Museum of Illusions

‘Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.’ This famous quote by Albert Einstein can be found on the walls of the newest museum in town- The Museum Of Illusions. Situated in the heart of Delhi- Connaught Place, right above the iconic Wenger’s.

The concept is highly unusual-to teach you more about your brain. About how we perceive things, and how easy it is to miss the tiniest details. From Visual Illusions, that play with your retinal sensitivity, to size illusions, to Kaleidoscopes, to 3 D images, to Upside down rooms, the tricks will leave you bewildered. The 50 illusions that are part of the exhibit have been studied by some notable physicists and psychologists like Ehrenstein and Jastrow. Hence, they would be of great interest to anybody with an inclination towards science or the arts. For six hundred and ninety rupees, you get an hour of brain twisters and fabulous imagery.

Since, one navigates the city, primarily by oneself, as soon as I entered the space, for a fraction of a second I regretted going alone. But the staff was so attentive, that they immediately figured out I would need some assistance, as selfies don’t work with the tricks. So, all my pictures were taken by the crew: mostly by Neeraj who accompanied and took pictures of me, while giving me a guided tour. Since, the cases are spiking, the museum is very strict about COVID protocols and the only time people are allowed to remove their masks is when pictures are being taken. So take your kids, a date or just yourself without hesitation.

The museum in Delhi, is the first of its kind in India. The backgrounds used here, have local references- from a picture of Gandhi to a backdrop of CP. Initially, it opened up in Zagreb, Croatia in the year 2015 and now there are around thirty such museums around the world in – Athens, New York , Dubai, Kuala Lumpur, Paris, Riyadh etc. I hear, Bangalore and Bombay, too, will be getting their very own Museums of Illusions.

Delhi through their eyes. – Syed Yusuf

Syed Yusuf Shahab
Hauz-I-Shamsi Burraq Relic
Dargah Nooruddin Mubarak Ghazani
DargahAbdul Haq Mohaddis Dehlvi
Challis Aadalo Ki Mazar
Dargah Sheikh Najibuddin Firdausi

Sufism, an offshoot of Islam, attracts many non Muslims, due to its openness, its vibrancy and the love of its teachers- like Rumi, for God. The language of love, of surrender, of oneness with the Beloved (God), the main tenants of this branch of Islam. The Lost Sufis of Mehruli, was the name of the walk conducted by Syed Yusuf Shahab. Though, we couldn’t visit all the shrines in Mehrauli, as we walked around for four kilometres visiting the hidden gems, only Yusuf knew, it was a wonderful couple of hours spent in great company.

I’ve been told that when I write about the walks, I give away too much information, that’s why one has stopped being too descriptive about them. To know more, purchase the book written by the walk leader- The Lost Sufis of Delhi.

Delhi Through Their Eyes: Connaught Place with Sohail Hashmi

Sohail Hashmi, the most eminent heritage walk leader, in Delhi, took us around Connaught Place, last Sunday. What draws me to his walks, is not just an admiration for his knowledge about the city, per se, but his persona in totality. There’s a gentleness and an intensity, about his demeanour, that draws throngs of people to his walks.

This was the first time, Mr Hashmi conducted a walk in the heart of Delhi- Connaught Place and though he said it required a bit of tweaking, all the participants, really enjoyed walking around, listening to historical facts juxtaposed with his personal anecdotes.

Connaught Place, steers many childhood memories. This hub of New Delhi, is practically where one grew up. Convent of Jesus and Mary, my alma mater which is opposite the Gole Dhak Khana- the octagonal, New Delhi General Post Office Building, is a stone throw away from where all the business and partying take place. Many a birthday parties, dates, class bunks and mishaps have happened in CP. Even now, since one detests malls, many a weekends are spent, enjoying a live concert within these iconic corridors.

Check out Heritage Walks with Sohail Hashmi, on FB, to remain updated on the schedule.

Delhi Karavan

Heritage Walk at Purana Qila.

In the heart of Delhi, there’s a beautiful citadel, on Mathura Road, between the Zoo and Pragati Maidan called the Old Fort, better known as Purana Qila. The site has been relevant from time immemorial it seems- starting from the Mahabharat period, to the Mughal Period and even in the The Modern Era. From the beginning there is evidence of a continuous chain of settlement, that can be found here, though the builder of the fort itself, is contested. Humayun ( 1530-40) started to build his city the Deenpanah, after his conquest of Chunnar and Kalinjar and some say part of Deenpanah, is what is now, known as the Old Fort. On the other hand, Sher Shah Suri’s son’s chronicler, mentions that Sher Shah ( 1540-1545), ordered walls around the ‘fort of Humayun’, after he forced the original out. Whereas, some historians argue, that the victor destroyed all the previous buildings before beginning construction.

The only thing that’s certain is that the Purana Qila, was built in the 16th century. Though Sher Shah, was only in power for five years, this citadel is one of his most prestigious projects, yet it is said that before its completion Sher Shah died and eventually the citadel was completed by Humayun. The mile long, stone wall completes an entire circuit and the three gates- The Bada Darwaza, the Talaaqi Darwaza and Humanyun Darwaza are truly impressive. Till about 1913, the fort was actually occupied by villagers, who were made to move out and then it came under the ASI. During the partition it was turned into a refugee camp.

Delhi Karavan, organised a heritage walk last weekend, at the Purana Qila. This was the second walk I attended and the third time I met the founder- Asif Khan Dehlvi, who looks like the rock star of the heritage walk circuit. A tall Pathan man, who gave up his corporate job to conduct heritage walks in the language of love-Urdu. He co founded a heritage walk startup, left that and then in November 2013, he conducted his first walk for his new venture-Delhi Karavan.

Our first encounter, was on a cold winter evening, last November. Asif’s love for Delhi and his spiritual inclination were both quite evident and they left a lasting impression. He’d wanted to read Rumi and Shamz in Urdu, so I got him some books from Kashmir and that’s how we ended up meeting one another, for the first time. He is amicable and an obvious charmer. My opinion was reaffirmed when I attended one of his walks – he has a special way with women, after all if your greatest inspiration is your mother and you only have female siblings, you do learn how to say all the right things . The men seem to be quite taken by him, too. Of all the heritage walks I’ve been on, nowhere have I seen, so many people photographing the leader. He does make a great muse but he is thronged by photographers, so the novelty is missing. It’s the ease and charm with which he takes you around the sites, that make the walks look like performances and makes up for him being a storyteller and not a history buff. Check out the pics to see what I mean.

Asif Khan Dehlvi
Asif Khan Dehlvi

The Purana Qila, is also believed, by many historians, to be the site of the oldest settlement in Delhi, the capital of the Pandavas- Indraprashtha. Various excavations that have been carried out, prove that there was human settlement in this area a 1000 years before Christ. Ever since, I’ve begun work on my new series- Delhi through their eyes and mine, I’ve noticed how, we the privileged may have started ignoring, these archeological wonders, as we spend our weekends at malls and multiplexes but for the less fortunate, this is what family time, still comprises off, which is a beautiful sight to see. Families basking in the sun, children giggling and fighting, the way only children can! As I walked towards Asif and a couple of people who had gathered at the gate at ten, a family sitting on the pavement stopped me . ‘Please book our tickets, online, we don’t have Paytm!’. I promised to return after informing the group about my whereabouts and I did.

The Ministry of Culture and the Archaeological Survey of India, have made online bookings mandatory for all the ticketed heritage sites ( though Sunder Nursery is not on that list. Today, I could purchase the ticket from the counter). Due to COVID, even the parking is closed at the venue and till the 26th the venue itself is shut. When you go to the ASI site, it asks you to give the details of your id like an Aadhar No, a Passport No etc and of course your mobile no. It also requires for you to be able to comprehend English. As I bought my e ticket as well as the family’s , another family approached me and then all hell broke loose. Suddenly, one was surrounded by young boys who wanted to learn how to use the site, three older gentlemen from (what I jokingly call my pind) Kashmir, who wanted me to book their tickets as well, as they couldn’t figure out how to. While I was doing that, my phone’s battery was running low, the guards started arguing with the people surrounding me, to leave me alone, while the Kashmiri gentlemen started insisting I take the money…in between all the chaos, when I looked up, the group had already gone in. The ASI, should reconsider this move, at least provide an alternative to people, who are there to soak up the sun, in this harsh weather…in these terrible times and spend a couple of hours with their families. Everyone is not technologically savvy and some people don’t carry their ids around. Paperless entries are fab but a helping hand would be nice.

Though, Asif will tell you about Sher Shah Suri and Humayun he will not discuss the intricate details of the architecture with you. He’ll take you through history, on flights of fantasy, meandering from one fable to the other. To be honest, I spent more time photographing the walk leader than listening to him, on this particular outing. But the general vibe that one gets, about Delhi Karavan, is that it’s a very cordial environment, full of fun and frolic- a group of old friends who like to hang out with each other and explore facets of Delhi, led by Asif, of course, whose been doing this for a long time. Like my distant relative, who is a frequent attendee, vouched for the other day, ‘ and that too, very well!’

Check out their page on FB to know about their walks, which are a bit irregular till March, due to the pandemic. Henceforth, they’ll be back on track.

Delhi Through Their Eyes- Aman Tomer

What can you do during a pandemic? Explore the city with wonderful company.
Aman Tomer, is the co founder of Sair e Dilli
Anang Pal II, built the strongly fortified town of Lal Kot.

This Sunday, I left a couple hours early from work to participate in a heritage walk, led by Aman Tomer. Since one has taken a break from oneself, there are no solo dates, I take myself on, these days. Though, technically, hanging out with strangers, could be considered solo dating. Anyhow, what do you do when you’re working like everything is hunky dory and most of your friends are still not venturing out? Explore the city.

Aman Tomer

Aman, who led the walk, is the co- founder of Sair e Dilli and a graduate from the prestigious Jamia Millia Islamia. He lead us through the lush green plantations of Sanjay Van, towards the walls of Lal Kot/ Qila Rai Pithora to the Dargah of Khwaja Shihabiddin (which we only saw from the outside). He spoke in Hindi and very casually interspersed into the historical fables, stories about Chudails and Snakes, that run rampant in this area. His manner was easy going and friendly, something that was much appreciated, trekking up and down the rocky terrain.

Since, it was a Sunday, one saw couples and families everywhere, soaking up the sun. The participants seemed to enjoy the experience, as did I. Don’t know about the kid in the pictures below, though, who kept telling her dad, ‘ yeh bacho ke liye jagah nahi he!’ and he kept trying to convince her, that she’s not a kid anymore. Of course, that led to clinging to the mother. Aren’t mum’s so comforting? I would have paid money, just to see that very cute father, daughter banter. Not to take away from the fabulousness of the walk and the leader, at all.

Sair- E- Dilli

Qudsia Bagh, Heritage Walk.
Syed Yusuf Shahab, in Nizammudin
The Lost Sufis of Delhi by Syed Yusuf Shahab

Just received my copy of The Lost Sufis of Delhi, Syed Yusuf’s book, about the saints buried in Delhi, which is an abode of Sufism. Yusuf who is graduate in Political Science and has a Post Graduate’s degree in Tourism and Travel from Jamia, has dedicated the book to Late Eshan Alam.

I spent the weekend, walking around Delhi with this direct descendant of a Sufi Saint, belonging to the Chishti order. Of course, his knowledge of Sufism, was on point but that only an expert can verify. With my limited understanding of the topic, my occasional flirtation with the Sufi way of life, I found the walks to Qudsia Bagh and Nizamuddin quite interesting.The bagh and the cemetery, one had never visited neither had I been to the Chilla and Patti Sahab’s Dargah but Chausath Kambha, the Nizammudin Dargah, Ghalib’s tomb and Sunder Nursery, I took my students to last year. On a Sunday afternoon, these were packed so I refused to walk towards the Dargah, during this pandemic, hence I left early.

Each heritage walk leader, has his own distinct style. Syed Yusuf, began by saying, ‘ I’m more a storyteller than a historian‘. That just means, you have to discount them factual discrepancies, if there are any. Though, he spoke in Hindustani, his language was more casual and his mannerism a bit stern. But the information seemed on point, plus there were a number of team members, who kept an eye on everyone, to make sure no one got lost in the crowd. What I did like though was, they seem quite driven and organised. The walks are conducted quite frequently (which considering they only have six months a year to have these events, should be the case) and in various parts of Delhi. If money is a constraint, they are lighter on the pocket. I would recommend Sair- e- Dilli’s walks on or about Sufism. Somebody should start doing a fifteen minute zikr session before or after the walks ( but unfortunately men and women aren’t encouraged to do so together. They are made to sit separately, therefore, only non Muslims, I find, organise the mixed sessions) I would definitely go for all of those.

Delhi Through Sohail Hashmi’s Eyes

Sohail Hashmi, is a history buff, heritage walk leader, filmmaker and the keeper of Delhi’s heritage.
Sohail, studied Geography but became interested in history, thanks to his father. Over here, he can be can seen on one of his walks, following the COVID protocols.

Who would not like to spend a morning with an academician, historian and filmmaker, exploring Hazrat-e-Dilli? Sohail Hashmi, is all that and more. Went for one of his walks, yesterday. The walk itself was not just about our lost heritage, the forgotten city- Tuqhlaqabad but also about botany and Roman architecture juxtaposed with his political views. For those of us whose political views are centric, his comments on the current government, his family ( he’s the brother of Safdar Hashmi and Shabnam Hashmi) and his views on women’s rights make his walks, something you got to wake up for on a Sunday morning.

In the company of remarkable men- Sohail Hashmi

I’m not a big fan of man made structures but people fascinate me. The one thing I like are all the lovers, hanging around, these spots. While we were there, I saw a man lying on his lover’s lap, whispering sweet nothings to her, while she, very unromantically fiddled with her phone. Love in 2020. Though, one loves traversing the country by oneself but this ongoing pandemic, is making one long for company. So, to combat that, one wants to explore Delhi, through the eyes of the people who view it differently from me- historians, storytellers, poets, a few broken people and hopefully some crazy chicks. Dilli walleh, jo humme Dilli dikha sakhe, people who consider it home. For I don’t know where my home is, here (Delhi), there ( Kashmir/Pushkar) or nowhere!

When you attend his walks, you get many points of view and the most interesting are his, which are embroiled in logic, rather than hearsay.

Sohail, tells the group about the Dhatua plant, shows us the mason’s markings, takes us to the Baoli, the Hamam and the Mausoleum. What fascinates me, is the relationship between the father and the daughter ( Sania Hashmi) his energy ( we walked for 4 hours and he barely sat, while the rest of us were panting) and his sense of humour. One can not wait to go back for more. His walks begin from mid September and go on till the beginning of March. Considering the ongoing pandemic, has made our lives a bit dull, soak in the the sun, walk a bit and see the city through Sohail’s eyes!

At the Kund
With his daughter

Check Out- Delhi Heritage Walks By Sohail Hashmi, on Fb, to book a slot.