|That intersection of Old Agra lanes where Agra Fort Railway Station meets Jama Masjid
Narratives are an integral part of our lives. As narratives are built, they in turn, build our histories, legacies as well as heritage. With time these narratives get consumed even as they are being continuously formed and re-formed. Their contexts, contours and details change and yet they remain the same in so many ways. In our hurried and busy existences, it may be difficult to witness these changes or these narratives. That’s why every now and then it becomes important to take some time out, take a step back and absorb this ever-evolving history and heritage.
While most tourists and even people in general associate Agra’s history with a few monuments, the oldest part of the city is a treasure trove for cultural, social and architectural heritage. And who better to walk people around in these parts than someone who has grown up right here. Tahir Ahmed, a filmmaker and a storyteller, whose family has lived for generations in the old city of Agra, was the walk leader this Sunday as he took a small bunch of people roaming in the narrow but history laden streets and lanes of old Agra city, settled by Mughals alongside the red fort and Jama Masjid.
|Established in 1840 Chimman Lal Poori Wale is a cornerstone of Agra’s food scene
Food is an integral part of Agra’s lifestyle. Different areas are not only known for what delicacies they serve but also the specific times that they open shops. And perhaps this fondness of food has been rooted in the DNA of the city right from its inception as evidenced by numerous food and snack shops dotting different parts of the old city, in business since ages. Be it the Sindhi speciality ‘Pakwaan’ or the ‘Malai Makhan’ (known differently in different places) or the Naan Khatai or the milk cake or the numerous other food items, you may find all of these here. As the wide variety of food indicates there is a confluence of cultures and ethnicities here which truly makes this part of the city a melting pot of cultures, more so than others.
|If you want some airy and delicious ‘Malai Makhan’ in Agra head straight to Rawat Pada right in the centre of Old Agra.
|Another old building bites the dust to give way to a new one.
Another convergence that has been highlighted before as well in a similar coverage of another heritage walk led by Tahir is that of the old and new. With time new architecture and exteriors have come up alongside the older ones and in some places, they even overlap. As older buildings are being abandoned giving way to the newer ones, such walks are perhaps the most optimal opportunities to take stock of what all is being lost as the old structures lay brutally exposed.
|A historical motif erodes.
But a quaint marble handicraft shop or an old timey haveli will remind you that sometimes the old and the new can happily coexist as they try to hold onto their own bits and pieces of history while they continue to create newer artefacts. Perhaps these confluences and convergences can be called a pickled narrative or pickled history, where with time, history is preserved as it is also consumed, while the tastes and textures keep developing all the time. Such heritage walks are a wonderful opportunity to taste these pickled histories.
Tahir Ahmed is a filmmaker and storyteller who along with some of his fellow art, culture and history enthusiasts is currently developing a collaborative space for artists in Agra by the name of UP80.