Getting nostalgic with Delhi Heritage Foundation

This New Year opened on an exciting note.Seventh of January brought a surprise invite from Delhi Heritage Foundation an organisation working for reviving ancient culture and preserving heritage of Delhi the capital city of India.The organisation conceived and promoted by certain prominent citizens of old city has brought together bunch of city lovers enthused with past glory of the Shahjahanabad and fired with zeal for preserving it’s cultural heritage and traditions.Going through the Facebook page of the organisation and impressed by the committed, crusading spirit of the dedicated citizen vigilantes we promptly lapped up the invite.

The event titled Tangible and Intangible Heritage of City of Delhi opened floodgates of nostalgia about the old city popularly known as the walled city, having been protected by fortification by Mughal Emperors over middle ages. Several participants having been born and grown up in the city and others having migrated in course of their formative years in life spoke emotionally  about the ways of old Delhi. While someone spoke about the artistic ways of traders and market men other speaker gushed over the culinary delights of Chandni Chowk the Central market which was in historic times, and continues to be  the nerve centre of commercial activities. For everyone  mention of areas covered by narrow lanes and bye lanes evoked passionate memories of having discovered the charms of the city on foot.

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Secretary Dr.GG Saxena interacting with audience

The tone for the evening was set by Dr. SY Qureshi an eminent ex civil servant and leading light of the organisation who in keynote address recalled the lost glory of the city and shared his vision for preserving and recreating the lost heritage of city of Shahjahanabad . It transpired that The Delhi Heritage foundation has  on it’s own initiated moves  for preservation of several historic monuments by coming up with the novel scheme of encouraging educational institutions to adopt a monument.

Another highlight of the evening were the narratives on Cinema theatres of Delhi which were succumbing to loss of business in hard times.Even mention of names of of picture halls had element of excitement for everyone bringing back memories of a Mughal-e-Azam or Pakiza and excitement associated with queuing up for a first day first show ticket outside Regal in Connaught Place or Golcha in Daryaganj.Every one felt the need  for re energising the picture halls located on prime places in the city with innovative techniques.

The myriad suggestions for recreating the lost glory of city poured in  from enthusiastic participants. The phoenix like ability  of the city to reinvent itself was best summarised by Chairman in a poetic rendering of Mir Taki Mir which refers to a stage when the city was passing through times difficult.It is recalled that master of Urdu poetry had introduced himself in a mushaira  as

” Dilli Ek Shahar tha Aalamein Intikhab ..rahne wale hain hum us ujde dayar ke”

It is a matter of historical knowledge that the city later on rebuilt itself to take pride of place in leading cities of the world.

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In defence of Delhi

A popular magazine recently published an article on city of Delhi lamenting the heartless character of the city , highlighting absence of it’s cultural history and rubbishing the claim that the city is now a hundred years old.

Having spent close to 25 years in the city I am compelled to agree with some of the facts relating to the unusually rough treatment which one has to face in Delhi in public dealings on many times. I have been born and brought up in a north indian State and later had a 25 year stint in Delhi before serving in other parts of India for about a decade . I have always felt great admiration for courtesy and politeness which is hallmark of public behavior in certain South Indian States.There are places in MP and Maharashtra where I felt more at home sometimes as compared to my native town in UP.

Still on going through the article I did feel sad for the fact that a sensitive creative personality has so much of hurt and anger over the character of the city. Despite having been myself a critic of the city I did feel obliged to sit up and think as to why my heart still pines to return to Delhi and are there any good points which were missed out by the author of the above referred article.

Ofcourse there are reasons to see the city in a different color. For an outsider the feel of the city is based on adding together several images drawn from history, personal encounters and experience sharing. On the other hand my attachment to the city is for sake of memories which are associated with the various places where I stayed and worked . Memories of places where we took children on weekends, the UPSC chatwala and the street corner parathawala, memories of Asiad 82, film festivals movies in picture halls which are no longer in existence, the swimming pool where the whole family brushed up our swimmimg skills, the hospitals where my children were born and the hospital where my parents received long treatments make Delhi an emotional link which will always beacon me back .

Apart from emotional aspects I feel drawn to the city for the reason that despite all setbacks and so called scams the city infrastructure has been getting improved and modernized . A fact which can be felt by only those persons who have experienced the city during different phases of evolution in recent past. For a middle class person like me the shopping and entertainment joints do hold charm of a better quality of life in future .

From professional angle the city does offer tremendous opportunity for interacting with best performers in all fields and last but not the least the life is so hectic that there is hardly any time left for brooding over the character of the city

How hard is the hard posting ?

After initially working at Delhi for more than 2 decades I had to move to several other reigons  in the country  covering in the process  Goa,  Andamans and North East  . While the initial understanding was that I would return to Delhi in 2-3 years times , the ex Delhi tenure has kept on stretching. Since several of my colleagues managed to remain at Delhi for longer period and also got back to Delhi after short stints outside Delhi I felt cheated sometimes and wondered whether this banishment from Delhi was fair. However  after maturing through  several destinations away from Delhi I could see the silver lining (pun unintended) and started wondering whether the craze for sticking to Delhi is not an indication of a self centered  individual with an attitude which is not progressive .

Self centered because , although the  job offers  a possibility of rotation to various nooks and corners of the country but a group of people  consider it their divine right to be posted to a metro city , by all possible manipulations  or even if posted outside Delhi they would  try to get a place of choice , such as  one connected by land route  to the country ( so that there is possibility of an overnight train to Delhi!).These divine righted colleagues forget in the process that by cornering the comfort zones they have pushed out many other colleagues in the sun and  forced them to remain at the so called hard postings for longer period . The assumed difficulties of a hard posting would have appeared less uncomfortable and would not have been prolonged if all of us shared the hard areas on equitable basis.But for many mortals  a posting in Delhi injects a feeling of power and immortality which somehow  insulates them from grasping the essence of such mathematical analysis of  a social issue.

The other aspect is that of being less progressive or narrow minded. While moving out from Delhi one is give  subtle hints  that the concept of a true nation state is  also colored by feelings of regionalism in various parts of the country . However  an open minded and mainstreamed  person can easily understand  that even in Delhi  persons coming from other parts of the country need time to accquire respect and acceptability in their social circle. The same process of social acceptability can be expected at other places also . However once you move out and settle down the other benefits of being away from Delhi also become prominent.

First  and foremost is the clean air and relatively tension free work style which prevails at smaller destinations  . And then in due course of time one may (or may not) get to know a bunch of people who can be counted as selfless friends irrespective of their background. The quality and pace of  social life varies from place to place but still social networkings are developed with ample time available for the same without burden of  traffic related worries. The social groups though small ( sometimes very small in fact) are cohesive and homogenous and sometimes based on common interest in readings or movies (downloaded via internet). Natural beauty is always close on hand and if there is a good camera you can get submerged with flickr or Picassa. There is so much to learn about flora and fauna and lifestyle of tribes . And then there are so many opportunities  for water sports , chopper ride , snorkeling and diving which a  person  in Delhi can expect only once or twice in a lifetime as part of some heavily priced vacation.

But…even with all above virtues there will always be a bunch of colleagues who are counting their days for return to Delhi and in the process creating a morbid atmosphere for silent survivors.The best course is to avoid such tear jerkers. In fact with internet and broadband having infiltrated everywhere who needs non virtual friends now.

an obituary for victims of violence

       On reading the latest news about the bomb blast at Mehrauli in New Delhi many thoughts  came to mind. The first one was  as to how the human mindset changes by recurrence of a particular experience. Another bomb blast in Delhi is not a sensational news item nowadays.The headcounts in the recurring tragedies perhaps only contribute to some statistical notebook in some Ministry or the crime records of some Police Station. For vast majority of the people given the task of running the country the sadness of the events perhaps matters not much more than the loss of a one day match. The pictures of wailing mothers and wives of the persons lost in the senseless violence evoke less emotional response than the loss of a participant in the bigboss or other reality show. Something worth being forgotten by the next morning. For, if this amnesia was not there some of the decision makers would have taken shelter in some distant Himalayan monastry having found it impossible to forget the haunting faces of innocent humans whose lives were snuffed out for the reason that some people in their greed for power consider it necessary to keep the society divided in blood thirsty warring groups.

       Other thought  which struck me was about the metamorphosis which would result in the society  if all the the ultras in the subcontinent joined the mainstream and became peace loving people . Surely for a lot many people such turn of events  would be a tragedy of immense magnitude.  So many TV anchors and talk show coordinators would be out of job and would not be able to aspire for recognition which is conferred as a consequence of their fiery oratorical skills. Absence of bloodshed and tears would certainly be a horrenduos development for those who live by the fire power of anchor’s mike and also for the barons of news paper industry who perhaps secretly crave for a blood spattered front page to make the impact of screaming headlines more commercially viable. 

         And lastly does anyone spare a few thoughts for the families caught in the tragedies, after the initial dust and din is settled. How the children mange after losing parents , how the wives of cops lost in the course of duty manage after loss of the bread winner. Also does anybody try to find out as to what went wrong in the society so that so many  educated young men at an impressionable age were tempted to follow the path of violence instead of a dignified existence bringing up families instead of destroying lives. Does anyone spare a few tears for the mother who had given a healthy and intelligent child to the society ,but to whom the society returned back the coffin of a bullet ridden terrorist. Are we doing anything to change the scenario ?

A Goodbye to Appu

When Delhi hosted the Asian Games in 1982 the mascot of the Games a baby elephant named Appu stayed back in Delhi to become a symbol of unending fun in form of the amusement park known as Appu Ghar. The mascot in form of a dancing elephant adorning the gateway to Appu Ghar provided a cheerful day of fun and frolic during 25 years of it’s existence to millions of children. Located in heart of the town and offering so many permutations and combination of joy rides and games it was a place you could head for any time on any day . Weekend outings came to acquire a special meaning specially for the middle class crowds which could have free run of the place at an affordable cost. A whole generation of Delhites grew up with the joy and thrill of the rides and games. Other options to the city’s entertainment package by way of water parks or the occassional visiting circuses or the Delhi Zoo remained way behind in the matter of popularity.

Now Appu has grown weak standing on one leg for so many years and a new world is emerging around it which is more professional and devoted to matters of corporate concern, so Appu bids good bye to Delhi and to those whose child hood memories would never be complete without recalling the excitement and thrill of Appu rides. In the age of computer games and multiplexes Appu the symbol of common man’s entertainment will perhaps move to some smaller town where child’s world is still not trampled upon by monstrous organs of modern society . Delhi richer by achievements of scientific progress and by growth of legal wisdom through the library which will take place of joy rides now has less time to care for the smile of the young child.

To seal or to deseal: Question that puzzles Delhi Govt

The Sheila Dixit Govt. in Delhi has at least one major institution building achievement to it’s credit. It introduced the concept of empowerment of Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) in a big way through the Bhagidari Scheme launched by it. The word Bhagidari meant partnership and the concept intended to provide opportunity for sharing of responsibilities and power between the RWAs and the Govt. The Scheme visualized Govt. support and guidance for growth and networking of these institutions to facilitate experience sharing and capacity building. At the initial stage the scheme seemed to have achieved success and earned several prestigious awards for the so called new concept in governance. However ironically a strange twist of events started which became a perpetual cause for conflict between the Govt. and RWAs.

Some of the RWAs were already enlightened to the civic rights of their members and a larger number with the newly acquired sense of power woke up to the need of raising their voices against the Govt’s negligence in enforcing the provisions of Delhi’s Master Plan. Over the years a large number of residential areas in various colonies of Delhi have acquired commercial character leading to progressive deterioration in quality of life for those who continue to live in their residential properties which are getting surrounded by unauthorized commercial structures. When the Govt. machinery was found to be unwilling to change the scenario , the RWAs were forced to take recourse to litigation.

The dispute went up to the Apex Court and the Govt. had to repeatedly cut a sorry figure for it’s knee jerk reaction to the grim scenario. The RWAs which were creatures encouraged and empowered by the Sheila Dixit Govt. found themselves involved in a running battle with the same Govt. The continuous monitoring by the Apex Court and the pressure to catch all the violators irrespective of their status became so intense that even the Chief Minister and certain other bigwigs in her party were running for cover against notices received against their personal properties for violation of Master Plan of Delhi or building bye laws.

The Govt., from the initial stage was cowering under pressure from the law breakers but found itself helpless against people’s power. The stage managed scenes of street violence and a legally unsustainable piece of legislation could not bail it out . The Govt. was forced to mobilize all power of state to seal thousands of Commercial establishments which were functioning in violation of law.

The battle is a rather ironical conflict between the law makers and the law supporters . The process of sealing of properties has taken a heavy toll on personal reputations of several major operators in the field besides the progressive Chief Minister of Delhi who is otherwise a progressive and professional politician. At one stage Delhi was agog with rumors that the whole business was masterminded by the daughter of ruling family who was promoting several new Malls in the city and needed buyers willing to pay high prices. Similar insinuations later popped up against relatives of a key figure connected with judicial activism. The issue is still wide open . A large number of commercial establishments have closed and shifted to conforming areas and to Noida and Gurgaon. However thousands crores of rupees invested in the sealed properties remain blocked and a source of continuous pressure on city govt. to find a way out.

A recent news item says that the Govt. is coming out with a legislative solution. But the outcome of legislation in favour of desealing of offending constructions remains to be seen. For Sheila Dixit Govt. caught in the crossfire , seal or to deseal is the question that keeps it’s intellect puzzled.