Here is yet another story of India’s crumbling history. But this, unlike several others, is a happy one. As the 19th century haveli, Dharampura in Chandni Chowk, found its façade pulverising to neglect, MP and President of Heritage India Foundation (HIF), Vijay Goel and his son Siddhant Goel took notice of its dilapidating reality. In 2008, he chalked out a plan to revive the haveli with the help of his architect friend Kapil Aggarwal, and after major mending, the structure today stands as one of the best architectural restoratives projects in the city. It will soon open to public as a cultural centre, becoming home to art exhibitions. Additionally, a fashion boutique will also be set up. Plans of having accommodation for tourists is also on the cards, along with two restaurants—one on the ground floor and the other on rooftop. Films showing the transition of Shahajanabad into Chandni Chowk will be another feature, which will give useful information about the surrounding areas, the destruction of the haveli through the years, and its recent revival. “We will also be showcasing the traditional sports of Chandni Chowk such as kabootarbazi and kite-flying,” says Vijay.
Taking the decision to reimpose the haveli was easy. The process of executing that decision was difficult. When they finally started, a heavy downpour only made matters worse. The walls were given emergency support with props and jacks, and the building was covered with tarpaulin. It was soon clear that this project was going to be a challenging one. “It took nearly six years and 50 masons who worked round the clock under personal supervision to achieve the result you see today,” says Vijay, who was utterly disappointed with the way the haveli was left to crumple down. According to him, none of the administrative bodies, including the Centre and Delhi government, Shahjahanabad Development Board, INTACH and the ASI came forward to help. “Unless and until financial incentives and restoration support is provided to haveli owners, circumstances will not change because otherwise there is no motivation for private owners to get their properties under the protected umbrella. Almost all havelis in Chandni Chowk are in pathetic conditions due to the legal battles between the owners and tenants,” says Vijay.
Moving on, as work started on Dharampura, a lot needed to be looked at and worked on. “The original spaces were restored by removing added partition walls. The dholpur stone pillars, which had lost their original sheen under thick paints, were cleaned and revived to perfect condition with each and every carving detail made legible. The old salwood joists and planks of the ceiling that were termite-affected were replaced and others were reused after appropriate anti-termite treatment. The original lakhori bricks masonry mostly was found in good condition, which was maintained and consolidated with a layer of water-proofing layer. The deep cracks on some parts of the walls were stitched using cross-stitching method with MS bars. The gaps and holes in the masonry were filled in with lime mortar by gravity grouting. All sandstone brackets were strengthened and retained, and many more such changes were brought about,” says Siddhant. He shares with us one of the biggest roadblocks of the renewal process. “As the traditional building construction with chuna (lime) plaster is not in vogue anymore, it was also a big challenge to find the masons. Thankfully, the ongoing conservation work in the Red Fort was of help and some of the masons from there were employed who had know-how of preparing lime mortar with by mixing pozzolanic materials and additives. All broken and collapsed walls and roofs were rebuilt matching the original materials,” he says.
It’s now for the people of the city to visit a new old haveli that lives on to tell stories about its historical past.