Delhi: From the past

Some of my readers would be surprised to note that there was a railway line where Rashtrapati Bhavan stands. The East India Railway connected Calcutta to North India, the Delhi Junction or old Delhi Railway Station had its beginnings thus. There used to be one train everyday. There are pictures of the first Railway, it was quite unlike the trains we see now.

Back then the capital of India was Calcutta. In 1911 during the Durbar, it was announced that the capital would be shifted to Delhi. The Old Secretariat located on Alipur Road was the assembly building (power was shared to a certain extent with Indian politicians). This was when New Delhi or as it is known now, Lutyen’s Delhi was still being planned. The railway line had to be shifted and that is the reason it passes through Red Fort and crosses the Yamuna using the old iron bridge, a gift of the East India Railways.

Before National Museum was constructed, there was a cluster of villages, and there was jungle all around. During the Mughal rule the area beyond the walled city was reported to be largely uninhabited (according to the colonial authors and accounts of the Mughal historians), with wild animals roaming the areas around Delhi Gate (where Mulana Azad Medical College is located). On the far side where the Kashmere Gate metro station is located, was the outer boundary of the Walled City or Shah Jehanabad. The area which is occupied by the Inter State Bus Terminus (ISBT), was the British Garrison.

The Rashtrapati Bhavan was the Vice Regal Lodge, where the Queen’s representative had his residence. Before the Lodge was constructed Queen’s representative used to reside in the building which is the office of the vice chancellor of Delhi University, it was at the time the vice regal lodge. Lord Mountbatten wooed Edwina in the ballroom in this building. The flagstaff was built to raise the Union Jack when the viceroy was in residence at the Lodge. There are guard houses throughout the road starting from Mall Road to St. Stephen college (at least I remember a number of them as a child, they were located at intervals, going up to Stephens). When the Queen’s representative passed on the way to his Lodge the soldiers would stand out side these tiny guard houses to present arms! A blaze of red uniforms under a blue sky must have been quite a spectacle.

Our first home was the barracks of the regiment to protect the Queen’s representative. There were fire places which were lit every winter, but of course this is what I was told, I was too small to have a memory of those days. When New Delhi was built it took away the glory and glamour from old Delhi.

A Delhi wedding

In Delhi when someone decides to get married, the festivities invariably spill over on to the road. There will be a “shamianah”, a tent, with buffet in one corner, chairs for the guests, carpets, loudspeakers and blaring music, with amorous exhortations from the singer. There will be bright lights that dazzle one to blindness. There is a dais on which the evenings ceremony will take place to seal the couple to wedlock. The ritual begins in the evening and goes on past the midnight. The guests come bearing gifts and a fixed smile.

Those who cannot attend the festivities are not left out, they can savor the music, miles away. So if you are preparing to turn in early to catch that early morning flight then forget it. There have been movies around people who eat only at weddings by gate crashing, presenting themselves as either from the groom or bridegroom’s side. The individual concerned always keeps a set of clothes ready for such occasions. He will never starve as there are marriages aplenty in the city. But alas such freeloading is no longer possible, since there will be people from both sides who would check your invitation card.

People find the weddings an opportune time to forget dieting. There will be enough food to last a whole year. As one Parsi author stated, looking at Parsis eat at weddings, one would presume that they do so only on these occasions. For the guests it is a point to give home cooking a miss. People sometime say before leaving for the wedding, they “don’t want to go, but one has to” and then add, “at least we can skip cooking at home!”

But I am not interested in those things, interesting though they may be. I am thinking of the noise and the blocked traffic. My overseas readers may find it interesting to note that the groom arrives at the wedding site on a horse. He his preceded by a marching band (playing a grotesque tune on worn out instruments!). It is long parade, behind the groom’s horse are the snaking lines of cars belonging to close relatives and friends of the groom. The objective is that the “barat” or “groom’s parade”, reaches the venue as slowly as possible. So there will be impromptu dance numbers with persons of all ages, shapes and sizes taking turns.

There will always be a wide open space for the performers to do their best. I pity the horse who has to witness this. As the “barat” winds its way, the vehicles that are not part of the merry making, would start honking. This produces a cacophony that if played to an inmate in a prison, would be tortuous enough for him to plead for death sentence instead.

Thunder in March

There is thunder and lightening, the rain starts to come down, first a few drops to tease you…then there is more just when you think you will be able to make it to a shelter, it starts to pour. You run, your feet slip on something slimy (yuck!), you regain your composure, but not before you have been drenched. Next day the sky is clear, the sun burns down on you. You wonder which was better the soggy rain or the blistering sun.

This is my second post on summer. The earlier one was in Graffiti [Wall that knows]. These are besides the one on rain in Delhi-ciously Malicious. You see how important rain is in Delhi. Here people don’t carry umbrellas. The reason being that when they bring their umbrella with them there is no rain, it is dry, and people wonder if you are from another planet. Children of course have lot of fun with the rain…I used to ply paper boats with my friends in the puddle. Then there were those crawling worms that came out and they would slither around on smooth floors, and the snails in the garden; I remember I used to make an invisible inventory of the creatures that used to come out in the rains. There was one that was dark brown, you could not make out which side was the head. There used to be a profusion of weeds and herbs in the garden, and the drops of water glinted as the sun rays caught them.

However, the mud from the garden used to stick on whatever foot wear you were wearing, and my mother used to impose sanctions. The footwear had to stay out and one had to walk on the cold floor bare feet. There was of course reprieve from all the agony that rain caused. There were fried snacks and coffee. One had to boil the water before drinking, as there was a likelihood of contamination. I was debarred from eating all street food from the beginning, this was imposed with great deal of rigour. So as my friends wolfed down with gusto all the snacks that were offered in the street corners, I had to excuse myself one way or another.

Sometimes, when the clouds had stayed on for a week, and the sun could only meekly claim its presence, it used to get quite cold. One had to either turn down the speed of the fan or turn it off. It was boring: no outing, one could take a walk around the Delhi University campus, go up to the flagstaff and wonder about those times past, when that flagstaff bore the Union Jack. It was sometime later that I learnt about the happenings there in 1857, besides this there wasn’t anything much one could do, one never knew when it will start pouring again.

When one is filled with nostalgia about Delhi, nothing stands in the way except that the ring of someone’s mobile brings one back to 21st century.

 

An enchanted garden

Yours truly was out with camera on Saturday. I went on a photo walk to two historic places, located opposite the upmarket Jor Bagh. From Saket, I took a metro to Jor Bagh. A friend had advised that I should visit Safdarjang’s Tomb first and then the Lodhi Gardens. Both are historic places. They are conveniently located opposite each other.

I duly went to Safdarjung’s tomb first. The premises are well kept. Here I share with you my pictures.

 1. Safdarjang’s Tomb

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Grave of Safdarjang

Grave of Safdarjang

2. Lodhi Garden

The Garden is a walkers paradise. There are families with kids, out on a picnic. There are school children on an excursion. There are photographers. And there are bloggers and joggers. Some parts of the Garden remind me of an enchanted forest. But that is my imagination going wild.

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Well written and sensible notice!

Well written and sensible notice!

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This board describes the birds that visit the Garden.

This board describes the birds that visit the Garden.

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Oh…Auto!

Autorickshaw

Autorickshaw (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The three-wheeled contraption that is found in most parts of Asia, is at once a practical vehicle and at the same time a source of much grief. The latter arising out of the fact that there seems to be no authority in the world that can stop them from overcharging and not using the meter.

An auto rickshaw fare meter is, in large number of cases, a decorative device that spouts gibberish. It is not reset after a person has alighted, it runs on its own rationale. Take for example if you’re standing at a street corner and ask an auto-rickshaw driver if he is going to such and such place, then when he says he is, the meter would not be turned down and you would have to haggle with him for the fare. You may have been to that place from this point any number of times…you tell him that but the driver is adamant. He says that the fare is exactly as it would be if the meter was working. Then you say, well, let us go by the meter. The prompt reply will be, meter isn’t working.

In a large number of cases it would not be working…handiwork of a colluding mechanic! There are phone numbers given in newspapers and websites to report errant auto rickshaw drivers, but I am sure nobody would be in a frame of mind to complain. The roads are dusty, dug up footpaths, mounds of earth, crowded with chaotic traffic, honking all the time, dug up roads…its hell anyway.

May I ask whoever is coming to power next, is it possible to make the life of ordinary citizens less miserable? Can the traffic police make it a point to check auto rickshaw meters. Can they put the fear of authority in the minds of the drivers? Would it be too much to say to the authorities that in this day and age they have a number of ways to make the recalcitrant auto wallah see light. In situations where people have to reach point B desperately, the auto driver senses the urgency and charges a premium. He is a great psychologist, he looks at a person coming towards him and assess how much he can fleece that person.

I have seen any number of drives by the police to discipline the auto-rickshaw wallahs, they come to naught. The driver knows that his fare is in too much of a hurry to bother to complain. The Indian streets are too problematic in themselves to carry out an argument without risking a fatal collision with the surrounding traffic!

Park at will

English: Traffic Jam in Delhi Français : Un em...

There is a notice on the road outside Anupam complex that says that parking is not allowed and they will tow away errant vehicles. Nevertheless, cars are parked with impunity while the police patrol is standing right behind, where the board is located. Can’t anyone read in Delhi? Parking on the road side should not be allowed at all. However, consider the facts. There is no parking place.

When Saket came up as a neighbourhood, nobody then believed that people would have so many cars. At that time there were fewer vehicles than now, however, the authorities seem to forget that there were parking problems even then. Residents would complain. This is a common feature of Indian cities. The localities are not planned properly, the requirements for decades hence are not considered. There are so many schools in the vicinity of each other on a single stretch of a narrow road that when the schools close there is bedlam.

Every afternoon, school buses are parked on the road outside these schools, creating bottlenecks in the flow of traffic. Also one very weird feature of this locality is that it has two way traffic. I thought, this being a residential road it should have been one way, so as to allow pedestrians to cross conveniently. It is the bane of this country, not thinking, not allowing ideas to flow. When the panels meant for planning the city meet, there is more politics, less of important decision making. We allow the cars and other vehicles have all freedom while the pedestrians have to suffer. Buses are allowed both ways when they are on school duty.

Cover of

Cover of On The Road

The residents are finding that they are spending more time weaving through traffic than reaching their destination. The cars and other vehicles are parked just about anywhere. No one can question the status qua. The market that is frequented by all in the neighbourhood is an island in a sea of traffic. To reach it, it is better to ensure that one is insured and the papers are in order.

Thoughts on mosquitoes

English: Aedes aegypti in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

English: Aedes aegypti in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Urban life without mosquitoes is unheard of in India. I clarify this at the outset, lest someone makes up their minds to think they are part of Delhi, unique to Delhi. They breed in the potholes, and water lying stagnant in various containers and debris left from some construction site. The municipal staff come to our homes every year asking if we are breeding mosquitoes in our coolers, open vessels, etc. They are adamant when you suggest that there is little likely hood as we take more precautions than the Corporation does. They look suspiciously at you. You feel like one of those people in the cartoons who wear a striped t-shirt and dark trousers and cover their eyes with a mask with slits for the eyes.

 

He looks at you, you invite him for the inspection, he demurs. Others of course have a currency note ready for him. Despite this the summer has seen cases of Dengue fever. This is an extract from a news item in Times of India of September 9 2013:

 

“As many as 50 patients have been landing up at Ram Manohar Lohia (RML) Hospital in central Delhi with symptoms of dengue each day. The number of patients has gone up over the past two weeks. At the end of September and during the first week of October, the number may rise further. To meet the situation the hospital has ordered more intravenous fluids and saline drips,” Karan Vats, a doctor working in RML Hospital, told IANS.

 

Are all these cases because of negligent householders? That can’t be. The municipal corporation’s response to such epidemics is coming out with newspaper ads that make claims, inform the public. The mosquitoes that breed in public areas do so with impunity. They are not on the radar of the powers that be. The inspectors that come to our homes with long registers and longer faces, could do well to carry out inspections in the public areas, would the municipal corporation fine itself, it is unheard of. I can take the inspector on a tour of the public areas with the potential to breed mosquitoes.

 

The fumigation team arrives in a cloud. They do this to arrest the breeding of mosquitoes. An aerial Drone vehicle of the US may mistake this for chemical warfare. Those who carry this out do not have any uniforms or identifiable vehicle markings. My fear is that if some terror outfit finds this a…Why can’t the postman come in uniform, why can’t municipal staff undertaking important work on the roadside be given protective gear. Delhi wallahs would laugh it off. But the system of uniforms also protects people from unauthorised tampering of various installation that may affect public health. But I digress…

 

The fact is, as I had pointed out in another post, merci bon dieu for keeping us safe.