Gentlemen's envy, ladies' pride...
It's a women's world where men can't even peep in! RANA A. SIDDIQUI visits Purdabagh in Daryaganj and finds women call the shots here... .
Women let their hair down and enjoy a few private moments in New Delhi's Purdabagh. Photo: S. Arneja.
RECENTLY, IN an interesting programme on radio, a compere asked the listeners about the most romantic moment in the lives of the elderly people at home. A 25-year-old listener gave this response: "Experiencing some breezy weather accompanied by droplets of rain across the window, my dadaji called my dadiji stealthily over when family members were away doing their chores, and whispered, `remember, we used to drench ourselves away from the spying eyes of the kids and friends and sing songs of rain?' And he broke into `Achut Kanya' film's famous song sung by Ashok Kumar, `Main Ban Ka Panchi Ban Ke Ban Main Dolun Re'."
Today's grandfathers and mothers might not be able to share such passionate moments together or just allow the child in them to freak out but there is a place for all dadis, elderly women and those girls who barely have a chance to venture out. Here they can run wild, sway on swings, hold picnics, lie down as they want or just gossip, bicker or well, fight! Purdabagh, near Daryaganj Bridge makes it all possible. This lush green garden spread across approximately 7000 yards and divided into 11 segments, is neatly bordered by well-pruned mehendi hedges and huge age-old trees sheltering countless birds. While flowers catch attention, one segments holds it, for it has a number of swings, slides, see-saws. Interestingly, this area does not allow the entry of males over five years! They are scared away by the men on guard. Men? Yes, they are the protectors: gardeners, supervisors, guards and cleaners but they all are called `mali'!
As the evening approaches, it turns into a picnic spot. One can notice a dadi maa liberally swaying all by herself, some other opening their food packets and holding a picnic, some elderly ones playing age-old `pakdan-pakdai' or `vish-amrit' games, some chatting about `saas-bahu' serials or their in-laws, a more serious one can be seen reading a book in a corner. The place turns festive when it is Id or Teej when women come here and celebrate the festival with each other.
Purdabagh was built by Jahanara in the middle of the 17th Century to have fresh air away from the gaze of men. The tradition is still strictly maintained. Nobody is allowed here without permission. When Army or other officers come here for inspection, they aren't supposed to roam around inside, but inspect and march back!
Maintained by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, Purdabagh also boasts of a stitching, knitting, embroidery, doll making, mehendi and painting centre, all rolled into one, and also a nursery school with midday meal scheme for 45 children. Believe it if you can, the fee for admission to both is Rs. two and monthly fee is Rs.10. Anyone can join them. The place is also a hub for children rehearsing for Independence or Republic Day. From here they march to the Red Fort on the eve of the day.
Interestingly, the centre does not have lights, fans and telephone! "We never felt the need, it is always cool here," says Suresh, a caretaker.
"We had electricity here three years ago, once a storm uprooted all poles, since then I have written umpteen times to MCD, but no one pays heed," laments Peetam Singh, the head of the garden. No `purda' over that one!
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