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Home »Weekend Magazine » A visit to Jinnah House in New Delhi

On a visit to New Delhi few years ago, this scribe had the good fortune of visiting Quaid-e-Azam's not very well known residence, now in New Delhi. While in Delhi for a conference arranged by Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi and Abul Kalam Azad Institute, Kolkata, the students arranged a visit to the Jinnah House. Now occupied by Dutch embassy and well maintained the incumbent Dutch ambassador proudly showed us the historic building - the place where the Founder of Pakistan once periodically lived and worked.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah was an elegant man and possessed good taste, who lived his austere and disciplined yet dignified style. The noble mansion that was his residence in Malabar Hills, Bombay, reflected not only his social stature as a top ranking lawyer of the city but also high taste for good living and elegant surroundings. Compared to the palatial 2.5 acre residence in posh Malabar Hills locality of Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1936, the lesser- known Jinnah House in New Delhi, at 10 Aurangzeb Road, is a much smaller building. But size does not rob the structure of its essential grace that distinguishes it from other properties of neighbourhood. There was the same elegance and refinement of taste in the distinctive architecture of the building and its graceful surroundings.

Jinnah was not very keen on taking up accommodation in Delhi; but after the Muslims' disenchantment with Congress ministries in 1937-1939 he felt the need to mobilise Muslims on the platform of his political party, the All India Muslim League. This brought him to Delhi frequently. During his visits he used to stay either at Hotel Maidens or Imperial Hotel. For political work, he needed the privacy of an exclusive place of his own. Unlike the Bombay residence which he built fondly and where he spent the best years of life, the house in Delhi had to be purchased on the urgings of Muslim League colleagues.

Jinnah bought this house on No 10, Aurangzeb Road from Bisakha Singh in 1938. The foundation of the property was laid by Edwin Lutyens, a prominent British architect in 1920, who was commissioned to design the plan for the capital city of New Delhi. Earlier he had earned fame for building stately country houses in England. His architecture was a fusion of Mughal, Buddhist and neoclassical styles. Jinnah's house had undergone much new development under another British architect when he bought it.

New Delhi is now fast losing Lutyen's cityscape and its original character is being obliterated by the frantic sprawl of commercial buildings and burgeoning population of nearly 13 million. Today only a handful of bungalows designed by Lutyens and his contemporaries remain standing intheir original shape. Fortunately for Jinnah's house since he bought it in 1938, the spanning three quarters of a century have seen no change in its exterior. Under the excellent care of the Dutch embassy, its owners and occupants since Partition, the walls are spotless and the lawns and the garden remain carefully manicured. At night, special lighting gives the building a prominent visibility in the area.

Before migrating to Pakistan after independence Jinnah sold the House to RamkrishnaDalmia for Rs 3 lakh who used it as head office for his anti-cow-slaughter movement. Prominently located near the India Gate, the Dutch embassy bought it in 1948 for residence of its ambassadors.

Not much has changed since. The original gates have been changed but without any amendment in design.The building that was once simply fenced is now enclosed within high walls. Only by entering through its gates the imposing fa├žade comes into view. The building stands in the center of a sprawling garden redolent of the Raj. Its curvaceous white exterior embraces classical columns, arches and cornices (as well as flame-like finials) and a high dome sitting above the structure's centre which gives the house an oriental character.

Inside, the two-story building is arranged in shape of a circular hall which is set underneath the elevated dome. Off this central hall is a richly panelled library, a formal dining room and one of the house's three bedrooms. Though the rooms have been remodelled several times, yet the room housing the library where Jinnah mostly worked has not been altered except for addition of more books. His chair, writing desk, bookshelves are all there. Some of the furniture has been repaired and repainted. After his wife's death, Miss Jinnah came to give him company and live with him in this house. Some of her memorable pictures showing her as a participant in discussions are preserved in the room.

Altaf Husain, the former editor of Dawn, founded in 1941 as Muslim League's mouthpiece, also used to come and stay with him. Here Jinnah held important meetings with Gandhi, Nehru and Patel. He also met prominent Sikh leaders with a view to averting Punjab's division. Among them was Yadvendar Singh (1913-1974), the Maharaja of Patiala. It was in this house that Jinnah held his last press conference in 1947 before leaving for Pakistan. He never returned to the house in Delhi although he remained nostalgic about his Bombay residence.

On leaving the house, I was gripped by feelings of nostalgia, pride and anguish - nostalgia that the historic property was now lying in India where many Pakistanis could not easily come to see; pride at Jinnah's dignified living style; and anguish at how his progressive vision for a Pakistan of Unity, Faith and Discipline was evaporating. We hope that this vision is revitalised soon.

(The writer is head of International Relations Department National University of Modern Languages (NUML) Islamabad)

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