In Delhi’s Southwest the district of Mehrauli was covered by impenetrable fog in the early morning. The sunrise was congealing somewhere in the other direction but the gathering light simply made the fog seem closer. We were on the road from Delhi Cantonment, a warren of barracks and low-rising government housing and the districts changed with inscrutable regularity as we moved around the outskirts of the city.
The Mehrauli district was a pleasure garden for the sultans and the sahibs in the nineteenth century. The last Mughal Emperor held court here in the summers and Sir Thomas Metcalfe of the East India Company followed him dutifully, galavanting in baronial style next door. Only for his house he chose a Mughal tomb, big enough and, perhaps surprisingly, already sited for its salubrious health effects.
Next door another tomb stands now fenced off from the non-paying public in a retinue of similarly repurposed religious monuments. Here the conqueror Aibak built his tomb, and his successor a massive minaret that looked, on this morning, like the piece-de-resistance of a vast industrial colony. The giant beveled minaret is the highest in India and is a testament to the awesome alien force that Islam was when it arrived on the subcontinent a millennium ago. The pillars that surround it and set it off were pulled from nearby Jain and Hindu temples and set about a courtyard to make the grand mosque that still stands there, lost in time. We were also lost that morning, wandering through the fog until the sky finally opened up below the minaret.