Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A sleepy afternoon in Khirkee Village

Khirkee has been in the news recently, and it reminded me that I have not written about my visit there.

It was much before all this brouhaha happened.

I went to check out Khirkee some 4-5 years ago, while I was designing our Delhi - A Tale of 8 Cities tour. I was trying to showcase the many different settlements in Delhi, each from a different era, built by a different ruler, and with a different set of characteristics.

Khirkee is part of the very poetically named Jahanpanah (Shelter of the World), the 4th City of Delhi that Mohammed bin Tughlaq built in the 1300's. I wanted to add Khirkee to the Tale of 8 Cities tour because it shows how the city of Delhi is growing and literally sucking into itself, the villages that used to exist here. By the way, I am calling it the 4th city of Delhi, but depending on where you start the city numbering, it could be literally anything! :) 

The major monument in the village is the Khirkee Masjid (Window Mosque). We wandered into the village, hunting for it, and were helped by local residents to find it. When I first saw the mosque, I was immediately struck by how robust it looked. There was no femininity or grace; instead I saw a strong building that looked more or less like a fort.

Khirkee Masjid - with a forbidding looking entrance
Khirki Masjid was built after the death of Mohammed bin Tughlaq, under the reign of his cousin Firoz Shah Tughlaq. Firoz Shah was the sort of ruler who trusted his wazirs and gave them a lot of wealth and independent authority. There were two important wazirs, a father-son jodi, who were responsible for many of Delhi's buildings in that era. Khirki Masjid was commissioned by the son, Khan-i-Jahan Junan Shah.

Although the mosque looked like a fort, when we wandered inside, we found these beautifully balanced pillars and arches, with a graceful strength that delighted me.

Khirki Masjid doesn't have a single large open courtyard for congregation. It is a square mosque, subdivided into quarters; and each quarter has its own inner courtyard. As you can see from the photo above, there are internal arcades which divide the mosque into aisles. These arcades are formed by 180 columns.

Here is one of the khirkis, the famous latticed windows that give the mosque and the area its name.

The 'khirki' of Khirkee :)

In the photo below, you can see the arched khirkis from the outside. The ASI has built a fence to prevent encroachment, and had dumped some rubble there; I think as part of their conservation effort (I saw scaffolding inside the monument, although it was deserted when we got there). Like many such settlements in Delhi, in Khirkee also, modern buildings as well as ramshackle structures are in evidence in the vicinity of the mosque. We debated climbing to one of these terraces to photograph the multiple domes of the mosque, but it was simply too much effort :)

The area around the mosque still had lots of village-like features. This photo of a grandmother with her granddaughters could be from any of UP's villages.

It was afternoon so people had finished their lunch and were in a relaxed mood.

Shivji temple in a clearing, with a lingam nearby: Shivji was also relaxing, with no devotees hounding him for anything :)

I saw a tabela (cowshed) with buffaloes, some inside, some outside:

Back of the tabela, with cowdung patties drying in a heap.

I want to go back and see if the Khirkee of my memory is the same or whether it has changed in the last 5 years. I have to wait for this current political mess to settle down, and for it to fade from people's memories. Then once again I can go in search of a sleepy afternoon in Khirkee...

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Winter greens in Delhi - and a date with palak bhajiyas!

As soon as winter appears, we begin to see lots of greens in the market. Sarson (mustard) is very popular right now. It is a rabi crop, and harvested typically from December onwards. 
The next photo is of a less well-known winter green: bathua. It is a wild relative of the spinach family, and can be used just like spinach in curry dishes. It is sometimes combined with sarson to make saag (a sort of pureed curry eaten with parathas). One of the popular dishes made with this is bathua raita. 
Spinach (palak) is also part of the regular winter diet. Today we made palak bhajiya (spinach fritters), and I remembered to pull out my camera and click some photos before we ate it all!
Step 1: Fresh spinach leaves, cleaned and stems removed.
The batter is of chickpea flour, salt, chilli powder, cumin and coriander.
Step 2: Heat vegetable oil in a kadai (Indian wok). Dip leaves in batter until
it is fully coated. The batter has to be thick or it won't stick.
Step 3: Make sure the oil is sizzling hot before you pop in the leaves.
To test the oil, you can drop a little bit of the batter and see if it
immediately sizzles and rises to the top.
Step 4: Ta da! Palak bhajiya served!
It has to be golden and crisp before you take it out of the oil.
Serve hot with spicy green chutney and tomato ketchup. Or with a sweet and sour date-and-tamarind chutney. Sprinkle a little chaat masala for added tang; and make sure you have hot masala chai with it! It's the perfect antidote for a winter evening.