Growing up with New Delhi | columns | Hindustan Times
Today in New Delhi, India
Dec 05, 2016-Monday
-°C
New Delhi
  • Humidity
    -
  • Wind
    -

Growing up with New Delhi

columns Updated: Sep 01, 2011 11:11 IST
Khushwant Singh
Khushwant Singh
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

I am almost as old as the city I have lived in for most of my life. When I came to live in Delhi I was barely five years old and there was no New Delhi.

I recall there were herds of deer, Nilgais and wild boars to be seen in what is now Sunder Nagar, Kalindi Colony and Maharani Bagh.

I saw the new city go up day by day as my father Sobha Singh got contracts to build the South Block, India Gate and much else. Most of the contractors were Sikhs and lived on Jantar Mantar Road.

A railway along what is now Sansad Marg was called Imperial Delhi Railway. It brought stones and sand from Badarpur to what is now Connaught Circus. We often got free rides on the I.D.R.

As New Delhi began to grow it began to change its flora and fauna. Keekars, Neem and Pipal gave way to Jamun, Sausage Trees (Kigelia), Gulmohar, Banyan and other exotic trees were brought from Africa to line the wide avenues. Vultures disappeared. Soon after so did Sparrows. Many varieties became scarce.

During monsoon we heard frogs croaking all night and fire flies flitting about in bushes. Now we have no frogs or fire flies. We heard the wailing of Jackals at night and Choukidars calling Khabardar ho. They too have been silenced.

Living in New Delhi was gracious till the influx of Hindu and Sigh refugees from Pakistan flooded the city.

Muslims who had formed 40% of the population fled to Pakistan. New colonies came up and New Delhi's population trebled or quadrupled. New Delhi I knew like the back of my hand has become an alien city in which I have lost my way.

My father had many interesting tales about the building of New Delhi. When King George and Queen Mary came to India in 1911 and announced the decision to shift the capital from Calcutta to Delhi they laid two foundation stone in what is known as Kingsway Camp, where Delhi University is now.

After World War I ended a team of specialists came from London and examined the site. They were of the opinion that Kingsway was not a suitable place to build the city.

They spent a few days riding around the countryside and decided that Raisina hill would be the best place to build the Viceroy's palace, the Secretariat and Parliament House.

My father got his first job as a contractor to shift the foundation stones from Kingsway to Raisina.

He hired a bullock cart, pulled out stones and rode on a bicycle alongside the cart and planted the stones at the base of Raisina hill.

The operation was done in the dark so that superstitious people would not take it as on ill omen. For this job he was paid the princely sum of Rupees Sixteen.

When tenders were called for, he got the contract to build the South Block, India Gate and much else. He built himself a house, which he named Baikunth (paradise).

He later sold the house to the Kerala government and built himself another house on 1 Janpath and gave it the name Baikunth. It is today the Hungarian government's information office. He spent his last years in a cottage attached to the new Baikunth.I am almost as old as the city I have lived in for most of my life. When I came to live in Delhi I was barely five years old and there was no New Delhi.

I recall there were herds of deer, Nilgais and wild boars to be seen in what is now Sunder Nagar, Kalindi Colony and Maharani Bagh.

I saw the new city go up day by day as my father Sobha Singh got contracts to build the South Block, India Gate and much else. Most of the contractors were Sikhs and lived on Jantar Mantar Road.

A railway along what is now Sansad Marg was called Imperial Delhi Railway. It brought stones and sand from Badarpur to what is now Connaught Circus. We often got free rides on the I.D.R.

As New Delhi began to grow it began to change its flora and fauna. Keekars, Neem and Pipal gave way to Jamun, Sausage Trees (Kigelia), Gulmohar, Banyan and other exotic trees were brought from Africa to line the wide avenues. Vultures disappeared. Soon after so did Sparrows. Many varieties became scarce.

During monsoon we heard frogs croaking all night and fire flies flitting about in bushes. Now we have no frogs or fire flies. We heard the wailing of Jackals at night and Choukidars calling Khabardar ho. They too have been silenced.

Living in New Delhi was gracious till the influx of Hindu and Sigh refugees from Pakistan flooded the city.

Muslims who had formed 40% of the population fled to Pakistan. New colonies came up and New Delhi's population trebled or quadrupled. New Delhi I knew like the back of my hand has become an alien city in which I have lost my way.

My father had many interesting tales about the building of New Delhi. When King George and Queen Mary came to India in 1911 and announced the decision to shift the capital from Calcutta to Delhi they laid two foundation stone in what is known as Kingsway Camp, where Delhi University is now.

After World War I ended a team of specialists came from London and examined the site. They were of the opinion that Kingsway was not a suitable place to build the city.

They spent a few days riding around the countryside and decided that Raisina hill would be the best place to build the Viceroy's palace, the Secretariat and Parliament House.

My father got his first job as a contractor to shift the foundation stones from Kingsway to Raisina.

He hired a bullock cart, pulled out stones and rode on a bicycle alongside the cart and planted the stones at the base of Raisina hill.

The operation was done in the dark so that superstitious people would not take it as on ill omen. For this job he was paid the princely sum of Rupees Sixteen.

When tenders were called for, he got the contract to build the South Block, India Gate and much else. He built himself a house, which he named Baikunth (paradise).

He later sold the house to the Kerala government and built himself another house on 1 Janpath and gave it the name Baikunth. It is today the Hungarian government's information office. He spent his last years in a cottage attached to the new Baikunth.