The colourful and heroic past of the Red Fort in Delhi is recounted here in the form of a ballad sung by a blind beggar

An Extract from Haunting India


Margaret Deefholts

"A beggar with cataract shrouded eyes,
Sits in the shadows of Old Delhi's Red Fort,
Near the towering entrance archway.
Sits with his twig-like hand outstretched. While
Around him the citizens of the clamorous city
Swirl and throng. His face,
The skin, seamed brown leather,
Is ancient.

He chants.
So where were you, when that dawn broke fair,
I was there, my brothers, I was there!

* * * *

I was there when the Emperor Shah Jehan,
Mightiest of the Moghuls raised this Fort. I saw
The bastions grow majestic, lofty; and sat beside him
In the topmost chhatri watching the setting sun
As it touched the sandstone walls
With its fiery splendour.
Let me tell you about those days
My brothers. The clinking glass bangles
Of the nautch-girls and their flashing
Kohl-eyed beauty. Music I played then,
And love songs I wrote. Nostalgic
And tender for the grieving Emperor's beloved:
Mumtaz Mahal lying in her immortal sleep
Beneath the white marbled Taj Mahal in Agra.

Come with me to the Hall of Public Audience.
Stand with me beside the Peacock Throne:
Its emerald pillars and golden roof flanked by strutting
Peacocks emblazoned with precious stones.
Look about you at the gilded walls, the jewel studded ceilings;
The scarlet tapestries ablaze, and carpets richly glowing.
Pavilions airy and cool, set amid gardens
Of mango and apricot trees, filled
With the scent of mogra blossoms, and
The tinkling spray of fountains."

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