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Sunday, November 28


Blog 13, May 26, 2020

Lady patrons of Delhi Part 1

This week’s blog is a tribute to R.V. Smith, a renowned Delhi Chronicler who recently passed away. The piece is inspired by an excellent article he wrote in The Hindu (11/11/2018) about the ‘Women who patronised Delhi”. More than that, I am deeply grateful to him for all the anecdotes in regular newspaper columns and his published books that helped have bring my walks to life.

Part 1 – Mughal Queens & Princesses
Some of men who created Delhi are near household names. There’s Shah Jahan (Red Fort and Jamia Masjid) and Edward Lutyens (Rashtrapati Bhavan and ‘Lutyens’ Delhi’). Those of us who are strong on history will know that Qutubuddin Aibak put up the Qutb Minar and Maharaja Jai Singh II of Jaipur built Jantar Mantar observatory. But what of the many women who have made a significant contribution to Delhi’s magnificent architecture and green spaces ancient and modern?

The first of these female benefactors was, as far as we know, Haji Begum, who commissioned the beautiful Humayun’s tomb for her husband, the Mogul Emperor, in Nizamuddin, close to the dargah of the saint Nizamuddin Auliya.  This magnificent structure, as any guide book will tell you, is the first garden tomb on the Indian sub-continent, and is said to have inspired the Taj Mahal.

Bega Begum (later known as Haji) was of Persian origin and said to be well-educated and wise. In 1527, she married her first cousin Prince Nasir ud-din (who became ‘Humayun’ upon his accession). On the death of the Emperor Babur (December 1530), Humayun came to the throne and Bega became Empress at just 19 years of age. Bega was highly regarded by Humayun and she remained his favourite, as well as his chief consort, until his death.

The Emperor Shah Jahan is renowned for his exquisite taste and passion for building, but the women of his family also made their mark on Delhi. Three of his wives built mosques, which were called after them. Akbarabadi Begum built Akbarabadi Masjid, which was destroyed by the British in 1857. It is believed to have been located in what is now Netaji Subhash Park in Old Delhi.

Fatehpuri Begum built a mosque at the far end of Chandni Chowk, around the Spice Market, which still stands to this day, and Sirhindi Begum commissioned the Sirhindi Masjid, just outside the city wall. Both of these wives lie buried in tombs around the Taj Mahal.

Shah Jahan’s beloved daughter, Jahanara, gave us Delhi’s most famous street, Chandni Chowk (Moonlight Square). In the centre of the chowk, she built a Mughal Serai (Travellers Inn), which was destroyed by the British and replaced with an Imperial building – the Town Hall. How sad that the canals that once reflected the moonlight so beautifully are no longer in existence.

And another daughter, Roshanara, a celebrated poet and supporter of her grim brother Aurangzeb, created Roshanara Garden, one of the largest gardens in North Delhi. After Aurangzeb’s accession to the throne, Roshanara wielded great power and influence, often corruptly, and was disliked at court. Forced by protocol to remain single, she was reputed to have many lovers. When this came to the ears of the puritanical Aurangzeb, he banished her to the palace in her eponymous garden, where she lived until Aurangzeb’s minions poisoned her. She is buried in a fine tomb. We usually visit the gardens and tomb in April when the Sita Ashok, Indian Coral tree, and Bistendu are in bloom.

Next week, in Part 2, we will meet some more formidable and colourful ladies who made significant contributions to the architecture and landscape of Delhi. 

Heritage walks with Surekha Narain. Contact details, +919811330098, and visit

Blog 14, May 26, 2020

Street Fruits 1

On our street food walks we often see fruits but usually don’t get to taste them for reasons of hygiene. Let’s get to know the BAEL, LOQUAT and PHALSA in the market for you to relish at home.

Bael (Aegle marmelas) commonly known as Bengal quince, golden or stone apple, is a tree native to Bangladesh and India and present throughout South-east Asia. This tree is considered sacred by Hindus – bael leaves and fruit are offered to Lord Shiva. The leaves are compound with 3 leaflets, the central one is largest.

The leaves are shed in March and the large round fruits from the year before can be seen on the bare tree. The bael is strikingly beautiful when the new leaves appear in late April. Flowers come out in May and the fruits quickly form. The fruits stay on the tree for 11 months, slowly growing until they are the size of a large grapefruit. They may still be green in April of the following year but ripen by June or July.

The bael fruit has a hard, smooth and woody shell which is so hard that it needs to be cracked with a hammer. The fibrous yellow pulp inside is sticky and very aromatic. It has been described as ‘tasting of marmalade and smelling of roses. It is astringent so, to make juice, sugar needs to be added and the liquid strained. The juice is a popular summer drink – one large bael fruit can give 5 to 6 litres of sherbet (cooling drink). The fruit can also be sliced, sun-dried, and eaten. It is said to be excellent for digestive disorders. Various parts of the tree can be used for medicinal purposes, mortar for masons and bee-forage.

Butterfly attractant: Bael is the larval fruit plant for the following two Swallowtail butterflies, the Lime Butterfly and Common Mormon –remember the discussion on our colourful friends that we had last week, where we learnt to identify then by colour.

The loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) is a tree native to China and Japan (also called Japanese and Chinese plum). This fruit has been introduced to India and is commercially cultivated in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Delhi, Assam, Himachal Pradesh and Maharashtra. It is also very commonly found growing wild (a garden escape) in the southern USA.

The fruit grows on a small tree, resembling other members of the Rosaceae family, such as apples, plums, peaches, apricots, and cherries, and ripens in the spring/early summer.

Plum-like fruit: Loquat is prized for its sweet, citrus-like fruit. The small, round fruits grow in clusters. Their colour varies from yellow to red-orange, depending on the variety. You can peel off the skin, which comes off pretty easily and bite into it, eating around the seeds. 

The flavour is a pleasant blend of apricot, plum and cherry with floral overtones, and is quite sweet when ripe, with notes of citrus and mango, and the texture reminds me of apricots. Try it in Loquat Vegan Cheesecake,  fruit salads or smoothies.  How about a flavourful loquat tea! It is also used to make loquat syrup, which is used in traditional Chinese medicine as a cough remedy

Kumquat and Loquat: Two different fruits. Despite the similarity in name, they are of no relation. Kumquats are a member of the citrus family, and their only resemblance is in size and colour, with loquats usually being slightly bigger. The similarity in name is because “loquat” was derived from “black orange” in Chinese, when unripe loquats were mistaken for kumquats (which means “golden orange”). A loquat is a small yellow fruit that has a thin skin, a sweet yellow pulp inside and one to three large seeds. A kumquat is a small citrus fruit like an orange or lemon. 

Loquats contain quite a few vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A and C, a few B-complex vitamins, iron, calcium, potassium, and copper. They also have pectin, a type of fibre used as a thickening agent for jams and jellies that also helps with digestion and constipation.

Without much in the way of fats or proteins, loquats are fairly low calorie. The vitamins and minerals present in loquat can be beneficial for your heart rate, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, respiratory system, and immune health.

Phalsa or Falsa (Grewia asiatica). This is a large shrub native to India, which also grows in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh, as well as other tropical countries. In India, the edible fruit is grown in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, and Rajasthan.

Falsa belongs to the berry family, and people often mistake it for blueberries; they are close relatives but are not the same. The phalsa fruit cannot be transported and has to be consumed quickly.

The purple fruit—around a centimetre in diameter—is sweet and sour, and has only a thin layer of greenish white pulp over its seed. During the summer months, the fruit and its sherbet (juice) are said to have a cooling effect. Overripe and blacker fruits are perfect for making sherbet (see recipe).

There are some amazing health benefits of falsa that you might not know. Falsa juice helps in relieving digestive problems like excess acidity and indigestion. Raw falsa fruit is a blood purifier, normalizes heart rate, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It relieves fevers, inflammations and blood disorders.
As kids we would eagerly wait for the vendor’s call: kaale kaale phalse, sharbet wale phalse. We ate them straight out of the vendors packet, perhaps with some black salt, and threw the seed away.
RECIPE:  Phalsa sherbet

INGREDIENTS: 1. Phalsa fruits: 200 g  2. Gur (jaggery): to taste 3. Black rock salt: to taste
 4. Roasted jeera (cumin): to taste

METHOD: Wash the fruits well. Use a blender to separate the pulp from the seeds. Strain through a sieve repeatedly to extract the maximum amount of juice from the fruits. Add cold water, gur, black salt and roasted cumin according to taste, blend well. 200 g of fruits would make about four to six glasses of juice.

Hope you enjoyed getting to know some street fruits. In case you want to find out about some others, do let us know.  Try and guess the fruits below!

Heritage walks with Surekha Narain. Contact details, +919811330098, and visit


  • Beverly in Delhi: Blog 13 I absolutely loved this blog. Thank you so much for telling us about the forgotten women behind some of Delhi’s historical sites. I look forward especially to a visit to Roshanara’s garden and tomb which I have never seen. I do remember seeing Jahanara’s tomb with you on a really interesting walk!  Blog 14 This blog is fascinating. It’s so good to learn about these fruits that we see on trees all around us in Delhi, and find out how we can use them. Thanks too for the links, especially to the Loquat Cheesecake – which we must try soon! 

DMW: Thanks my dear for your warm and enthusiastic comments! From what you say, I think you know where Jahanara Begum is buried! However, I will be revealing the answer in the next Blog. Enjoy the loquat cheesecake!

  • Ubah at the US Embassy: Hopefully when walks start again, after this stupid virus, I would love to take a tour and see Fatehpuri Masjid. Stay safe and healthy.

DMW: You are right – safety first. I have an interesting walk around Fatehpuri Masjid with stories of a bygone era, havelis that still exist and street foods to relish from the Spice Market.
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