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Delhi has changed…this before I decided to fly to New Delhi during the Commonwealth Games. I took the national carrier, Air India and something’s remain constant… the Indian passenger. The plane was half full with tour groups, families and individuals on company largesse over loaded with duty free packets, Hong Kong is the place for shopping, and free booze calling each other across the aisle.
My neighbor was coughing and sneezing, fever and cold, and I handed her an anti-allergic medicine more as a safeguard for myself.
‘It is the case of Delhi Flu’ the doctor said. ‘Take plenty of fluids, bed rest and no going around’. You got to be kidding. I had come to Delhi for the sole purpose of watching the Commonwealth games, participate in the hoopla surrounding it and maybe risk the notorious Delhi roads. The roads or lanes divided and sub divided into 3 categories...the general, the green buses and the CWG restricted traffic movement to the maximum. It took us two hours to reach India Gate from Gurgaon, a distance of 45 minutes non peak time i.e. Non office hours when the general public is happily settled in their respective hide-outs. Traffic was permitted only on two lanes and there was nothing to do but follow the rules. Few brave souls, tired of the snail pace, dashed onto the CWG lanes and were promptly handed tickets.
Watched the Games on television and counted the Indian medals, 101, their highest total ever. The empty stadia were bit of an eyesore and as a young volunteer pointed out that so much money had been spent with no one to avail of the facilities. The organizing committee distributed free tickets to the underprivileged and college students hoping to have crowds but it did not work. The Opening and Closing ceremonies had housefuls. I would not have minded a few passes myself but then the Flu played spoil-sport.
The media was playing up the corruption charges, the disintegrating bridges and ceilings, the filthy toilets and living quarters in the Games Village and the public response to the fracas. The truth is that India did not realize the intensity of involvement and brazenly went about taking Delhi and Indian citizens for a ride. The opening and closing ceremonies plus the medals tally mitigated some of the initial humiliation of unaccountability and blatant money laundering or what Times of India termed as 'loot fest'.
Few days later was the Dushhera festival, the seven day festival focusing on Lord Rama’s victory over Ravana. On Dusshera day , during the burning of the effigy of Ravana symbolizing evil/bad, a question was put forward by a TV channel presenter that ‘when every year we ostensibly burn ‘bad’ there is still so much of badness lingering around’. Maybe like the multiple heads of Ravana evil keeps on multiplying.
Feeling better I ventured out to Connaught Place and India Gate and beyond hoping to see some of the illuminated monuments. This was after the Games and comparatively easy to move around. The roads looked cleaner, Connaught Place/Rajiv Chowk had a makeover, painted buildings and tiled passages. But then the corridors were still grey and dirty and in some places the tiles were missing. Probably used to tile someone’s house or maybe the authorities are waiting for next big event to complete the unfinished work.
But some icons are constant e.g. India Gate standing bright and tall amidst all the chaos around. Though it came late into existence, British India and designed by Sir Edward Lutyens, India Gate is witness to adapting Delhi. The Delhi journey started with the Pandavas of Mahabharata fame and their construction of Indraprastha. Archaeological evidence suggests that Indraprastha, founded in 2500 BC, once stood where the Old Fort, near India Gate, is today. It was later demolished by the British for the construction of New Delhi in late 19th century.
Next came the Tomara dynasty and named the city Lal Kot (AD 736) to be conquered and renamed Qila Rai Pithora by the Chauhans. The Chauhans were followed by the Delhi Sultanate, established by Qutb-ud-din Aybak of the Slave Dynasty. The Qutub Minar in Mehrauli is their trademark. Next in succession were the Khilji dynasty, the Tughlaq dynasty, the Sayyid dynasty and the Lodhi dynasty leaving their particular stamp and form of governance shaping the destiny of Delhi or Indraprastha.
Social and political norms were dictated by the next two super settlers; the first coming from central Asia all the way from Samarkand and the second from a tiny isle in the Atlantic. The British were more enterprising and finding that the Mughals, 1526-1857, were spluttering out, decided to become houseguests and stealthily took the major share of the pie. From 1857 till August 1947 they revamped Delhi. Mughal architecture was incorporated within a British framework and we got Lutyen’s Delhi, an amalgamation of British and Indian Mughal sensibilities. Mammoth constructions overshadowed the congested narrow alleys of Old Delhi, the lives beyond the pale, Mughal retainers hanging onto the past glory symbolized by the forts built during different rules.
The British did more, gave us membership of the Commonwealth Club. And like any conscientious member we decided to host the Commonwealth Games gifting ourselves few weeks of glory, drivable roads, revamped monuments and cultural shows. But did we really need the Games to make us take notice of our potentials and shortcomings? The hastily planted saplings, many had disappeared or died out before the closing ceremony (14th October), unfinished tile work in the corridors of Connaught Place, roads still in need of repair, the list is endless and one wonders if they will ever be finished....probably wait for next big event or 'a loot fest’.
The city of Delhi splashes onto the NCR and Gurgaon, touted as Millennium City. Power shortages; pot holed roads, unfinished projects; slum city rubbing knees with mighty glass structures; transport woes and permanent roadside rubble give Gurgaon an unfinished appearance. Just look up, advised a friend because then you only see the new city of glass towers and high rises. The new Metro connection between Gurgaon and Delhi is a new addition shortening travel time.
Like the proverbial cat with 9 lives, Delhi, which had been purring recently due to semi-success of Commonwealth games, has already lived out 8. We wait for the next city change and hope for the best.