History looms not in the high buildings and heavy texts, but lurks in the empire of its heritage. It lies in the quiet conversation of crevices and window panes, in the distance that its people can cover- You and I.
Rediscovering the seen and unseen of Delhi: State Bank of India
There is no place like Old Delhi’s Chandni Chowk. Exiting the swish Delhi Metro, one enters into the old world charm of a bustling market redolent with cultural significance. From the hustle of the wholesaler to the hush of the heritage, ChandniChowk seems to be a microcosm of the Capital itself in its integration of the ancient and the modern; and commerce with history. It has five heritage buildings and numerous other places of significance within a stretch of less than 1.5 km.
Of all these officially recognized heritage buildings, the State Bank of India building is one that catches the eye of the residents and tourists alike. Built in the first decade of the nineteenth century by the British, inspired by European architecture.
This gracious 80 feet high structure is regal in design and features four storeys. It is the oldest branch of SBI in Delhi, and one of the largest in the country till date.
After its construction in 1806, this building was acquired by the Bank of Delhi in 1847 and later by the Imperial Bank of India (predecessor of the present day SBI). The Reserve Bank of India operated from here for twenty years between 1935 and 1955. It is said that the marks of burnt notes were visible in the building, stuck on the chimneys even for a long time after RBI had left.
The building a site for the brutal killings that happened during the revolt of 1857. The then General Manager, George Beresford and his family of six were killed on the balcony of the building during the siege of Delhi.
At some point in history, the building was a part of Begum Joanna Nobilis Samru’s estate and was called Samru’s Kothi. Begum Samru was the wife of Austrian mercenary soldier Walter Reinhardt ‘Sombre’ who came to India to fight for Qadir Khan. He met his wife at a kotha in Chawri Bazaar. The young Kashmiri Dancer Farzana later went on to become the famousBegum Samru.
When the many historical associations of the building were recognized, it was identified as a heritage building in 2002. This meant that the branch could no longer undergo any changes in construction or appearance that would violate its status as a heritage building. Yet, minor changes such as repairs of the stained glass windows and replacement of the classic spiral iron staircase were made. In 2003 the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage issued orders against any unethical constructions or changes that were being made in the building.
The building has managed to resist change in its structure over the years, but its historical essence is on the verge of being lost. The walls, the windows, the tiles, none of them are the same any more.
The building is nonetheless a tourist attraction for those who find their heart in history. It features a mini museum that showcases old records, old currency and a new banking system. It lies between two metro stations- Chandni Chowk (Yellow Line) and Lal Quila (Violet Line); almost 200-300m from both.
It stands opposite to the famous wholesale Camera Market of Chandni Chowk and is surrounded by Saree shops on both sides. The McDonald’s branch on Chandni Chowk is adjacent to this heritage spot. Tonga drivers and street vendors selling a variety of trinkets can be seen on the road in front of the bank. The building thus becomes the perfect assimilation of commerce and culture.
There may not be many admirers of its beauty and historical value, but the fleet of pigeons that rest on its majestic crown surely believe otherwise.
~Submitted by Muskan Miglani