The ever-changing culture of Delhi excites me the most. I love Delhi because of its vibrancy, it’s ability to assimilate so many cultures and grow.
In spite of being a cosmopolitan metropolis, it still retains much of its natural grandeur. The city is evolving every moment; there is an opportunity and challenge every minute, every day.
The earliest memories that I have of the city are from my school days at Convent of Jesus and Mary. I used to live in what is today called the Kamraj Lane. My sister and I used to cycle to school every day. At times, we used to cycle to Matka Peer near Pragati Maidan. It was so enchanting. Once in two months we used to go to Qutub Minar in a tonga. We never knew what it was to be not safe. At that time young girls could go around by themselves. Thinking of it now, it sounds like a fantasy.
Back then Delhi was not a large place. Everybody seemed to know everybody else. As children, we used to play a game where we knew the numbers of all the cars that existed in the city — the Standards, the Fords, Chevrolets and the Morris’s. We used to note down the numbers and, if one car more was added, our reaction used to be like, “Oh see, we have discovered another car.”
Today’s Janpath was all on the verandah of Connaught Place. You could buy pins, chewing gums and little knick-knacks there. It was just an open space. After Connaught Place, the only big building that existed there was the Imperial. Walking around used to be a pleasure. There was hardly any traffic except during office hours. I remember when I was in college I used to pick up a friend of mine, walk to Scindia House, catch a bus and go to Miranda House.
There used to be a handful of cinema halls at that time — Regal, Odeon, Plaza, Minerva etc. That was about all. We were allowed to go for the afternoon shows once a week. But we used to sneak out of college and go more often. There used to be this small theatre near Race Course road belonging to the Air Force and the Army. The cost of the ticket there was Rs 1.75 — which was quite affordable. In this little theatre that could seat 200 people, we used to see all the nice movies like Hamlet, Gone With the Wind, Mirza Ghalib. In those days we — there were three of us girls — used to walk to the theatre to catch a show and then walk back home. It was a very relaxed kind of living.
That I think was a pretty Delhi. It was a phase, a beautiful phase but one has to move forward. The movie-going experience has changed now. Now you have the PVRs where you can munch popcorn and chips while watching a film. Now the whole movie-going experience has become more exciting.
Over the years, Delhi’s culture has changed. When I was a kid it was the ‘Dilli’ culture — the puri-aloo, bedmi and jalebi culture. Then came the Punjabi culture and with it came the chola bhaturas. The city’s original culture is very subdued now. You have people from all over the country — Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala and West Bengal coming and settling here. Today you can’t call Delhi an X culture or a Y culture. It is a peaceful blend of everything. That I think is the greatest strength of this city.
Delhi was always a cultured city. The city was not so cosmopolitan as now but it was highly cultured — there was theatre, music, dance and book-reading sessions. I think Delhi is beginning to discover itself again. We are trying desperately and very passionately to develop Delhi as a centre for culture that will attract people. It is not the culture inside Kamani auditorium or Habitat Centre or NSD (National School of Drama) Theatre. Instead it should be out in the open. This is the idea behind reviving the Connaught Place of yore, Central Park, among others.
We have enormous problems and challenges now. But everyway I look at it, ultimately it appears the most attractive city to be. There is a comfort feeling here. The basic infrastructure of the city needs to be upgraded. Vehicles on the city roads are growing everyday and the traffic needs to be regulated. The civic sense is not up to the mark. We are working towards improving all these by involving the people.
But I would not like to compare Delhi and say it should be like X city or Y city. It should be like Delhi. No other city has the kind of heritage we have with so many waves of history. Every decade you see a new Delhi emerging out of the old Delhi. This I think is the beauty of Delhi.
As told to Moushumi Das Gupta