After scorching heat for several weeks, it rained in Delhi in the evening of 20th May 1999. The temperature dropped to a heavenly twenty degrees Celsius, instead of the usual furnace like heat of forty five. There was a strong breeze and the sky churned with rain bearing thunderclouds. The musty scent of the earth was overbearing as rain fell on the horizon. It was a nice day to walk, the best that I could hope for in the middle of a blistering north Indian summer.
As I walked past Vasant Kunj police station, for no reason that I can now think of, I turned and went off the Mehrauli road on to a small dirt track with overgrown Kikar trees and thorny brush. Not too far away I could see the Radisson hotel and a Jet Airway's 737 doing a missed approach procedure at the IGI airport. But on that country track, surrounded by Kikar brush and peacocks calling to the rain gods, I seemed to be far away from the resurgent twenty-first century India throbbing around me. I felt transported in time. I saw rain approaching and quickened my pace to find a shelter. All of a sudden I came upon the strangest building of such magnificence that it caught me completely by surprise. I stood mesmerised and sucked in my breath. It was like no other building that I had ever seen in India. After twenty six postings and long hauling with the Indian Air Force, I had seen them all, from the most seen Taj Mahal to the least seen family deity “Rakhshass” temple in Shertallai. But this one was unique, ugly, captivating, disjointed without geometry, radiating sadness and lost in the sands of time. The building was simply a rectangular block with stairs leading to an arched door that looked liked the ugly mouth of a prehistoric animal.
The rain splattered all over me and the spell was broken. I ran into the building to shelter from the pouring rain. Wet and shivering I ran up the stairs, through the arched door into an open courtyard with a massive octagonal block in the centre. There was just that pale white stone block within the four walls, open to the sky, and I was getting wetter than an otter. Looking around, I saw that there was an inclined stairway leading to what looked like the ramparts on top of the high walls. At the four corners, there appeared to be some kind of turrets with a small door leading into them. There was no other cover to shelter from the rain and hence, with some trepidation, I hurried into one of the turrets.
It was a very small room, black with soot, mud and smelling of bat droppings. The turret’s ceiling had strange looking artwork, most unusual in what looked like a Muslim tomb. The wind howled through a rectangular hole serving as a window. That was the only other opening besides the door through which I had entered. I moved to the window to dispel the claustrophobia that was beginning to overwhelm me. Through the window I could see the approach road and the open space in front of the building, and part of the stairs that I had climbed to enter the building. The building was surrounded by ruins and some tombstones. The Kikar trees swayed in the rain choked wind. Right in the open, a peacock danced the jig with it’s majestic tail feathers cocked fully erect. There was not a soul around.
Suddenly, out of the lashing rain, a grey coloured Maruti Esteem with yellow CD plates drove into the open space in front of the building. A tall well-built man in loose fitting grey safari suit alighted from the backseat holding a large briefcase. Despite the rain he paused to look around and satisfied that there was no one around, he ran towards the stairway at the entrance and disappeared from my sight. The driver stayed in the car. I silently watched and thought to myself, how silly, it was only a few minutes ago that I thought that there was not a soul around and that the building was lost in the throes of this big city. And now, I suddenly had diplomatic company !!
Bored with watching the car, I began to explore the room. The walls were made of hewed granite. Very large dissimilar blocks kept on top of one another with no cement or mortar. As if someone had built it in a tearing hurry, improvising with what he had. My fingers traced the smooth and cold stonewall and the basic shape of the stone reminded me of something, I just could not remember what. Something about my childhood, smell of incense, my mother. And then suddenly, through the fog of time, the memory returned, I remembered where I had seen stones shaped like this before. In the Krishna temple at Ambalapuzha, in the southern tip of India, where I grew up fifty years ago. A temple so old that the stones were black with age and soaked in oil from thousands of lamps lit by many centuries of devotees. I looked up and there, unmistakable, was a long horizontal block with Hindu religious motifs and emblems signifying the Vaishnavite faith. The direction of the carving indicated that the horizontal block must have originally been a vertical support pillar of some sort.
“Something wrong”, I said to myself. An enigma. A tomb of some long dead Moslem, covered with stones that had obvious Hindu motifs kept in jumbled up fashion. As if the stone mason who created the wall had no idea of the meaning of the carvings or couldn’t care a damn. I shook my head to clear the confusion and the wakeful dream that was beginning to cloud my situational awareness.
I saw the driver in the car open his door and shuffle around the car with an umbrella. Despite the rain, he too kept glancing around. Not the gradual once over of a tourist who came upon the building for the first time. But fugitive glances of a man who was nervous or did not wish to have company. The man in the grey safari suit who had had alighted from the car earlier suddenly came rushing out of the building and the driver ran to give him shelter under the umbrella. The man waived him off with contemptuous authority and in long strides reached the car. He had a bounding gait like that of an athlete, or a soldier, both arms moving in pumping action. And it suddenly struck me that he did not have the briefcase with him. As he twisted himself to enter the car, the safari suit stretched around his shoulder and I noticed something very odd, a bulge under his left arm. ‘A deformed diplomat’, I said to myself. ‘More likely that he has a gun in his armpit, Dr Watson’, I whispered to myself smiling at my clever deduction. The car drove off with screeching sound over the pebbled courtyard and the sound echoed around amongst the ruins and in my head.
The rain by now turned to a drizzle and I decided to explore the building. When I stepped out of the turret, I saw that the imposing structure that I saw from outside was actually a miniature fortress with an inner courtyard. In the centre of the courtyard was the octagonal platform, waist high. Rectangular blocks made of centuries old lime and mortar but indications of crude repairs with modern white cement. To one side of the octagonal block, there was a door leading to a vault, beneath the block. When I peered in, I found steps, large stone blocks with no hand holds. Out of insatiable curiosity, I decided to go down these steps into the deep vault.
It was dark in the underground vault, but there were several candles burning on a raised platform at the bottom, about 30 feet down the stairs. I felt nervous but cautiously descended the stairs. The candles flickered and threw shadows on the dome. It was a very large windowless vault, empty except for the tall pillars and the raised platform. As I reached the bottom I realized that it was a burial chamber. There was a sarcophagus on the platform, covered with green cloth. And before I could look around, a man clutching a briefcase suddenly popped out from behind the sarcophagus. I almost jumped out of my skin out of sheer fright. I also noticed that he was pointing a small snub nosed 9 mm Beretta at me. I stood motionless with my mouth wide open, staring at him in shock. The man stared right back at me, very cool. His hand holding the gun, half bent with elbow held close to his waist, was rock steady.
I was shell shocked. Despite the dim candle light, I noticed that the man wore a black sports shirt with collar and faded pair of blue jeans. He was fair with light brown hair, sharp blue eyes, over six feet tall with muscular biceps and very healthy broad shoulders. He in turn must have spotted a worn and sick man past his prime, in white T-shirt, white shorts and white canvass shoes. Hardly the image of a man dangerous or threatening, even on a tennis court !! With his index finger he slid the safety catch on, lifted his shirt at the back and inserted the gun into his waist band. I observed mechanically the economy of his motion, bare minimum movement of limb and body, eyes half closed, but minutely observant.
I came out of the shell shock with a start.
‘Don’t shoot’, I pleaded and my voice echoed around the vault with frightening alacrity. ‘Don’t shoot’ I said again. ‘I am so sorry, I didn’t know, I just came here to see a mummy’, I stammered with quivering voice. “I wont do it again’. I said whatever that came to my mind, silly senseless things that you say when you are frightened and out of your mind. I put my hands behind my neck like prisoner of war photographs from the 71 war. My knees were shaking. I was reacting blindly. I saw that the man no longer had a gun, but my mind was reacting to a situation noticed before the shock. The man nodded but said nothing. He suddenly turned and ran up the stair way, bounding over the large stones with practiced ease still clutching the briefcase. I stood rooted to the spot for many minutes, and my shaking knees finally gave way. I sat down on the floor below the sarcophagus to get myself under control, my hands still wrapped behind my neck !!
I don’t know how or when I climbed out of the vault and on to the ramparts. It must have been a short while later. The view from the top was magnificent. There was a temporary break in the rain. The sky was fully overcast with very low dark cumulous clouds. For many miles around, I could see the ugly concrete jungle of multi-storied middle class housing complex where I lived. In the far distance, a large black station wagon was speeding away on the Mehrauli road. It took a while for me to realize that I had unwittingly intercepted a drop, the kind of fishy things that spooks do. I had also almost got myself killed and probably the simple harmless tennis wear had saved my life.
The experience shook me up. I was prone to hallucinations.
** 1192 AD **
As befitting the Sultan, “Allauddin Bin Mohammad” of “Ghor” occupied the largest tent, pitched on the top ridge. The tent may have been called "Diwan-i-Khas", so special that it made every man covet it more than the charms of the best lass confined in the "Diwan-i-Aam,” the Sultan's harem.
Diwan-i-Khas was a man's tent. The sanctum sanctorum, occupied by a single man, meant for conferring with and commanding other men of smaller stature. Made of calf leather and strung together on polished bamboo poles with gut leather strings, it was mean and ugly. There was no furniture or decorations of any kind, just a thin layer of Persian carpets on which Mohammad Ghori held court and summarily dictated the fate of a subcontinent that he terrorized at his whim and fancy. It was "Divan-i-Khas" to all men because it was the symbol of ambition, radiating superiority, power, authority, ultimate ingredients of aphrodisiac lust.
'Diwan-i-Aam" on the other hand, was enviously a treat for the eye. The tent was made of stretched camel leather dipped in vegetable dye and hand painted. In the evening light, it's golden crown glittered. The indigo purple hew, smell of incense and it’s very young occupants acted in synergy to stir the fantasies of every man in Mohammed Ghori’s army of vagabonds. The decorations within were feminine, with tassels and pashmina wool, silk draping, chintz muslin curtains. 'Diwan-i-Aam" was the pleasure house of just one man, the Sultan. And the forty year old Sultan used it often. Allah be merciful to anyone else who was seen casting his evil eye in it's direction. "Diwan-i-Aam" was the only perk and reward for the man who was elected by the war council to be the occupant of "Diwan-i-Khas".
Diwan-i-Khas and Diwan-i-Aam stood at the western edge of the Aravalli hills, towards the western approaches to Hindustan, along with the ‘Khazana’. Khazana was the treasury, filled with the booty that had been plundered from the Kafirs of Hindustan. Unlike the Diwan-i-Khas and Diwan-i-Aam, the Khazana was just an assortment of wrapped and boxed goods kept in the open, but ringed by a line of stones. The plundered booty taken from the heathen Hindu idol worshippers, who quivered and took to flight like a parakeet ahead of the Sultan's military might. The Khazana belonged to Sultan's subjects. Allah be merciful to the Sultan who cast his eye on even the smallest object in the Khazana. The Sultan’s army was camped tightly around the Sultan’s facilities in concentric circles. The pack animals, mostly horses, mules and camels were corralled further south, downwind so that the stench would not reach the Sultan. The odd pachyderms that hauled Sultans tents and Khazana stood out, gently swaying sideways, twisting the neighbouring Keekar trees and stuffing their mouths.
Between the Diwan-i-Khas, Diwan-i-Am and the Khazana lay the unwritten constitution, and the keeper of discipline and morale of Sultan's army. Mohammad Ghori had brought his four regiments, each with a thousand men, all the way from Ghazna, across the mountains, the raving rivers of Punj-Ab, the Thar desert, braving hunger, injury, mosquitoes, decease and the ravages of war. And not once did he have to cut the throat of a man in his tribe for indiscipline or revolt. The Sultan commandeered ultimate devotion and loyalty from every man under his command. The secret of success was simple - no wine or wealth for the Sultan, his only perk was the well-stocked Diwan-i-Am. The Sultan had the power to change the destiny of any man that Allah chose to bring within his sight. Sultan Ghori was a pious man, a satiated man, a man with no further ambition. He transparently demonstrated his faith in the tenets of Islam and his devotion to Allah. His men demanded this from him. On the other hand, his men could have anything they fancied; sexual, physical or material appeasement in any form, taken by brute force from the faceless humanity that they vanquished in Hindustan. Although no wine or women were allowed in the military camp, they were the driving force and the raison d'etre for the army of Sultan Ghori, besides the wealth they hoped to take back. Gold, uncut diamonds, jade, pearls, muslin cloth, spice, horses, elephants, and most precious for the fighting man, finely tempered and horned steel for the knives and swords. Sultan Ghori and his men were nothing more than a band of marauding nomadic tribe. During his initial trip, Ghori had realized that Hindustan’s countryside had very little of interest to him, except the grain and cattle for the sustenance of his army. The army simply took this by force, along with the charms of the country lasses, as they moved from one village to another. He realized that the wealth lay in the Khazanas of the princes and kings and in the Hundies of the large Hindu temples. Initially he had to conquer and subjugate the kingdoms to get at the Khazans. It was such a simple matter. The heathen had neither fortifications around their habitats nor trained armies for self protection. They lived in a lethargic euphoria of passivity. All it took him was a frontal assault and a cavalry charge, often with no loss of life, to achieve meek submission of the non believers. The Khazana was usually offered to him voluntarily by the quivering Raja along with his cloth head gear, in exchange for leniency.
On his initial trip, the Sultan had not known of the much larger wealth in the temples. The offerings of the heathen, accumulated over centuries. The wealth was mostly gold, diamonds and pearls. It was discovered by default since the Hindus were most secretive and refused to divulge the location of the ‘Hundies’ in the temples, mostly in cleverly hidden stone vaults. Sultan realized that it was a waste of time cutting throats to get information on the Khazana, it was simpler for his men to just break the whole place down. Personally, the Sultan despised the soft, cowardly, pleasure seeking, Hindustani non believers except Prithviraj Chauhan with whom he had to spat twice at Thanesar and Jhajhar to get him into chains. He actually liked Chauhan’s fighting spirit, much like an Afghan, which was why he didn’t order that Chauhan’s throat be cut. A punishment that he usually meted out to all infidels. On his march eastwards, heading for Hindustan, the Sultan had tried his best to baptise Chauhan and to make him join his army as a slave, like Kutub-ud-Din Aibak, a Gujjar tribesman whom he had caught and baptized to Islam many years earlier. Kutub-ud-Din Aibak was a mountain of a man. He was fearless, dedicated, the strongest man in the army. Though he was a slave for life, he was now a respected general in the Sultan’s army, commanding a regiment of slaves. Chauhan could have been second to none, except for Aibak. However, Chauhan was obstinate and showed no sign of remorse or subservience all along their long march to intercept the Aravalli hills. On their way, the Sultan lost his patience and ordered his execution.
** 2000 AD **
I was so scared of the spooks with guns that I never went off road and into the bushes next to Vasant Kunj Police Station again, at least for the for next twelve months. But the tomb remained in my dreams and subconscious, the enigma bothered me.
After twelve months, I mustered enough courage to visit the tomb, and started going there regularly for evening walks, all by myself. The scenario was much the same. However, there was now a signboard at the turn off from the Mehrauli road, which said “Tomb of Sultan Ghari”.
“Sultan Ghari Who ?”, I asked myself, and ran to check up on history books.
Around the time that Mohammed Ghori came to Delhi, Delhi was not much of a town, just few villages scattered on either side of the Yamuna river. The main habitations were probably around Mehrauli (Lal Kot) and Suraj Kund (near Faridabad), the habitats of the Tomar dynasty. The current popular theory has it that Sultan Ghari tomb was built in 1231 for Nasir-ud-Din Mahmud, the eldest son of Il-tut-Mish, the slave who ascended to be Sultan after the death of Aibak (1211). Il-tut-Mish who died in 1236 was the father of Razia Sulatan who was murdered by Sultan Bahram in 1245 because she would not agree to be his concubine. One of the comic books that my son discarded indicated that Mohammad Ghori was murdered in Afghanistan by Prithviraj Chauhan in 1206. The internet said that Ghori was murdered near Jhelum. Nobody seems to have died a natural death in those days.
There was a saint Hazrat Shah Turkman Bayabani who died in 1240 AD and has a tomb near where Razia has hers, near Turkman Gate in Old Delhi. The story went that Razia’s mother Shah Turkaan took control for a while before Razia put her in jail and got her killed. It was very common to imprison and kill parents those days because the young could not wait for the old to abdicate !!! The infamous Turkman Gate north of the Ram Lila grounds and Delhi railway station, where Sanjay Gandhi and his minion Jagmohan erased the ‘Juggi’ colonies in 1977, may have been built either in her memory or that of Turkman, in all probability the former. Turkan Gate could easily have become Turkman gate over seven hundred and fifty years especially after the Englishmen came to rule Delhi. There was a bit of political chaos after Razia till Ghiyas-ud-din Balban came to rule. He was killed in 1287. Afterwards the Khalji Dynasty (Ala-ud-Din Khilji) took control and moved out of Mehrauli, north-eastwards to Siri Fort and Hauz Khas.
To my mind, grownup sons were rather a political threat those days and it was difficult to believe that a Sultan would build a tomb for a male heir especially if he had got rid of him like it happened with most Sultans. Usually a Sultan built his own tomb, in his lifetime, and buried everyone in his family, including his concubines, within or near about his own tomb. So why did Il-tut-Mish go and build a tomb for his son at Vansant Kunj, a considerable distance from Mehrauli, when he could have just as well incarcerated him in the Mehrauli complex ????.
I was intrigued. The thought went around my head, round and round, clockwise and anticlockwise, for days at an end. I dreamt of Mohammed Ghori, Aibak and Il-tut-Mish. In my imagination, sometimes I was a ‘Slave Cavalry General’, sometimes “L’aide de camp’ to Sultan Aibak like my father was an ADC to the Maharaja of Travencore in 1945. Other times I was ‘Howard Carter’ the man who discovered the tomb of ‘Tutankhamun’ in Egypt. I was overwhelmed with a desire to solve the Ghari mystery. I decided to focus on Mehrauli and the Slave dynasty to find the veracity of the so called Sultan Ghari’s tomb. The first thing I did, like all people from the military, was to sit and plot all the relevant tombs of Slave Dynasty on a current Delhi map.
** 1192 AD **
As he ambled up the Aravalli hills towards Diwan-i-Khas after his evening namaz, Qtub-ud-Din Aibak was a very worried man. The tribesmen were battle worn and restless. They had reached the stage in the campaign to say ‘enough’ and probably looked forward to going home, back to the cooler climes of the Panjshir valley. The Monsoon and malarial fever would arrive in the plains within the month. They ought to have been in the mountains, on their way home, had it not been for the Sultan’s incapacitation. The Sultan had uncontrolled dysentery, the curse of Hindustan. It was not known to Aibak then, but many centuries later the same curse, called Cholera, was to be the biggest scourge to another set of invaders, the East India Company.
"Asalam Valaikum", said Imtiaz Khan as Aibak approached the Khazana, doing the traditional Islamic obeisance, touching his lips with the fingers of the right hand.
"Valaikum Salam", Aibak responded instinctively, returning the traditional gesture.
Imtiaz was the Sultan’s nephew, his only blood relative in the tribe. But more than that, he was the Sultan's right-hand man, ‘confidant’ and chief of security. Aibak was a slave but he was also a general and hence Imtiaz held him in awe. They quite liked each other and were friends.
“If anyone could broach the subject of returning home, without incurring the wrath of the Sultan, it is Imtiaz”, thought Aibak to himself. All the Sultan’s men knew this and looked forward to Imtiaz for salvation before the Monsoon and malaria caught up with them. If the Sultan became “dear to Allah”, a euphemism for his death, Imtaiz would be the natural choice of the war council as Mohammad’s successor.
Imtiaz himself had arrived at the ‘enough is enough’ point of this campaign and desired to go home. In his mid thirties, unusually frail for an Afghan, he was an asthmatic. The hot, humid, miserable weather of Hindustani summer made his life miserable. Neither the herbal portions concocted by the ‘Hakkim’, nor the yogic therapy, of snorting water alternately through each nostril prescribed by a local Hindu yogi had helped to alleviate his silent sufferings. With the Monsoon weather approaching, he knew that his asthma would aggravate and make him wheeze and cough all night. He longed for the cool dry air of the mountains, the peace and tranquillity of his home in Panjshir valley. However, he had to get the Sultan to approve of the journey back. And the Sultan would not and could not give the command. The Sultan was terminally ill, comatose. And tradition neither permitted nor approved of any activity without the express command of the Sultan. The tribe had been languishing in the camp for over a month waiting for the Sutan to recover good health. Besides the Hakkim, only Imtiaz knew that the Sultan was far too gone, that he would never recover. During every prayer, five times a day, Imtiaz had remained for an extra ten minutes on his knees for Allah to give him a sign, a hint of what he willed, a command to Imtiaz, guidance for the course of events that Imtiaz could not foresee. Imtiaz’s predicament was understandable. If Allah was to show any indication of his assuming command of the tribe, even in compelling circumstances like this, and if the Sultan were to regain health, Imtiaz would be found guilty of coup d’etat and hence have his throat cut by the Sultan, with no appeal.
The sentries dutifully paid obeisance to Imtiaz and Aibak as he paused before the Diwan-i-Khas. A repulsive stench emanated from within and they had to exercise extreme self-control to look unaffected. During the previous week the Sultan had lost complete control of his rectal functions and defecated where he lay, unresponsive to any ministrations from the “Hakim” and “Chameli”. Chameli was an eunuch and the guardian of Sultan’s harem. Imtiaz took a long asthmatic breath and walked in. Sultan lay naked, on his side, on a palanquin covered with linen. As they entered, Chameli was on her knees wiping the Sultan’s buttocks with rose water. There was a thick fog of incense within the tent and Imtiaz felt choked with the strong combined odour of incense and human excreta. Hakim had never left the Sultan’s bedside since he became sick and constantly administered him with portions of ‘Unani’ medicines.
"Asalam Valaikum". Both Imtiaz and Aibak bend low from the waist while paying obeisance to the Sultan. He lay there unmoving and for a few minutes Aibak thought that the Sultan had become ‘dear to Allah’.
The Sultan feebly raised his hands and beckoned them closer. Imtiaz had to put his ear to the Sultan’s lips to decipher what he was saying.
“Leave me here with Aibak and an escort’, said the Sultan.
‘Take the army home’. The Sultan closed his eyes and took several breaths. He could barely speak.
“I shall rejoin you in the mountains”, he said in barely audible whisper.
“Send all my wives to me, but take the Khazana”.
“Go now”, he said motioning with his fingers, unable to speak.
** 2001 AD **
As per the current historical perceptions, which I studiously garnered from the National Archives, Ghori went back to Afghanistan and left his slave Aibak behind to rule Hindustan. Aibak settled down in Mehrauli and started to build the Qutb Minar, the “Eiffel Tower Of Delhi”. He built one level (29 mtrs) before he died. Il-tut-Mish his successor built three more levels, and when he died, he was buried next to the tower. About hundred and forty five years later, during the reign of Firoz Shah, the four level tower was apparently struck by lightening and so Firoz Shah reconstructed the tower and made it into five levels. In 1828 the tower got struck by earth quake and major reconstruction undertaken by the British who added another level and a cupola. After independence, Nehru got the cupola removed and it now adorns the garden around the Qutub !!!.
Going back to the Slave dynasty, after Il-tut-Mish’s death, there was bit of a mess and part of his family including his wife seems to have migrated north wards, many days march in those days, to Turkman Gate where they set up another Sultanate (Razia Sultan). Balban seems to have brought the flock back to Mehrauli or at least merged Turkman Gate Sultanate with that of the old Mehrauli one. The Khalji Dydnasty who came next, for whatever reason, did not like Mehrauli and moved lock stock and barrel to Siri Fort.
Before Vasant Kunj was developed by Delhi Development Authority in early 1990, the area west of Mehrauli along the “Ridge” was much like Chambal Valley, full of ravines, huge rocks and covered with thorny Kikar brush. It was inconceivable that about 760 years before DDA’s bulldozers levelled Vasant Kunj, the general lay of the land was any better than what DDA found out.
“Why in haven would Il-tut-Mish want to go and burry his son Sultan of Ghari in the middle of a ‘Khunder’ (ravines), at least two days march west through what is now Vasant Kunj, when the most expected thing for him to do was to bury him somewhere around his own tomb which he must have started to build in his own lifetime?”, I asked myself in earnest. “His children were all quarrelling and going north, towards the fertile banks of Yamuna, all lovely country to rule or bury the dead, or build a tomb, but for heaven sake, not in the Khunder that was Vasant Kunj !!!”, my line of questions produced more enigmatic questions !!!
I went visiting other tombs and tried to do an engineering estimate on manpower and material requirements, time lines, and availability of material in the neighbourhood. Il-tut-Mish or his minions couldn’t have been fools, they had the brains and architectural/engineering ability to build another 55 mtrs and raise three levels on top of a narrow 29 mtr tower in days when RCC, Portland Cement, cranes and elevator lifts were rather Jules Verne. The Qutb Minar was made of finely cut and shaped red sand stone brought all the way from Alwar, about 90 days transit as per my calculations and time lines. If he had all that building & transportation abilities, and probably surplus material to build his loving son a fine tomb, why would he go and build a tomb in the middle of the Khunder using building blocks that were obviously taken from Hindu temples, no matter that the temples were the easiest source of pre-cut stones. Whoever built the tomb, was in a hurry to build something. “There is something rather fishy about the current historical perceptions’, I said to myself while sitting down to read Romila Thapar and her interpretation of Indian history. She had her own concocted tale to tell, which did not answer any of my questions.
Then one day, while driving back from Chandigarh, where I had gone to attend a wedding, I lost my way between Rohini and Jahangirpuri, on the northern outskirts of Delhi. I stopped to ask my way and literally bumped into an old derelict monument that set off high pitched shrieks in my head. It looked vaguely familiar. It looked like a small fort, had high walls with turrets in the corner. And what appeared to be a doorway high up in the wall, without a door. There was now a makeshift stone staircase leading to the doorway. Once long ago, the door may have been made of heavy teakwood, and there may have been articulated wooden steps leading to the top, the kind that could be drawn up to secure the fort. I left my car right in the middle of the crowded gully and went around the fort on foot, to investigate. Except for the façade adjacent to the road, the rear walls had been knocked down and there were hovels around with shops. I stopped at a tea shop run by an old Muslim gentleman.
“Salam Alaikum”, I said. “Can you make me some tea” ?
“Walaikum Salam….Insha Allah chai zaroor banegi”, he said smiling and rattling his pots and pans. While I slurped the piping hot “Chai” with heavy ginger flavour, I struck up a conversation with ‘Mushkan Bhai’, who had migrated from Turkman Gate after Sanjay Gandhi broke up his shanty.
“Which is this fort ?”, I asked him.
“What fort ?”, he countered, pointing with his chin, stirring a large “kadhai” full thick milk. “That is not a fort Mia, that is the “Badli Ki Sarrai”.
“Badli Ki Serrai’ was a famous locality in north Delhi where the English had fought a pitched battle with the Sepoys during the mutiny in 1857. I had earlier presumed that it was a neighbourhood that was now extinct, except for a Mutiny Memorial, about four or five miles away. There was so much history that I had yet to learn.
And I learnt that day that a “Serrai” in the old days was part police station and part travel bungalow, Badli Ki Serrai dated from the days of Tommer dynasty and was part of a perimeter defence system that ringed Delhi, nodal defence along major access to Delhi. So it was really not Gen Sunderji who formulated the “Nodal Concept” of the ‘Air Land Battle’ doctrine of the Indian Army, as I believed it to be after the Brass Tacks fiasco of 1987. Sunderji inherited it from Suraj Mal and the Thomar dynasty a thousand years earlier !!!
Many years later, I found another Serrai. This one very similar, far away from Delhi, but adjacent to the Sun temple at Ranakpur. Even after a thousand years, the Ranakpur Ki Serrrai was still being used more or less as a Serrai, a police station and a traveller’s bungalow !!!!
“Sultan Ghari” tomb was identical to both the relics at Badli and Rankpur. Before it was converted to a tomb, like the others, the one next to my house which I was investigating had a large underground cavern, probably a storage area, with small rooms surrounding a courtyard on top, all of it within a fort like structure. In all probability, before it was converted to a tomb, it was a Serrai.
** 1193 AD **
Mohammed Ghori hung on by sheer will power for almost a month after Imtiaz had marched the army westwards, across the desert, to cross Indus. After crossing Indus, the army would turn north across the Punjab plains and march all the way to cross the passes west of Peshawar. It would take them almost three months to reach home. When the rains came, Mohammed Ghori had shown signs of improvement and had even called for his favourite concubines to entertain him. But the respite was short lived and he died soon after. Before he died, he had extracted a promise from Aibak that he would not leave him and let his body be desecrated by the infidels. He would not find a place in heaven, and get his share of 22 ‘Houries’ if the infidels desecrated his mortal remains. Mohammed Ghori invoked the wrath of Allah and made Aibak promise that he would make a suitable tomb for him and stay in Hindustan to protect it.
When Mohammed Ghori finally died, Aibak sent his scouts in all directions to find a suitable quick fix tomb solution. They found one near Rang Phari, deep inside the Aravalli hills in the east. It was a strong ‘Serrai’ on the road to Suraj Kund. The “Rang Pahari Ki Serrai” had been built by Suraj Mal some year earlier as part of the outer defence for Lal Kot Fort at Mehrauli. Aibak discovered that it was a miniature fort with it’s own vaults and safe storage cellars deep below the surface. The infidels were very clever and had found ways to keep cool in the scorching summer by burrowing underground, an idea totally claustrophobic and alien to the nomadic mountain men from Afghanistan. When Aibak approached with his army, the infidels had fled, leaving the surrounding village empty. He had caught some of them hiding in the nearby ravines and brought them back to break up the village and remodel the Serrai to a makeshift tomb in the deep underground vaults. Along with Ghori’s remains, he also interred several of Ghori’s concubines who had contacted the same curse of Hindustan. It was only befitting the Sultan that some of his consorts give him company in after life, along with the ‘Houris’ that he well deserved. Those left alive, were now his property.
“Insha Allah’, he repeated his promise to Ghori. “I cannot do any better now. You will have to bear the inconvenience and do with the makeshift arrangements. But I shall stay and when I have captured all of Hindustan, I shall return to make your home more comfortable, as befitting a Sultan”, he promised.
** 2002 AD **
“Where is Ghari”, I asked myself one day and took out the Eicher map of modern Delhi. I couldn’t find Ghari, but there was a village Garhi tucked away between GK and Lotus temple. The geographical location was not far from Mehrauli and besides the tomb of Sultan Ghari was marked as Sultan “Garhi” in the Eicher map. So there could indeed have been a ‘Sultan Garhi’, but why would his tomb be here in Vasant Kunj and why not in his own Sultanate in Mehrauli many miles away ?” Not logical and didn’t make sense.
Then it struck me that all tombs have names like Humayun’s tomb, Balban’s tomb, Razia Sultan’s tomb, Il-tut-Mish’s tomb, Ghiyasuddin’s tomb…. etc, all in the name of the deceased. “So why was this tomb being called Sultan Ghari tomb, why not Nasir-ud-Din Mahmud’s tomb or just Nasir’s or Mahmud’s tomb if he was indeed the original occupant of the tomb ?”.
There was no doubt in my mind that Sultan Ghari’s tomb, or whose ever tomb it was, it was indeed the oldest monument in India. It seemed to me that the popular belief was incorrect and in many ways an injustice to the occupant. “And why would anyone want to obfuscate history?”, I asked myself like a police man.
** 1193 AD **
Kutub-ud-Din Aibak sat on the cushions in Diwan-i-Khas and surveyed the commanders of his rag tag slave regiment. ‘Not much to help me become a Sultan in Hindustan’, he rebuked himself, choking his rising ambitions.
Technically he was still a slave, but the Afghan Army and his master, the new Sultan Imtiaz Ghori, was far away back in Afghanistan. Aibak knew that Imtiaz would never come back, Hindustan was all there for him to take, if only he could subjugate the Rathors and wily old King Jaichand, about 150 ‘Kos’ to the south. He knew of the old feud between Cahuhans and the Rathors, and now that Prithviraj Chauhan was gone, he knew that he could get the old Chauhan army to cooperate with him. He had to have them on his side if he was to be the Sultan of Hindustan. But before that, he had to set himself up in a new home, here at Mehrauli, a strategic locale east of the Aravalli hills and on the crossroads east and west. In the vastness of the plains around him Mehrauli offered tactical advantages of concealment, higher ground and lush undergrowth. With is back to the Aravalli, all other approaches were full of ravines, thick Kikar brush and thorns, difficult to negotiate for man and beast. For a man who had fought and lived on the run for most of his life, mobility was a matter of survival. He did not believe in the shackles of a fort which constrained a small and highly mobile force of cavalry. He had decided to ignore Suraj Kund and give it wide berth. The dilapidated ruins, with the scattered Hindu villages held no charm for him. He had to keep his army away from them, lest the infidels corrupted their minds. However, Mehrauli south of the old broken down fortress of Lal Kot fascinated him. He knew that in an emergency he could always use the fort as a defence against the cheeky infidels.
“Insha Allah, we shall camp here in Mehrauli”, he had ordered his regiment, all of them slaves like Aibak, left behind by Imtiaz under his command to protect Sultan Mohammed Ghori. Now sitting in Diwan-I-Khas surrounded by his troop commanders, he was most excited with the prospects ahead of him.
“We have to have a base to build a stronger army”, he commanded his men.
“How, Haw”, responded his men respectfully.
“We have to breed horses”, he paused for breath and scratched between his legs. He had bad fungus infection in the limb joints and the itch was excruciating. Undeterred, he rasped out his plan.
“We need to stock provisions, capture slaves, obtain many bullock carts to carry our provisions and train for war with the infidels”.
“How, Haw”, responded his men with zealous enthusiasm. Like Aibak, they had no home to go back to. On the other hand they were free men in Hindustan.
“Hoozoor”, said one of his minions.
“Yes what, is it ?”, asked Aibak raising his bushy eyebrows.
“A fort will take many years to build, much labour’. He paused for effect. “But without a fort, we cannot be safe”.
“No fort”, said Aibak. “Insha Allah, build a tower instead, so high that we can see five Kos around from it’s top, to warn us many day’s march before the enemy gets here”.
“Let the ‘Muezzin’s’ call to ‘Adhan’ (Islamic call to prayer) from it’s top reach the ear’s of every infidel for five Kos, five times a day”, he decreed.
“How, Haw”, Aibak’s minions harked. “Go and catch every mason and stone artisan that you can find in the countryside”, ordered Aibak. The idea was brilliant and saved them casual labour which every soldier loathed. “Don’t waste time quarrying stone, just break up anything built of stone, requisition bullock carts from the infidels and bring it all up here to build the tower”.
“Build a tall tower:, he said with finality and walked out from the Diwan-i-Khas to the adjacent Diwan-i-Aam. Now that Mohammed Ghori was dead, he was fully entitled to Ghori’s pleasure house.
** 2006 AD **
Much of 2005, I was preoccupied with my new job. So it was not till mid 2006 that I got the next opportunity to take a walk and go visiting Sultan Ghari. I was amazed and rather disappointed to see a large posse of labour hacking away at the ruins around the tomb. My disappointment arose from the invasion of my private world of fantasies. I noticed that they had cleared the rubble from the ruins and were rebuilding some of the structures using chalk and motor, with a light coating of red cement.
“What are you doing?”, I enquired from an elderly Sikh gentleman who seemed to be supervising the labourers clearing out an old well besides the tomb.
“Eavi, ithe restoration karva rahe Ji”, he said amicably (“Just like that, I am doing restoration work”).
I found that he was a retired person from the Archaeological Society Of India (ASI), now working as a contractor for Intach, a private organisation involved in restoration of historical places and heritage sites in India. It had originally been a deep well with steps leading to the bottom with galleries. The labour under the supervision of the Sikh was systematically destroying the character of the well and converting it into a normal irrigation well, the kind that the Sikh gentleman was used to in present day Punjab with electric motors to draw out the water. There was no water in this well.
“You have done this sort of thing earlier, … perhaps… ?”, I asked with mounting trepidation.
“Tusi Kya Ho ?”, (what are you ?) he countered. I fully understood his paranoia. Delhi is full of people who pretend to be conservationists, with political connections and the ability to file public interest litigations. Or they may just tip off the Bajrang Dal, a bunch of political hoodlums who specialise in demolishing old Muslim structures like Babri Mazjit !!!
“I am no body”, I explained, “Just an old fauji (soldier) who come here for a walk sometimes”.
The Sardaji was mollified, just as I knew he would be. All Sikhs have some relative in the armed forces who drink rum and anyone who drinks rum, as per any Sardarji, is a good chap.
“Tusi Ram Pinde Ho ?”, he asked me the predictable question, pointing to an air bag which I had not noticed before, and which had a bottle of rum peeping out of the half done zipper.
“I usually have a drink after sunset, sometimes rum”, I told him rather quintessentially.
“Have a drink” he said and just so that he didn’t get offended, I took a sip from the bottle. I found that he had been sipping at it whole day and was as pickled as onions in vinegar could be.
“Who do you think is buried here ?”, I asked the Sardarji after we had couple of sips. The rum had made us best of friends.
“Ghori”, he said unhesitatingly.
“But the board says it is the tomb of Sultan Ghari”, I told him incredulously.
“You think Vajpee and Advani were the first ones to pull down tombs and mosques ?”, he countered. “Eavi Honda hai”, (it happens) he consoled. “History has many ‘Hindoooos’ who wanted to pull down Musalman’s tomb, Sikh Gurudwara and Christian Church”, he wiped his lips with the back of his hand after a hefty swig from the bottle. “If the sign board had said Sultan Ghori, what would you have done, ….roll up here in a T92 tank and blast the dastardly thing like the Pathans did to Babyan Budha ? Especially since that is what the Musalman did to temples when they wanted to build tombs ?”, he asked with a straight face.
I felt ashamed. After all, I was part of the military that did that sort of thing to evict Bindranwale from the Sikh “Golden Temple” in 1984, and stood by in 91 to watch the Babri Mazjit being pulled down.
I discussed much history with the old Sardarjee that evening, after we killed the half bottle of Old Monk Rum. He even took me to see two menhirs that had emerged from the rubble that had been cleared by his army of labourers, about 100 mtrs behind the tomb, in front of what appeared to be the ruins of a two story building, with stairs leading to a basement.
“What is this ?”, I asked the Sardarji, pointing to the menhirs.
“”It is written in Pili”, said the Sardarji.
“You mean Pali, the language that was used on the ‘Stupas’ in Sanchi, in Bihar ?”, I was trembling for some reason. “Pali was the language that was prevalent during the life and times of Budha, … the language that was spoken by Emperor Ashoka, ages before Christ”…. I mumbled to no one in particular. “Pali went extinct a long while ago”, I said disbelievingly. “What is it doing here ?”, I asked the Sardarji.
“I think it was some kind of lucky charm”, he said. “See here”, he said pointing at the two pillars, one in red sandstone and the other hewed granite. “It seems to have been a gate, or an entrance to some rich man’s home”. “There is even a Chatri (umbrella building), he said pulling me by the hand to another part of the ruins.
“It was all part of some village that existed much before the Serai was broken up to make the tomb”, said the man from archaeological department. He should know. That sort of thing was his bread and butter for forty odd years while I was flying aeroplanes for a living !! I was getting zapped with a heady mixture of rum and history, the two does not mix and it didn’t make any sense to me at that time.
Afterwards, I did a finger count and found that I could account for every one’s tomb, at least every one who mattered in Delhi those years, almost nine hundred years ago, all except Mohammed Ghori and Qtub-ud-Din Aibak. There was no written records then, nothing that I could hope to find now. To really pin the tomb down, one would probably need modern technology, radio isotope scans, X-ray machines and DNA counts. Like the stuff that was shown on National Geographic, investigations on who killed Tutankhamen. May be some day, someone will bother to find out and give the devil his due. Ghari may be Ghori or even Aibak, who knows ? As for me, I keep looking, and asking. And in my head, I can just see the way it happened !!!!!!! I am also happy that Ghori became Ghari. If the VHP had heard of this, they would never have gone to Babri, they would have denied Ghori his 22 Houries. It is also easier to find TV crew in Delhi than in Ayodhya. Let Ghori rest in peace.
** 2007 AD **
I believe that the spooks don’t use Sultan Ghari’s tomb as a drop any more. They may have found better places to do drops, Delhi is so full of tombs. Ever since the ‘right to information’ act was passed by the parliament last year, the spooks may not even need to spook. They can simply ask around and they will be told, under the ‘right to information’ act !!!!!!