Delhi Rewind: How Dilshad Garden started out as a slice of Lahore

When Sushil Mishra (70) set out from his home in Unnao in 1968, he had a single purpose in mind — that of being a journalist in the national capital. With lofty dreams of being a news reader some day and meeting the high and mighty of Indian politics, he moved into his first home in the capital — a room in the Seemapuri slum of East Delhi. Mishra remembers those early days of struggle when he spent the days running from pillar to post to find a job in news offices, while the evenings went by in writing poetry.
As days went by, he saw his dream of being a journalist slowly slipping away, as he started taking up odd jobs in transport, construction and the like. On one such occasion, sometime in the late 1970s, he came across some officials from the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) who had started developing the nearby colony of Dilshad Garden. As he took up some contractual jobs with the DDA during this time, he saw with great enthusiasm the area around his slum developing with the best of facilities. “These were well-built flats, surrounded by parks and markets,” he recalled.
Soon after, by 1985, Mishra had managed to earn a decent amount to rent his first accommodation in Dilshad Garden, a janta flat for which he paid Rs 250 as monthly rent. “For many living in the slums of Seemapuri, the making of Dilshad Garden signalled a new hope for their lives,” he said. “Some of us who somehow made a little money hoped to get an accommodation here.”
Dilshad Garden was in fact built at a time that ushered in a new phase in the development of the capital. Casually called ‘Jamna paar’ or the east side of the Yamuna, it was up until the 1970s considered unfit for development. “Originally East Delhi was avoided because about five or six kilometres eastwards from the river consisted of floodplains,” explained Professor K T Ravindran, who served as head of urban design in the School of Planning and Architecture in Delhi and was former chairperson of the Delhi Urban Arts Commission.
The first time the DDA turned its attention towards this area was during Sanjay Gandhi’s urban renewal plan of the mid 1970s when close to 2 lakh people from the slums of Old Delhi were moved to the resettlement colonies like Jahangirpuri, Seelampur and Dakshinpuri, built by the authority in the peripheral areas of East Delhi.