It is said that monuments speak. They tell stories, of the long lost eras, of their past, of aged acumen; they talk. Some tell stories of pride, of valor, others tell tales of melancholy. However, this one did not speak. It appeared dead.
The lanes of Old Delhi taper with every turn. Rickshaw pullers find it difficult to maneuver their vehicles through these alleys. Cows, scooters and rickshaws dodge each other to find their pace. In such a mess, it may get very difficult to spot this haveli in the dilapidated lanes of Haus Qazi.
The year was 1846 when Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar gifted his third and most beloved begum Zeenat Mahal, this haveli. The haveli came to be known as Zeenat Mahal ki haveli. Those days, the Mallika-e-Hindustan used to travel from this place to the Red Fort, where the emperor resided. The journey of the empress from the Lal Kuan Bazaar in Chandni Chowk—where this haveli is situated—to the Red Fort, was a grand affair. With the blowing of trumpets and beating of drums, she would travel in opulent palanquins. It must have been a grandiose sight.
The haveli of Zeenat Mahal must have reveled in pride back then. The days of bliss, however, were short-lived. In the year 1858, Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal Emperor was exiled to Rangoon. Zeenat Mahal left her haveli to accompany her husband, never to come back again. The haveli lost its identity, along with the departure of its inhabitant. She died in the year 1886 in Rangoon.
Today, there is nothing left of the haveli except for its main entrance that comprises of two massive and ancient gates with an arched doorway, two bay windows (jharokhas), and just a storey. The interiors have been demolished and the exteriors have been encroached upon by shops.
It is likely, that the Zeenat Mahal haveli would be missed in the crowded and tapering roads of the Lal Kuan Bazaar, unless looked for closely. The monument has camouflaged with the adjoining buildings and other than those functioning in its vicinity, there is hardly anybody who knows about it.
There is an Urdu-medium school for girls named Sarvoday Kanya Vidyalaya within the premises of the haveli. One look at the protruding panels from the naked walls and one would be able to detect the hint of the architecture of an era long lost. The school’s security guard says the school has been there for many years now. There also exists a godown-cum-workshop right outside the school’s gate, all within the haveli.
The haveli that sprawled across four acres in the past lost its charisma after the annihilation of its typically-gorgeous Mughal interiors.
“Some 20 to 25 years ago, the haveli stood in its immaculate form. We were kids then and would come here to play. Back then there was no school here. There is an underground stream that still flows here and goes to Agra via the Red Fort,” a neighbourhood shop owner said.
The place, supposedly, has a reputation of being “haunted”. There used to be a well inside the haveli where corpses of Indian freedom fighters were said to have been dumped.
The only remnants of the haveli subsist like decapitated limbs and in the present day the monument sheds silent tears. The wails go unheard, just as the haveli goes unlisted in the list of the Archaeological Survey of India’s monuments that hold historic significance.