Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Views from India Gate

The following article appeared in the online publication South Asia Post, Issue 89 Vol IV, June 15, 2009

THE long story of human civilisation is so often told with references to the rise and fall of so many magnificent cities encircled by their mighty walls and glorious gates. Delhi, the mythological and historical capital of Hindustan, has also its most precious heritage of ancient & modern landmarks including walls and gates.

India Gate, which has become the most popular picnic place for Delhi-wallahs and visitors to the city, was inaugurated in 1931 as one of the largest war monuments commemorating the 90,000 soldiers of the erstwhile British army who fell in the Afghan Wars and the 1st World War.

The monument has added, under its arch, the shrine of Amar Jawan Jyoti - the Flame of Immortal Warrior of India - in the wake of the brilliant victory in the war of Bangla Desh in December 1971. It was unveiled by 'Durga' Indira Gandhi, on January 26, 1972.

Standing near this 42 meter lofty and stately structure, one can not only enjoy a vast panoramic view of Rashtrapati Bhawan and other splendid government buildings but may also feel mysteriously overwhelmed by thoughts about the past, present and future of India!

I can vividly recall my own 'historic maiden' visit to the city of India Gate. It was Monday, 16th of June, 1969. I had boarded a bus from Chandigarh, the brand new & city-beautiful which had become, like all the most beautiful creations, 'an apple of discord' within a decade of the departure of its architect, Le Corbusier. The bus journey of about six hours on the most historic G.T. Road seemed to have spanned for me the full spectrum of the glories & humiliations!

My well prepared mission of visit to the capital of the country was to see the much read-about places of historical and cultural significance, visit major book shops to buy various standard books for preparations of I.A.S. etc. examination - now popularly called the Civil Services Exams. I was also curious to know as much as possible about the daily life in a big city. I had been a lecturer in college for about three years but was basically a tiny-town young man with all the hesitations and fears of a stranger about the big unknown places.

My young friend and host - he had just turned twenty and had been less than six weeks in his service as a junior librarian in Ministry of Defence - had given me ample advice in the letter (no easy facility of telephone in those days) on taking, firstly, the local bus Route No. 16 upto Najaf Garh (now made famous as home area of cricketer Virender Sehwag) and then another local bus for Rajouri Garden to reach House No J8/67. I committed no mistake and all turned out to fine except that the sun was shining at its burning best - who knew or cared in those days about the degree of Celsius!

I spent a week in Delhi & frequented the Connaught Place on several days. The most celebrated Coffee House in the large middle circle indeed appeared something unique with crowds of people engaged in animated discussions over rounds of coffee. I was delighted to say hello to eminent Panjabi writer Devinder Sathyarathi who was easily recognisable for his being look-like of Rabindranath Tagore look. The various bookshops - Galgotias, Peoples, Atma Ram and few in Shankar Market - all seemed sufficiently well stocked. We used to take the shared six seater motor cycle for going to Chandni Chowk. Apart from Prauthian Wali Gali, we spent more time on the Nai Sarak, known for cheaper and second hand books.

On Sunday, 22nd of June, 1969, my friend & I went to the newly opened cinema Vivek in Patel Nagar. The just released film, Heer Ranjha, of Chetan Anand, was being shown. There was big rush for tickets. We thought that there was no chance for us to get the tickets. Meanwhile, Ravinder Dhand, a senior in the school of my small town, was seen by me going towards office of the cinema and I called him. He was very happy to see me and asked how I was there. On being told that we two friends, had come see the film, he said, "no problem" adding that the owner of that new cinema had yet to pay him for the bricks supplied . We were soon taken inside the cinema hall & enjoyed the film, free of cost! It may be added that several Lalas of our our town had shifted to Delhi for the Brick Kiln business. The student who failed in school would be made what was called B.M.S.O., i.e. Building Material Supply Officer in Delhi!!

As per the dictates of destiny, I joined the Indian Foreign Service and did return to Delhi in Nov '71 after doing the Foundation Course at the National academy of Administration, Mussourie. Meanwhile, I had found my life partner in Delhi itself and stayed all along in the Ministry of External Affairs Hostel, Kasturba Gandhi Marg, with India Gate Lawns at morning walk distance.

After a stay of four years in Delhi, we were posted abroad for about five years. On return, we were again lucky to get accommodation near India Gate for two years and a few months. It was later, after a long twenty one years innings abroad in seven different countries, that on return, we again stayed for six months in the Ministry of External Affairs Hostel, resuming for the last time our walks to India Gate.

Long last in May 2004, we moved in our own 4th floor apartment in Mayur Vihar in East Delhi across Nizamuddin Bridge. We are blessed with a view of large open areas of Yamuna, the new landmark of Akshardham Temple and the fast coming up village of Commonwealth Games 2010. The new bridges on Yamuna and several fly-overs in the area have qualitatively facilitated the flow of traffic to destinations around India Gate.

The Metro Revolution has been turning the capital into a different city - Engineer E. Sridharan would go down, along with E. Lutyens, as the greatest builder in the modern history of the city. For us, Metro is at a road-crossing distance. The Mother Dairy shops for milk/vegetables, Indraprastha Gas Company for piped cooking gas & Metro for travel indeed define a triple world of happiness & satisfaction for Delhi-zens who still face serious lack of several basic public services including acute shortage of water and power.

Having cast my vote, the first ever time for Delhi Assembly, and after a gap of 42 years for the Parliament of the country from the Delhi East Constituency, Delhi would seem to have at last claimed me as one its citizens. When friends ask, how is life going on in Delhi in Silver years, I reply that the level of happiness of a retired public servant in Delhi would seem to depend on the convenience and time taken to reach the area of India Gate - the libraries, cultural centres, theatre/exhibition halls, clubs, the vast open lawns are all located in the vicinity of Gate!

To quote the most famous 'human-monument' of Delhi, S. Khushwant Singh,
"I can tell you that there is as much to love about the city as there is to loathe."


Aditya Prateek Anand said...

Dear Papa-ji, the article is very nice and can easily constitute a chapter for your autobiography. This reminded me of Delhi as I remember from childhood. Our evening visits, playing in the 'shadow' of India Gate, the smell of grass on which we used to run around. The toy peddlers and snack vendors. It's one of my lasting memories of a gentler Delhi. I never really understood how close India Gate was to our home, so I took out Google Map to take a look. Looking at those old streets, Kasturba Gandhi Marg once called Curzon Road, indeed made me nostalgic.

Varoon P. Anand said...

Through this I see a side of my father that I never could appreciate growing up. I pretend my own knowledge of my birth city is suitable, if not functional (at least when it comes to driving myself and my mom and dad around town), but this only shatters that pompous illusion.
I loved the story of Papa going to the movies. My own memories are of papa falling asleep at the movie theatre! haha! The details of bricklayers and their abbreviations is such an engrossing read. I concur with Munnu Bhaiyya and insist this form part of an autobiography that I can one day share with my own grandchildren with great pride.

Anonymous said...

my dear Baal,
thanks for including me among your friends. That was a very nice write up about India gate. Like you,I too have happy memories of it !It really was a meeting place and picnic spot, the Lungs of Delhi " it was called . The icecreams vans and the seasonal "jamun" walas under the trees was another big attraction! I remember a sardarji who attached his Kwality icecream van to a motorcycle.He could travel much faster and reach more customers than the others and consequently enjoyed far higher sales than the others!We used to look forward with excitement to the jamun season which lasted no more than 15 days; the fruit then was small and of uneven quality, some sweet some not.Nowadays, the season has got prolonged into months and the fruit is also much larger and of even size and quality and yet, it was more fun to eat in those days!!

Unknown said...

Thank you, sir, for bringing this journey to life for me.

Anonymous said...

Dear Bal Anand ji regards

Its really giving a refreshing perspective to our so regular historical monument.

Thanks for making me read it.


Unknown said...

A well-written and readable piece !

Keep it up !!

Thanks for bringing it to my attention !!!