A SPECIAL LOCATION
The house of the Ambassador of the Netherlands in India, on 10 Aurangzeb Road, is situated in one of New Delhi’s greenest and most exclusive areas. Called the Lutyens Bungalow Zone, or simply Lutyens’ Delhi, the approximately 25 to 30 square kilometre urban landscape was planned and developed in the 1930s by the British as the heart oftheir new capital in India. Its name comes from Sir Edwin Lutyens, the principal architect of the new city. Lutyens’ Delhi’s layout is a network of traffic roundabouts interconnected by converging (or diverging) radial boulevards. The houses lining these shady avenues are sprawling bungalows set within even more sprawling grounds.The home ofthe Dutch Ambassador is one such building. It is known asJinnah House, after one of its earliest, and undoubtedly most famous, residents.
Muhammad Ali Jinnah (1876-1948) was one ofthe key personalities of India’s struggle for independence from British rule. As leader ofthe All-India Muslim League (AIML) he was the spearhead ofthe movement for the creation of Pakistan, a country for Muslims separate from India, and when it became a reality, it’s Governor General. In Pakistan he is known asQuaid-r- Azam or Great Leader.
JINNAH MOVES IN
Jinnah occupied this house from 1938 to 1947 only, but the house’s defining story belongs to that period and a few years before and after. It begins with Rai Bahadur Sardar Baisakha Singh, a government contractor who bought the three-acre plot in 1929, and the Bloomfield brothers, architect associates of Lutyens, who designed for him a grand house on it. The architects loved their own creation so much that they rented it from Baisakha Singh and lived there for some years. By the end ofthe 1930s, political forces aiming to decide the destiny ofthe subcontinent were gathering momentum and independence from the British was no longer a distant hope but a foreseeable reality. Side by side, the idea of a separate Muslim homeland was growing and Jinnah’s AIML was at its forefront. Though he preferred his palatial home in Mumbai—incidentally, India’s other and more well-known ‘
THE MOMENTOUS YEARS
Jinnah had lived with Fatima, his favourite sibling, since the death of his wife in 1929, The housewarming party in their new residence, it is said, was lavish enough to be talked about for years. It was to be the first of many an extravagant affair, often hosted not merely for social reasons but to advance the cause of Pakistan. Yet it were some of the low-key meetings that top the list of the house’s historic landmarks. One of these was the discussion in 1939 of the idea of partition between Jinnah, Gandhi and Rajendra Prasad, India’s first president, post which all three were driven in Jinnah’s new green Packard to the Viceroy’s palace, barely a mile away for another brief summit. As the independence movement entered its endgame, important discussions on the division of India were regularly held at Jinnah’s house. In fact it is reported that the final decision on partition was arrived upon in its wood-panelled library. It was surely the most significant moment in the house’s history.
In 1947, Jinnah knew his time in Delhi was coming to an end and he sold the house to one of his closest friends, Ramakrishna Dalmia, a Hindu business magnate, at the same price he had bought it for. However he continued to reside in it. Perhaps the last major event held on its manicured lawns was the press
(Lto R) Dalmia, Jinnah and Sir Sobha Singh, a well-known Delhi businessman, at Dalmia’s residence, dose to Jinnah’s house.
Jinnah ushers Gandhi into his car at the porch of 10 Aurangzeb Road.
conference of 13 July, 1947 where “every newspaper was represented”. The occasion was for Jinnah to announce his acceptance ofthe Mountbatten Plan, which spelt out the partition of British India into India and Pakistan. Just over three weeks later, Jinnah flew to Karachi to preside over the birth of Pakistan on 14 August. He was neverto step into this house again, or come backto India.
FROM DALMIA TO THE DUTCH
Ramakrishna Dalmia was one of India’s top industrialists, and at that time, the owner of The Timesof India, one ofthe country’s leading newspapers Dalmia’s first act—even though he was a secular man—after its Muslim occupant had vacated was to have the house washed down with water from the Ganga. (Hindus hold the Ganga river sacred and believe that its waters have a purifying Quality.) He next declared it as the headquarters ofthe Anti-Cow Slaughter movement, a cause propagated by him. In the months following partition many properties belonging to Muslims who had left for Pakistan were taken over by the Indian government as ‘refugee properties’. Fearing a similar fate for his recent purchase, Dalmia acted with alacrity. Barely three months after Jinnah’s departure, he rented out the house to the Dutch Ambassador for Rs 5025- per month. Four years later he went a step further and sold it to the Government ofthe Netherlands for Rs 5 lakhs. Whatever may have been Dalmia’s motivation in letting go ofthe property, it is safe to say that Jinnah would have approved ofthe decision. For as he wrote to Nehru, the first prime minister of India, regarding his other home in Mumbai, “Jawaharlal, if you think your government cannot maintain it as I would have done, make sure it is rented out to either the American or an European Ambassador.”
TOP TO BOTTOM (CLOCKWISE) The main entrance seen from a bedroom; view of the rear portion of the house; the lobby; the first floor facade above the portico; a French window and verandah.
JINNAH HOUSE TODAY
People have gone as far as to call it “the most beautiful house in Delhi” and while there are other houses in Delhi which would vie for that honour, the founder of Pakistan’s old residence certainly ranks amongst the capital’s most elegant edifices.The building is almost totally unchanged from its original form and appearance.Though large in size—it has two stories,lour bedrooms, living roofns. a dining room. lobby, library. galleries and verandahs—it does nohlord over an onlooker’s senses. even at close quarters. Instead. it displays an understated beauty.which comes from the spotless while colour. classic curvilinear lines and restrained exterior effects.The shallow. concave arc-shaped facade is accentuated by a central forward-offsetted segment which is the context for the entrance. The latter is a composition of tall round columns holding up an architrave above the porch. enhanced by a recessed first-storey balcony over it. framed by bud-shaped capitals.columnsand a high arch. Rectangular timber-shuttered windows punctuating the building’s surface. large semicircular French windows and deep-set verandahs do the rest. Inside the most remarkable feature is the circular lobby. A series of arches raised on simple columns run around it. holding up the first floor walkway. from which the bedrooms lead off in different directions. But the room with the most distinguished pedigree is. of course. the library. For it was in the privacy of this chamber that deliberations. discussions and decisions materialised which decisively influenced one of the most crucial phases of modern Indian history.The ceiling fan and wooden flooring date back to those days. If only they could speak.