We wake up one day and find the city we live in has changed. Many years ago they had promised us a “world class city”, with the dark and dangerous stuff, the lost and forgotten people, all waved out of sight to a Delhi Below. We had marveled at the vision and gone on with our lives for we had things to do. I remember the day.
I open my newspaper a couple of days ago to the news that the ASI has, after thrice earlier rejecting a tunnel road project linking NH-24 to Lodi Road, finally approved it. The tunnel would pass under Sunder nursery and Neela Gumbad, ending near the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. The Commonwealth Games Village would have faster access to the stadium, so who cares about the heritage zone.
The same day, the Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA) razes a Mughal era monument in Gurgaon to acquire land for the Delhi Metro. The same day, the Delhi govt unveils Master Plan 2021, which imagines, improbably, endless skyscrapers and pedestrian and cycle tracks. The same day, in a readers’ forum, people from Chandni Chowk trash as impractical the Delhi govt’s plan to ban cycle rickshaws from parts of the walled city.
The next day, the Residents Welfare Association of my area is given the Best Citizen Group Award for successfully demolishing a thousand jhuggis. Feeling depressed, I drive along Tito Marg to a friend’s house. Along the way, I count at least eight other cars with lone drivers. On either side of the road something is being built – HCBS? The High Capacity something something? I have no idea what and why, and I don’t care.
I refuse to go to the sprawling, 55 year old Sunder Nursery to buy plants for our office. I also cannot bear the sight of the gracious, wide, tree-lined Lodi Road. I resolve to avoid that entire area till the tunnel is completed – Dec 2009 according to the PWD website – so I can more calmly accept things as must be.
In the evening, we drive up to Patel Chowk, park the car, take the metro to Chawri Bazaar and a rickshaw to Jama Masjid. This is one thing I cannot give up. I even spiritedly propose a spin around the Chowk, for the days we can no longer do it. Our rickshaw wallah gives us a fine potted history. “This is the town hall,” he says. “This is the fountain.” “This is a machine where they put in plastic and get money.” My friend contemplates getting a bicycle to ride around in the city. I laugh till my eyes water, and he drops the idea till the Master Plan comes into effect.
In the morning, as I drive to work with chaos and honking and thousands of other cars, grey pigeons are seamless against a background of grey concrete flyovers. If they disappear, we might not even notice.
(For the tunnel road plan, see story in HT dated Feb 6, 2007: Suffering from tunnel vision? by Aruna P. Sharma. To stop dismal-makers in Delhi, leave your email on this post or email me.)
(links coming soon)