For Ruby and Sushil Massey, visiting Turkman Gate’s Christian Colony during Christmas is like going back to their roots. They visit the colony not just on Christmas but on other occasions like Good Friday without fail. That gives them and many old Christian families of Delhi-NCR an opportunity to meet family members and life-long friends.
Julius Caesar, no connection with the Roman emperor of the same name, on the other hand, visits the Christian Colony more regularly as most of his family members still live there though he has shifted to east Delhi. Caesar, who played for the Delhi football team in Santosh Trophy for several years, considers Christian Colony a sacred place as he was born and raised there.
There was a time when a very large number of Christian families lived in the stretch from Pataudi House in Daryaganj, and Gali Ganj Meer Khan to Turkman Gate, where the entire colony belonged to them.
Ruby Massey, who was working in NDMC till recently, says that while many families have moved out of the area due to several reasons including paucity of space, yet all of them visit during Christmas time.
Ruby’s family is from Gali Ganj Meer Khan and many of her relatives still live in Christian Colony. Noted BBC journalist Satish Jacob’s family also hails from Turkman Gate.
Jacob began his journalistic career with The Statesman, worked in Ethiopia for eight years, and joined the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) as Mark Tully’s assistant in 1978.
While many Christians from across India have moved to Delhi over the years, Turkman Gate’s Christian Colony binds all the old Christian families of the Capital since it is arguably the first Christian colony of the Capital.
Later, colonies with very large Christian presence also came up in south Delhi’s Sunlight Colony near Ashram, and in Patel Chest. Christians have a good concentration even in Civil Lines, Sabzi Mandi, and in and around Tees Hazari. They are, in fact, present everywhere and doing well in all the fields.
Perhaps the most famous personality of Turkman Gate Christian Colony was ace cricketer Rajesh Peter. Though the Peter family moved to nearby Press Road at Minto Road, some members of the family continue to live there.
Peter played for Delhi in the Ranji Trophy. A fast bowler, he played in the 1981-82 Ranji Trophy winning side. In the final against Karnataka, he contributed 67 not out with the bat in an unbroken ninth-wicket partnership of 118 with Rakesh Shukla, as Delhi chased down 705 for a first innings lead on the sixth day of the match to win the title. Extremely talented, he was found dead in his New Delhi flat in suspicious circumstances in 1996. Of course, the untimely demise of Peter left his community, along with his fans and admirers, in Delhi heart-broken.
This Christian Colony at Turkman Gate developed strong ties with Christian Colony of Karol Bagh, located next to Karol Bagh police station, as several members had shifted there.
For George Solomon, serving in the Holy Trinity Church just outside the Turkman Gate’s Christian Colony was a revelation.
“It was a pleasant surprise for me to find elders of Christian Colony speak Hindustani with heavy use of Urdu words like mufeed (ideal), mustakbil (future), rehnuma (mentor). I believe they speak Urdu as they live in an area where Urdu was the lingua franca till a couple of decades ago.”
Alas, Urdu is disappearing from Delhi-6 as you would not see many boards on shops there written in Urdu.
The Christian community living around the church today comprises no more than 60-70 households and the strength of the colony should be around 400 people.
“While I was posted at the Holy Trinity Church, I lived at Delhi Brotherhood House at Civil Lines rather than here though there is accommodation for the church father here,” says Solomon.
Old timers of Turkman Gate Christian colony say that residents of this colony were involved in leather business since long before they embraced Christianity thanks to the efforts of Anglican missionaries.
It may be recalled that the Cambridge Mission to Delhi was an Anglican Christian missionary initiative in the mid-19th and early 20th centuries led by graduates of the University of Cambridge.
Individual members of the missionary community are credited with helping establish educational and other institutions in Delhi and other parts of the country.
Historian RV Smith used to say that Christian missionaries started doing social work here in 1883. The neo-converts shunned their traditional trade and started doing different jobs. Now almost all are involved in jobs or business other than leather.
The life of Christian Colony revolves around the Holy Trinity Church, which is at a shouting distance from the dargah of Hazrat Turkman.
It was built in 1905 and as historian Rana Safvi says, “It is unique for its half domes. This church was supposed to be built near Ajmeri Gate but shifted to present location when an underground medieval reservoir was discovered while the foundations were being dug.”
It is decorated for Christmas. Fairy lights, colourful items, shiny stars, and wreaths are used to adorn the entire church.
Interestingly enough, even after embracing the new religion, Turkman Gate’s christian residents clung to Hindu names.
Julius Caesar is an anomaly. Here you would hear names like Ashish Jacob, Manish Peter, Bal Mukund, Anjali Mathew, Anil Massey, Sushila Brown and Pawan Peter.
Ajay Solomon, another old resident of the Christian Colony, says, “I think you cannot erase your past completely. We have to accept that our forefathers were Hindus. It is fine with us that we still prefer to have our Hindu names. Yes, some are giving European names to their kids too.”
In a city that boasts of eminent Christian personalities, including legal luminaries like Harish Salve – though he is spending more time in London these days, advocate Rebecca Mammen John, well-known architect Ranjit John, author Joseph Gathia and, Sydney Rebeiro, the former teacher of Delhi University and senior statesman of Anglo Indian community of the Capital, the importance of Christian Colony of Turkman Gate will never diminish.
No wonder, it is in festive mood and preparing to receive many of its past residents during Christmas.