Saturday, June 18, 2011

Power is a Wall

One of the truly great things about Lutyen’s Delhi is its non-jamming traffic, even at peak hours traffic might crawl but it never stops. So unlike the rest of our more recently designed and realized city.

Yes it has tree-lined avenues. Each fancifully planted to give joy to the motorist with their planned flowering and shedding of leaves. These roads are beautiful, and so is the stately Rajpath. But the rest of Lutyen’s, the famous Bungalow  Zone, how many of us know what it looks like?

To the citizen the LBZ is a beautiful tree-lined hexagonal grid of pleasure drives. The roads are lined by tall, almost ancient trees, and over-preserved  side-walks *, edged  by fifteen feet high walls. What lies beyond the walls we will never know.

The LBZ is like a well kept secret, only revealed to the favoured eyes to behold. Old photographs tell a different tale, of stately  edifices and well manicured lawns, behind polite fences. Setting a standard for living it up in a great capital.

It is funny how the Masterplan of  Delhi, and architect after architect seem to moon over this hallowed precinct of the capital city – preserving, studying eulogizing, when all there is to it is a wall.Yes a wall is all that Lutyen’s Bungalow Zone is to anyone who cares to walk, see and look at this great city in decline.

If we lift our noses from our British History  and its many eloquently written books and our own nostalgia ( for nostalgia read the previous post, and forgive the re-mentioning) that is what the objective eye finds. The “Lutyen’s Bungalow Zone” is a ghost town behind fifteen foot or higher walls. One does not even know if it is there anymore. I could just as well say that and there would be no way of telling if I was wrong or right.

But what got me thinking about this was a recent visit to Lucknow, to sit in the verandah of my mother’s ancestral home in the heart of the city. To sit there and look out, across the front yard, a small lawn, a low fence with a green hedge and a transparent gate, to the street out. And across into the park, at the phenomenally huge tree ( that even my grandfather remembered being there).
And then later driving past the latest and largest urban development project to be undertaken in the capital  of the most populous state of India. One of present government’s  numerous memorial parks to  Kanshi Ram, the Buddha and the Chief Minister herself. Great monuments of celebration, almost hewn out of solid beige sandstone. A mammoth exercise of paving streets, carving out roads and building parks and adjunct buildings in vast landscapes for memory. Vast landscapes of memory behind walls.

Large, impervious, in-accessible, and  unfriendly. In the hot north-indian summer, not a tree on the street, not a bench, but mile after mile of polished granite underfoot.  Five feet at most six, and edged with immovable, impenetrable and colossal wall.

There is no apology in the stone walls stance, either at these great parks of modern Indian memory that rudely divide the city-scape, or in the walls in New Delhi’s Lutyen’s Bungalow Zone.
The powers that be very clearly drawing lines, between “their” and “our” city. Very clearly marking the point till which you are allowed access. Very clearly telling the citizen this is not where you belong. This does not belong to you,” Stay out!”.  Drawing lines with tall, blank, insurmountable dividers.

It is hard not to notice this, but in the city of today and our lives, Power is(the right to build) a wall.

* Side walks in a land where few , a) can walk   and  b) are required to walk  or  c) even need to walk – depending on whether,  a) you are a common citizen  or  b) need to get somewhere in the LBZ or  c) live in one of the aforementioned bungalows.

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