November 21, 2009

The Area Around Humayun's Tomb

One of the first things which one notices about Delhi is that it’s full of monuments (or what could be monuments) but that hardly anyone knows what they are. This roundabout is on the way to Humayun’s Tomb, one of Delhi’s three much touted heritage sites: the others being Ferozshah Kotla and the Qutb Minar. Nonetheless, despite being just some 500 m away, all most people know is that it’s called Subz Burz and that it lies on the Grand Trunk Road.

The area where the tomb stands is full of old structures. I was told when I first asked for directions that it’s in a very Muslim area of town – not information I had asked for and, as it turned out, information which was irrelevant.

There are several tombs in the compound where Humayun’s Tomb is situated. When one first enters it, one sees the entrance to Isa Khan’s Tomb Enclosure to the right and Bu Halima’s straight ahead.

The Compound

Isa Khan’s Tomb Enclosure
Isa Khan’s Tomb dates back to 1547 AD and includes both a mosque and a tomb. The man himself, according to a notice outside the structure, was a nobleman in the court of Sher Shah Sur and both the tomb and the mosque were built during his lifetime. Amazingly, apparently an entire village lived within the enclosure till the early 20th century. It’s a little difficult to imagine how a whole village could have fit into such a space – even if one doesn’t walk too fast it’d be unlikely to take more than three or four minutes to walk from one end to the other.

Even though the tomb pre-dates that of Humayun by only twenty years, the two are hardly comparable. Isa Khan’s tomb is very beautiful -- and if one has the stomach for it, one can climb up both the tomb itself as well as the mosque -- but in terms of sheer grandeur, it does not even begin to compare to Humayun’s.

If one walks along the walls of the enclosure, one can see what appears to be a graveyard just outside the walls of the enclosure. However, it isn’t possible to get to it from the tomb itself since it lies outside the walls of the compound. No guidebook I’ve seen thus far mentions the graveyard.

Bu Halima’s’s Enclosure

This is another tomb of which precious little is known. It's the first thing one sees when one enters the compound: a gateway to Bu Halima’s tomb. It’s a large whitish structure and inside, the gateway feels a little like a doll’s house. No one really knows who Bu Halima was; all that is known is that the tomb belongs to the 16th century and, according to the information provided by the ASI, its western wall was breached in the 19th century to allow access to visitors.

Arab Serai
Once one goes through the Gateway to Bu Halima’s tomb enclosure, one sees two more gates: one is one of the Western Gate to Humayun's Tomb and the other is the Arab Serai Gate which is pretty breathtaking in itself. It is some fourteen metres high and once led to a walled enclosure where the Persian craftsmen who were involved in building Humayun’s tomb lived. It’s is built of red sandstone, Delhi quartzite stone and is inlaid with marble. There are also remnants of glazed ceramic tiles visible on it.

Afsarwala Tomb and Mosque

The Afsarwala Tomb and Mosque can be reached through the Arab Serai or through another entrance: once one steps through the Arab Serai Gate, one winds up in an empty courtyard with the back of the tomb and mosque to one’s left. They are believed to have been built in 1566 AD but no one knows whose tomb it is – all that the name denotes is that it belongs to a man who was an officer. The mosque is still in use and once, when I went there, prayers had just finished, and the prayer mats were being loaded on to a cycle to be taken somewhere.

The Western Gate

The Western Gate is now the main entrance to the Tomb of Humayun. It is some sixteen metres high and has rooms on either side. It is adorned with six-sided stars which the Mughals used as ornamental cosmic symbols. Inside the gate, there is a small bookshop with sells postcards and books about Delhi’s monuments.

Humayun’s Tomb

Once one goes through the Western Gate, one is confronted with Humayun’s Tomb which is truly breathtaking. There is absolutely no dearth of tourists and there are also groups of schoolchildren. Personally, I’ve found that most school trips involve dragging children along to see monuments (and museums) they are not especially interested in which means that they don’t spend their time looking at anything. Instead they spend their time dashing around shouting at the top of their voices which is not generally conducive to allowing anyone else to be able to enjoy or appreciate whatever they’re looking at.

The tomb itself is large though – it apparently contains the bodies of some one hundred and twenty Mughals and is surrounded by a large garden. It is believed to have been built by Humayun’s wife after his death (in Purana Qila). And the style of the tomb inspired the designs of many later tombs including the Taj Mahal.

Most tourists don’t really explore the gardens which means that it is entirely possible to find a spot in the gardens where one is alone. Even within the structure of the tomb, there are places where one can simply walk around quietly absorbing the atmosphere of the place.

Baber’s Tomb

There is another tomb behind that of Humayun’s which is said to be that of Barber. It’s made of red sandstone and contains two ornamental cenotaphs of one woman and one man. It isn’t certain whose tomb it is though. The structure itself is far less impressive than Humayun’s tomb but since very few visitors actually make their way to it, it is very peaceful.

Nila Gumbad

Just outside the compund is a small structure with a beautiful blue dome. It can be seen from inside the compund and, unfortunately, there really isn't too much to it beyond what can be seen from such a distance. It can be reached by going around the compund, but if one were to do that, one would discover that it's rather decrepit; it's a disappointment. Personally, I was much happier before I figured out how to get to it: it was earlier nothing but a mysterious, beautiful blue dome.

Plant Nursery

There's a nursery opposite the Tomb compound in which there's a structure which is certainly very old but of indeterminate nature. There's a board which says that it's a protected structure but unfortunately, when the Archaeological Survey of India puts up such boards, it usually doesn't say why the structure is protected or what in earth it actually is.Although the structure doesn't now look especially imposing, it interests me bacause the inside of the dome seems have had a lot of work put into it -- far more than what one would expect in an entirely functional building.

September 27, 2009

Morphology: Inflectional v. Derivational

The inflectional morphology of a language is the study of the ways in which bound grammatical morphemes combine with stems to be realised as grammatical words. On the other hand, the derivational morphology of a language is the study of the ways in which bound lexical morphemes combine with stems to be realised as lexical words.

Classical grammarians of Latin and Greek generally divided grammar into accidence, word formation and syntax. They did not pay much attention to derivation because they did not really consider it to be a part of grammar.

There are three main differences between inflection and derivation. Firstly, inflection refers to the ways in which bound grammatical words combine with stems to form grammatical words as mentioned earlier while derivation ultimately leads to the formation of lexical words. Both grammatical and lexical words ultimately surface as phonological and orthological words in which bound lexical morphemes can usually be identified as having been affixed. These affixes can be divided into inflectional and derivational affixes. Those which realise bound grammatical morphemes (such as –s, –es on plural nouns, ’s on possessive nouns and –d and –ed on the past participle forms of verbs) are called inflectional affixes and have no fixed, concrete meaning of their own while those which realise bound lexical affixes (such as –ish, –al, –able and –ness) are called derivational affixes.

Inflectional affixes never change the grammatical category of the stem: they are all suffixes which form the outer layer of complex words and modify the meaning of the steam in regular ways. This is not the case with derivational affixes which may be either suffixes or prefixes (such as de–, re– and –ize). It is possible for both inflectional and derivational morphemes to occur in the same word. The latter always constitutes the outer layer as no affix can be added after the inflectional affix has been added. Thus, derivation may have an input in inflection but inflection cannot have any input in derivation. For example, in both ‘deindustrialising’ and in ‘depixelating’ the derivational affix ‘de–’ occurs along with a final ‘–ing’ inflectional affix after which no other affix can be added to either word.

Similarly, if there is both compounding and inflection in a word, the latter must follow the former.
In words in which compounding, derivation and inflection all occur, the inflection is last and compounding is first as can be seen in the words ‘kickstarted’ [(kick + start) + ed] and ‘channelhopping’ [(channel + hop) + ing].

Inflectional morphology not only describes bound grammatical morphemes but also the grammatical rules in which they occur, the paradigm they form and the various orthological and phonological forms in which they eventually surface. Derivational morphology, on the contrary, studies the categories of items with which bound lexical morphemes can be combined, the categories to which the resulting forms belong, the changes in meaning brought on by the process of derivation and the orthological and phonological shapes which bound lexical morphemes acquire.

An inflectional affix occurs solely with all the members of a given class unlike derivational affixes which may occur with the members of more than one class or with only some of the members of any particular class. Thus, there are several differences between derivational and inflectional morphology. The most striking though is that the words created through the process of inflectional morphology such as ‘talk’, ‘talks’ and ‘talked’ are not new words. They are merely grammatical forms of the same words. Derivation, however, creates new lexical words with distinct meanings such as ‘amoral’, ‘disown’ and ‘foreground’.

July 19, 2009

The Last Flicker in the Lamp of Mughal Architecture

Safdarjung's Tomb.
Safdarjung's Tomb is a strange place. It's not an important monument, so it's not very crowded.

The average person on the road where it stands has no idea what on Earth it is, let alone where it is. They'll give you directions to the locality Safdarjung, to Safdarjung Enclave, and, if you ask, to Lodhi road. But God help you if you ask for the Tomb: all you'll probably get is a blank stare. You'll be asked what it is, and be informed by the helpful that the road you're standing on is not Aurobindo Road but Arvind Road. And that's despite the fact the the Tomb's entrance is bang on the main road, at the T-junction of Lodhi Road and Aurobindo Road.

Inside, the lawns aren't particularly well maintained; there are over 300 sq m of them. Nor is anything else as well maintained as it is in other more well known monuments. The good thing though is that there are few people around because it isn't, well, iconic.

The Tomb is that of Mirza Muqim Abu'l Mansur Khan who was the Viceroy of Oudh under Muhammad Shah and was later his Prime Minister. It was built by his son Shuja ud Daula in 1753, and marble to build a part of Safdarjung's tomb was taken from the nearby tomb of Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khana, one of Akbar's nine gems, which had been built around 1598. 

Safdarjung's tomb is widely described as 'the last flicker in the lamp of Mughal architecture at Delhi'. It may well be that. While it certainly doesn't have the grandeur of Humayun's Tomb, (or many other structures), it is impressive in its own right. In fact, it has the garden-tomb layout which Humayun's Tomb inspired.

Walking around it, it's all too easy to develop a sense of having history come crashing down on one. And then again, when one walks into it, one can almost feel as though one is invading someone's privacy.

There are areas inside the complex which have been locked. Others which are inaccessible to visitors. But for the most part, visitors can look around with little interference. Sometimes, as good as that sounds, it is hardly ideal. There are no safety warnings and there are places where you could quite easily break a leg if you were to fail to watch your step.

Update | 2013:

Update | 2014:

Now amongst my favourite reading places in Delhi even though it's become far more crowded in recent years than it used to be…

My last trip there was with friends. Standing on the parapet (is that what it's called?), we wound up looking down at more couples than one might expect at Lodhi Garden, a sight I sadly can't 'unsee', and encountered two mothers with three toddlers all of whom made their way around with dizzying speed in three different directions, of course.

One of my friends said that she was very happy to see that the toddlers had been brought to the tomb instead of being taken to a mall. I didn't get beyond having my heart in my mouth and silently thanking God for not having to deal with toddlers myself.

Perhaps young children are best left playing in the garden below, the couples there notwithstanding. Certainly less dangerous than running the risk of falling twenty feet down from a tomb over two hundred and fifty years old, I'd imagine.

n.b. Despite what some history books claim, I've learnt (from a talk by William Dalrymple at the National Museum) that 'the last flicker in the lamp of Mughal architecture' is, more accurately, the tomb of Nadir Shah in Iran! This is, presumably, courtesy his having taken artisans back with him after having raided Delhi.

January 19, 2009

Defined by Blood

(Content note: descriptions of domestic violence)

To learn the value of physical integrity...


A child you're clutching to yourself. He'd been pushed aside, and hit his head on something which left a nasty gash in his forehead. Blood gushes out of the wound as it always does from head injuries. He's screaming, crying either in pain or in fear — you're not sure which. It's probably a bit of both. You thank God that you're wearing a black shirt. Black satin. Cool. Smooth. It doesn't absorb any appreciable amount of blood but it does camouflage it, making it possible for you not to become every bit as hysterical as the child, ensuring that the child himself does not become even more frightened than he already is. Never mind that the white marble floor is turning red. Or that the child will be marked for life because of, you believe, your failure to provide protection.


Insensate. Unfeeling. You're lying down on your bed, so shell-shocked that you barely know which way is up. You somehow manage to get yourself away from the bed, out of the room. He says he's sorry over and over again; repeats the word so many times that you lose count of the number of times he apologises. You're not sure if his regret means anything to you though. He's asked you if you'd like to sleep and you must have said that you would. You don't remember getting off the chair you'd sunk into but you do remember him guiding you towards your bedroom. His hand on the small of your back, so gentle that you could barely feel it. And then without knowing how, you find yourself lying down on your bed yet again. You know he's said something but, to you, the words are incoherent. Possibly realising that nothing he says means anything to you, he says no more. He covers you with something and then he leaves you, bleeding and broken, in bed. You don't know what he's covered you with and you don't care; you're grateful for anything which allows you to feel as though you've gone into hiding. You do not yet know that it'll be months before you are able to lie down on a bed without having nightmares of him.


Clumps of hair lie on the floor. You hear yourself scream. The doorbell finally rings but it's been a long time since that's made any difference to him. There's blood on the sheets. You can feel it sliding down your body. There's a rag being pushed down your throat; the neighbours do make a difference after all. You cannot scream. Neither can you beg. You pray. He shouts, wondering how someone he loves can do this. You only wonder what he's talking about convinced that he's lost his mind, and then realise that it's you who's becoming insane as you tell yourself that he cares, not knowing why. You see the anguish on his face, through bruised eyelids, so swollen that you can barely see at all. Your arms are tied, you cannot protect yourself. You have not thought of fighting; you are so tired that you give up: you no longer ask God to make him stop. You only ask Him to let you die. That's all he's made you want for so long now.


The Girl in Hyacinth Blue. There were those who called her 'Morning Shine'. She sat by a window with sunlight gently sweeping over her. Her serenity as the world passed by her seemed overwhelming. Can anyone ever do that in real life? Blood seeping on to the floor; thicker than water, it does not spread out only to merge again and form grotesque but interesting patterns as it spills over. Distorted reflections make their appearance in water like that. Hoping to be able to decipher a meaning which, in your heart, you know doesn't even exist in the strange aberrations strewn on the dark black granite around you, you stare at them for what seems like an aeon and thank God for them. You do not want to see reality: it is too bleak. Hallucinations and lies are your respite from pain. Anything seems easier than the truth, and almost everything is. The patterns look like modern art if you stretch your imagination far enough except for the fact that you're certain that they've been randomly created by a lunatic. You can almost hear his raucous laughs echoing in the background. They don't stop and you begin to realize that it isn't your imagination playing tricks at all. You have to go back and face them: after all, they personify what your life has become. 'The Girl in Hyacinth Blue' never was anything more than a story. There still is blood mixed with water on the bathroom floor as you begin to make your way towards the door.


Wounds festering, your body wracked with illness, you find that you're burning up with fever. There's no one around. God knows, you could have used someone's presence if only to get you a glass of water but there's no one there for you. As the fever continues to wreck your body, every last ounce of energy is drained out of it. There's nothing which matters to you: all you do is lie down, allow the fever to run its course and seemingly destroy your body while within you, your body purges itself as it does more often than you'd like it to. Blood drains out, first into cotton inside you which absorbs it, and when it can hold no more, out of your body, on to your limbs, into the mattress. Its smell stale, you can no longer ignore it but you are too tired to move. The blood becomes an extension of you. In its flow, you feel your fatigue and helplessness reflected. It becomes impossible for you to differentiate between your essence and your body. You can no longer dissociate from what happens to you by telling yourself that it's happening only to your body and not, in fact, to you. You are your body, you discover. It's something you'd rather not have known — dissociation, as you know, helps you to survive pain, especially when it's pain he's caused you.


Excruciating pain followed by even more pain and having blood flow out of your body. Not something he's caused, for once, and not the usual trickle you're accustomed to but a seemingly unstoppable flow which nothing you can think of causes to ebb and which he chooses to be oblivious to. You are not within that 'monthly crisis of destruction' but you can feel 'the purging, tearing, draining of your own structure', as Nadine Gordimer put it. 'You are your womb although you were never before as aware — physically — that you had one.' The sight of so much blood is terrifying and mystifying all at once. As it continues to pour out of your body, you are dimly aware of losing a part of yourself. Cold sets in as your body attempts to compensate for all the fluid you've lost. You begin to lose track of what's happening around you. You see what surrounds you but you notice nothing. Everything is blurry, unreal. All that is real to you is your body, shivering violently, beset by fatigue. You know you'll never again allow yourself to forget how important your body is. You do not exist independently of it no matter what you'd like to believe.

And no one who jeopardises your safety can exist in your life.

(The 'he' in this piece does not refer to any one person, and this is not an accurate description of actual events.)

January 01, 2009

Terminology: Victim v Survivor

The Curvature has a post up which questions why 'victim' is a dirty word, why survivor isn't. It made more sense to me than anything I've read in a long time. (Do read it.)

What is it about popular culture which makes it an offence to feel hurt? Why the hell does anyone have the right to tell another not to dwell on something that went wrong? Why is it necessary to pretend to be strong even when you're falling apart? To tell someone not to live in the past and to pull themselves together when they may clearly be unable to do so is to tell them that they are inadequate. To say that they should not 'play the victim' is effectively to say that they should take responsibility for something they may have had no control over. To tell them to simply forget the past is to ask that they reject what is in all probability an inalienable part of their experience, of themselves. Everyone uses their experiences as a benchmark by which they assess new events in their lives. Why should those who've been victimised not be allowed to do so?

Addendum (2013):

Over the years, I've become more and more uncomfortable with the insistence on the use of the word survivor. I think it's very closely linked to the expectation that those who have been victimised conform to set of socially-acceptable responses to trauma (which don't inconvenience others too much); 'getting over things', 'moving on', 'not becoming bitter'. While those are (almost unarguably) all good things, they're not necessarily things which a person who has been abused is able to do (particularly not according to socially-acceptable timetables). And not acting the part of a survivor (according to societal mandates whether or not a person who has been abused actually feels the way a survivor is expected to) is all too often held against them.

Apart from that, I also wonder at what point a person goes from being a victim to a survivor. Clearly, someone who's died is not a survivor. Is anyone who's lived automatically a survivor? To what extent does that negate from their also having been victims? Who decides when a person has been victimised has 'done enough' or 'recovered enough' to be called a survivor?

I recognise that many people who have been abused prefer the use of the term survivor, and respect that. I do understand why that is preferable to many people. It isn't what I prefer when speaking of abuse though, and it's not a term I generally use.

Written in the context of heated discussions after a rape in Mumbai was reported by the press: