North and Shahdara and Patparganj on the east.

Paris was famous for its faubourghs but not so Shahjahanabad. However historian Naryani Gupta notes that Delhi was fed from the Doab and the grain emporia east of the river in Shahdara, Ghaziabad and Patparganj. She goes on to say that these were linked to the intramural market near the Fatehpuri mosque in the Walled City. Vegetables and fruit came from the north-west and were sold in the wholesale market in Subzi Mandi in Mughalpura, outside the city wall, on the Grand Trunk Road to Lahore.

Temples, mosques, small bazaars, gardens and streets did exist in Patparganj and other areas mentioned along with it even in the 17th Century. In the 18th Century Patparganj saw the coming of the Marathas under Mahadji Scindia who were controlling the Moghul emperor, Shah Alam. As a matter of fact, Mahadji styled himself as "the beloved son of the emperor".

Escape route

On September 11,1803 a big battle was fought extending to Patparganj between the British troops under Lord Lake and the Marathas and some reluctant Moghul troops from Delhi in which the British were successful and after three days Delhi was theirs. In 1857 the rebel sepoys from Meerut came via Patparganj to storm Delhi and start the Mutiny in the Moghul capital. After Delhi fell to the freedom fighters, British fugitives - men, women and children - also escaped this way.

Then when the British retook Delhi, the fugitive sepoys and others hid in and around Patparganj till they could return to Delhi or escape further east.

Now Patparganj can boast large scale development and of becoming an extended lung of the Capital, where people tired of living in cramped Delhi proper are finding wider spaces and bigger houses to reside in. Remember Patparganj has been the Khyber Pass or the entry point to Delhi.

Hence its historical significance. No wonder Mohamad Amin, the historian, resides there. Patparganj had a lot of wildlife once, just like nearby Mayur Vihar where peacocks were found in large numbers. That's why probably the colony is known after them (mayur).

According to the Delhi Gazetteer for 1883-1884, "Foxes and hares are plentiful on the east bank of the Jamuna but not on the western. Blackbuck is "found almost everywhere". Chinkara abounded in the hilly parts, particularly the Ridge, wolves too were found and so also jackals. Peafowl, duck and snipe were plentiful most of the time, except for "dry years" when the monsoons failed.

Nilgai roamed this area as far as Burari and the Khader and in Bhunsi. Black and grey partridges were commonly found and near the Purana Qila one could see crocodiles basking in the afternoon on the riverbank. Leopards were often spotted and deer were abundant in some areas.

In the river one could catch mahsir, rohu and batchwa. In the late 1870s and early 1880s rewards were given amounting to Rs.908 (a big sum in those days) for the destruction of leopards, wolves and snakes. Who would believe this now when wildlife is extinct in the area?

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