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Give the builders of New Delhi their due

columns Updated: Aug 26, 2011 12:50 IST

It would not be an exaggeration to say that most of New Delhi was built by a coterie of sardar contractors of whom five did the lion's share of building. In Sikh circles they were known as Panj Pyare - the five beloved after the first five followers of the last Sikh Guru Gobind Singh. The top five builders were Sobha Singh, Basakha Singh, Ranjit Singh, Mohan Singh and Dharam Singh Sethi. The British gave them due credit by inscribing their names on stone slabs. You can see them in the alcoves of South and North Blocks. The South Block has five names starting with my father, Sobha Singh, the North Block has a list of architects and engineers including my father-in-law, Teja Singh Malik, who was the first Indian head of the Central Public Works Department. The British did more. Before quitting India, they conferred knighthoods on Teja Singh Malik and Sobha Singh. You can't be blamed for not being aware of this because free India's rulers did nothing to perpetuate their memory. Not a single road, bylane or round-about was named after any of them. Whether the new rulers were from the Congress party or the BJP, they were more concerned with giving credit to their party members than recording the truth. At times it appeared like anti-Sikh communal prejudice. Perish the thought.

Mani Shankar Aiyar had the Parliament sanction to change Connaught Circus into Indira and Rajiv Gandhi names. The metro stations are named according to his wishes, but the average Dilliwala prefers calling Connaught Circus as Connaught Circus. He also named a prominent road after the eminent Tamilian poet Subramaniam Bharati Marg. Why not ? We have Amrita Shergill Marg. Neither had anything to do with New Delhi. Why no road after Amrita Pritam who lived and died here? It's time Sheila Dikshit, Delhi's chief minister, resisted pressure by petty politicians and gave the real builders of New Delhi the credit due to them.

Home in Exile
What Southall is to London, Jackson Heights is to New York. Both are suburban habitations where emigrants from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh outnumber the English in one place and Americans in the other. They feel more comfortable speaking their language, eating their kind of food and worshipping their deities in temples, mosques and gurdwaras. Occasionally, news from their countries upsets their equilibrium and they get divided in their responses. Such was the case with the publication of Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses. Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa condemning Rushdie to death. All Muslim countries banned it, as did India. In some countries copies of the book were burnt in public. This is the theme of Jaysinh Birjepatil's second novel The Good Muslims of Jackson Heights (Ravi Dayal & Penguin Books). Birjepatil was professor of English in Baroda University before he migrated to America. For some years he taught English Literature at Marlboro college in Vermont where he now lives. His poems have been published in American and British journals.

I had reviewed his first novel Chinnery's Hotel two years ago. His theme was the emergence of a half-caste Anglo-Indian community in a small town in Gujarat. I was most impressed with the way he developed the theme and produced a highly readable book. He has done even better in his second novel. His two main characters are Siraj and Shabnam. They leave India after living through a Hindu-Muslim riot. Shabnam joins a law school, Siraj continues his academic career. He is severely jolted by the Muslim reaction to The Satanic Verses and the demolition of Babri Masjid. He is further harassed by American Intelligence which charges him of complicity in a plot to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge. He suffers injustice and is the good Muslim of Jackson Heights. I recommend this novel.

Political Coincidences
All four lady chief ministers: Sheila Dikshit, Mamata Banerjee, Jayalalithaa and Mayawati are single. And, of course, at the helm of affairs at the Centre is the charming Mama Mia, the single mother superior to control the reins of these 'four in hand'. The four efficient chief ministers - Nitish, Narindra, Naveen and N Rangaswamy (Pondicherry) are also single with their first names starting with letter 'N'. Watching their performance from heavenly abode is the noble soul of the great 'N' - Nehru.

(Contributed by Col. Trilok Mehrotra, Noida)

A dentist to Manmohan Singh during his annual check up: Mr PM, at least in my clinic please open your mouth".

(Courtesy: Vipin Buckshey, Delhi)