The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Dec 18, 2011

Delhi Durbar

When I arrive at Indar Pasricha Fine Arts on 12 December, I am met with some consternation. I have seen on their website that there is an exhibition of photographs of the grand Durbar of 1911. An Anglo-Irishwoman named Lilah Wingfield attended that imperial event, and recorded it in her diaries. Pictures from that time are on display until 17 December. But when I enter the gallery, they are still being put up, and Maggie, the enthusiastic arranger, is somewhat nonplussed. 

"The exhibition's being opened at 6pm," she says. "We are going to have drinks and canapes."

Still, she is very welcoming and invites me to look around. It takes me about fifteen minutes to cover the seventy-odd pictures that have been affixed on the walls. There are photos of Lilah's family, and her trip to India, and the Coronation maidan where the Indian nobility and the British ruling castes put up their shamianas, and the Grand Durbar itself, and commoners who came to see their Emperor, and other pictures of her travels around the country. Copies are available for sale at prices from £100 upwards, but the photos are somewhat blurred when viewed up close. They are an interesting relic and record of the time, however, and worth preserving.

Lilah Wingfield at Chandni Chowk, Delhi, 1911.
I notice copies of a book titled A Glimpse of Empire by Jessica Douglas-Home. It turns out that Jessica is Lilah Wingfield's granddaughter. She has recently recovered Lilah's diary and written the book based on its entries. I ask if I can buy a copy, and Maggie tells me that there is to be a book-signing after the opening. 

"Jessica is just powdering her nose," she says.

I am unable to stick around for the drinks. Maggie disappears to ask if Jessica can sign a book for me. When the author turns up presently, she asks where I am from. "Delhi," I say. "Oh," she says, "I just got back from there. The book was launched in Delhi."

She inscribes the book to the wife and dates it. "The Durbar was exactly a century ago," she says.

"I'm afraid I can't stay for the opening," I say. She is unperturbed by this revelation.

"I didn't know there was to be an opening and a book-launch," I continue. "The website just gave the dates of the exhibition."

She doesn't stick around after signing the book. A photograph falls off the wall and is hurriedly reattached. Maggie asks me to leave a note in the visitors' book. I scrawl some platitude or the other. Another couple enters and are greeted happily by Maggie. I say goodbye and leave.

Check these out:

1. Glimpse of Empire photographs page.
2. The photographs were on display in Delhi, as Jessica said. India Today carried an article on Lilah Wingfield.
3. And it appears I missed royalty at the opening of the exhibition. The Duke of Kent was there.


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