Updated: Mar 6
Ah childhood! that beautiful age when nothing seems impossible. We are not afraid, and what we think we can achieve; those possibilities are immense.
We were a group of eight children about to enter teens. All of us belonged to the lower-middle class families. I am reminiscing the fifties. The country had seen the most bloody partition in the history of India just three years ago. Hearts were sad, mindsets unstable, means limited and the economy was in bad shape, to say the least.
Putting food into our mouth was the first priority of our parents. Unlike children today, who grow up in an entitled childhood complete with pocket money, best of toys and international trips, our times were different.
We were a big family of twelve with my father only earning member. We shared our food, slept in one room and no one could even dream of an exclusive treatment. Therefore, there was no question of getting any pocket money.
There were no indoor games either. We had childhood where we literally grew up on our own, exploring, innovating and surviving everyday. Happiness was not the priority. Survival was.
As children, we created our own games to stay busy and curate our own happiness. The extraordinary nightmare of the partition didn't affect us when we played. As a group of children who were friends, our camaraderie was our family. We played together, and dreamt together.
So far, our area of operations was within two kilometer radius from our homes in Lodhi Colony, New Delhi. One day, as all of us got together, we decided to expand our area of play. In this venture, no money could be involved naturally as we had none.
Childhood gives children roots to grow and wings to fly. There is no doubt that it is small moments of childhood that make biggest stories. Childhood also provides every child a chance to discover, who they are before the world tells them what they should be. As a matter of fact, great childhoods are made up of feelings of connection and positive experiences. Thankfully, materialism does not feature in these scheme of things.
Our group was now bored of routine games and was looking for some adventure. We decided to go on a long march mixed with fun and joy. We were living in Lodhi Colony in Lutyens' Delhi at that time. Our exploits, so far, were limited to Lodhi gardens, about one kilometers from our colony. Another place was the Safdar Jung tomb, just two kilometers from our place. We decided to visit the historic Humayun tomb.
It was about five kilometers from Lodhi Colony. The main problem was convincing our parents. For them, we were small kids. Perhaps they were too busy fighting lives that they did not realise that we are almost twelve now and in to our teens. However, we devised our strategy to persuade our parents and left every thing else in the hands of God.
Humayun Tomb was declared the UNESCO world heritage site in 1993. The layout of Humayun tomb is in Mughal architectural style with Makbara in front, with a row of flowing fountains. There are lush green gardens all around, with trees, shrubs and flowers.
Humayun’s Tomb introduced India to the Persian style of a domed mausoleum set in the centre of a landscaped char-bagh garden.
Humayun’s first wife was a Persian from Khorasan and a daughter of Humayun’s maternal uncle. She was also called Haji Begum, probably because she had gone on the Haj to Mecca. During Humayun’s reign, she appears in history at the Battle of Chausa, where the harem was captured by Sher Khan. In all the chaos of battle, a boat carrying women capsized and her young daughter, Aqiqa Begum, was drowned. Bega Begum did not have any more children. Today she is remembered for the tomb of Humayun that she built in Delhi. After the death of her husband, when she decided to build the mausoleum, she was encouraged in her endeavour by her stepson Akbar, who was very fond of her.
Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi is the first of the grand dynastic mausoleums that were to become synonyms of Mughal architectural style reaching its zenith, years later in the form of Taj Mahal. Humayun’s Tomb stands within a complex of 27.04 hectares that includes other contemporary, 16th century Mughal garden-tombs such as Neela Gumbad, Isa Khan, Bu Halima, Afsarwada, Barber’s Tomb and the complex where the craftsmen employed for the building of Humayun’s Tomb stayed, called the Arab Serai.
Humayun’s Tomb was built in the 1560’s, with the patronage of Humayun’s son, the great Emperor Akbar. Persian and Indian craftsmen worked together to build the garden-tomb, far grander than any tomb built before in the Islamic world. Humayun’s garden-tomb is an example of the charbagh (a four quadrant garden with the four rivers of Quranic paradise represented), with pools joined by channels. The garden is entered from lofty gateways on the south and from the west with pavilions located in the centre . Here for the first time, important architectural innovations were made including creating a char-bagh – a garden setting inspired by the description of paradise in the Holy Quran. The monumental scale achieved here was to become the characteristic of Mughal imperial projects, culminating in the construction of the Taj Mahal.
The inscribed property includes the Humayun’s tomb enclosure. The mausoleum itself stands on a high, wide terraced platform with two bay deep vaulted cells on all four sides. It is surmounted by a 42.5 m high double dome clad with marble flanked by pillared kiosks (chhatris) and the domes of the central chhatris are adorned with glazed ceramic tiles. The middle of each side is deeply recessed by large arched vaults with a series of smaller ones set into the facade.
The interior is a large octagonal chamber with vaulted roof compartments interconnected by galleries or corridors. This octagonal plan is repeated on the second storey. The structure is of dressed stone clad in red sandstone with white and black inlaid marble borders.
Humayun’s garden-tomb is also called the ‘dormitory of the Mughals’ as in the cells are buried over 150 Mughal family members. The tomb stands in an extremely significant archaeological setting, centred at the Shrine of the 14th century Sufi Saint, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. Since it is considered auspicious to be buried near a saint’s grave, seven centuries of tomb building has led to the area becoming the densest ensemble of medieval Islamic buildings in India.
We approached our parents and presented our plan before them. As expected, their first reaction was no . How could kids just 12 could walk ten kilometers . Our reply was father of nation, Mahatma Gandhi always walked long distances and lived a healthy life. He is our ideal and we would love to follow his example. Ultimately, they relented and gave their approval.
Our parents finally agreed to let us go to Humayun Tomb. Parents are after all parents, always concerned about the safety of children.
With the blessing of our parents, we started our adventure walk to Humayun Tomb. We carried our water bottles around our neck, as the j. s long. I still remember that I had a glass bottle filled with tap water as I could not afford the luxury of water bottle.
We carried long wooden sticks made from sturdy branches of trees in Lodhi gardens. The young team was well equipped for this outdoor picnic. Each one of us had carry bags filled with yummy tiffins in our jholas. We also had an improvised cricket bat, tennis ball, a skipping rope, our favourite spinning tops.
I was the chosen team leader as I was tallest boy and quite practical. We reached the historic place by about 11.30. All of us were extremely happy to complete our journey and test our stamina. We decided to relax for a little while and then admire the beauty of Humayun Tomb, walk around it and then be on with our games. In 30 minutes, the team was refreshed as oxygen from lush green environment filled our lungs. We loved every minute of the trip.
This place was a combination of history, and grandeur of Mughal Era and well preserved. We took early lunch as each one of us was extremely hungry. We were tired but happy and excited. All the time we were pulling each others leg, cracking jokes, some of them spicy.
We sat in a small circle, opened our tiffin boxes, laid them on ground and enjoyed a community lunch. It tasted heavenly. The ambience, company of your choice, no parental pressure and food made with mothers love.
We had huge variety. Mothers always put their heart in to food. Best part of food was sweet dishes like sooji and gajjar halwa, made by most of loving moms. All of us relished so much variety, perhaps for first time in the best environment. We again relaxed for some time and then played cricket and other games.
Every good thing in life has to end some time. At 3.30, we decided to start our backward journey. We stood for five minutes admiring the beauty of Humayun Tomb, and flowing water fountains.
The return journey was difficult for the physically weaker ones. Some developed cramps and were using sticks for support. We cheered them up all the way back, sometime pushing them shouting, 'jor lega ke hai sha', a common slogan among labourers doing heavy jobs.
At last, we were back, home sweet home. In all house, mothers were waiting anxiously. All of us got heroes welcome. Even Neighbours cheered us all the way shouting 'well-done boys, we are proud of you'. We were pumped up by this great welcome. We realised adventure and good deeds are admired by all.
As I entered home, my mati was busy in household chores as usual. She set aside her work and brought warm mustard oil and gave me a good massage for thirty minutes ignoring my protests. As massage finished, I felt relaxed.
Mustard oil is bitter and hurts your eyes and skin. But is real good for skin. After massage, my mother told me, warm water is ready in bathroom. Go, have a good bath. I felt really good and relaxed after the bath. Next morning, I was feeling light and relaxed. A new kind of exuberance and confidence has entered my life. Infact, in a moment of heroism I thought, no one should under-estimate us as children. We had left childhood behind and were now in teens.