One can go on and on discovering the tale of Delhi that goes beyond the clichéd Heritagescapes (term copyrighted by Navina Jafa) in the city, and one such heritagescape is the unique building of the National Defense College in the prestigious Lutyens’ Bungalow Zone. Embedded with an interesting history it, unfortunately, remains out of reach for heritage buffs. The National Defense College is located on the 30 January Marg and its location presents a poignant symbolism since it is opposite the Gandhi Smriti, the famous house where Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated.
The building has a unique history. Commissioned in the starting year of the Second World War it was built as an Army General Mess in 1939. However, in the post-partition period, 20 rooms of the building were converted to house some British officers and their wives before they left for England.
In 1960 the use of the building was re-positioned when the President of India who is the supreme commander of the Indian Defense forces sanctioned for the structure to be transformed into the National Defense College (NDC). The College was inaugurated by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru as the first prime minister of India. Ever since the responsibility for its maintenance lies with the Military Engineering Service.
As far as a distinct but dynamics of Heritage of the City of Delhi goes, the NDC remains a unique pioneering institution in Asia of its kind. Perceived as a think tank it offers courses on Strategies of Security and related matters to high ranking civil and defense officers from India and around the world.
The majestic building, characterized by rows of Tuscan pillars, high ceilings, is defined by long galleries, large halls, rooms and impressive gardens. Different parts of the building are shared by the Army, Air Force, and the Navy.
There is yet another alluring snippet in the narrative of Heritage of this building which emerged in my visit to this sacred out of the bound building, and it was one that is related to what now has become a topic of great discussion on heritage platforms – The Heritage of cuisine.
It is humbly acknowledged by the defense forces that the best cooks are from the Indian Navy, so much so, that the Chief cook for the President of India is also appointed from the Navy. “For days with nothing but the ocean, where the seamen are often rocked by sea-sickness and with a strict order not to consume alcohol, food takes a great priority of engaging the senses….” told me an officer associated with the administration of the building. Before leaving this hallowed space, I had the chance to sample the famed food. But the travel from the front of the building to the dining room seemed to be a heritage journey of its own. One passed imposing halls decorated with fascinating paintings, documents, and gifts from different countries. While what appeared to be the Army side contained monumental animal trophies, the naval section of the building that led to the dining room contained paintings related to the sea, photographs of prominent ships, and officers, there was for example an interesting well almost a sexual frame describing why a Ship is a ‘She’… It read that the Ship is a She since she is surrounded by the bustle, and gang of men, that she has a waist, and takes a lot of paint to keep her good-looking….
The Stroll to the space of the much-awaited food was through a long carpeted, narrow corridor lined that was like everything else had interesting photographs and other unique adornments. Finally, the journey expanded into the realm and sensibilities of food and it was worth the walk… a wide spread of salads, exotic sweet dishes, experimental assortments of bread awaited us…YES! The Ship of our Sense truly rocked.