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Of plays and a quiet life away from shahar

delhi Updated: Sep 01, 2011 11:21 IST
Sidhartha Roy
Sidhartha Roy
Hindustan Times
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When the Banerjees first moved to their new house near Connaught Place, there was no Connaught Place.

The year was 1930 and this family of small-time Bengali businessmen, who had migrated to Delhi from Calcutta in the 1870s, wanted to leave the congested Walled City for more salubrious environs.

"A friend of my father-in-law, Gurudas Banerjee, told him about these new apartments coming up in New Delhi. My mother-in-law chose this house, then located on Queensway Lane (Janpath Lane)," said Geeta Banerjee (70), the matriarch of the family who still lives in the same house with her sons, daughter and grandchildren.

The colonial style building, where the Banerjees live, had come up in 1928 just next to Jantar Mantar.

"Our family moved in 1930 and all my grandfather knew was that a bazaar for the British is coming up next to our house," said Amita (55), Banerjee's daughter. "For my father Amarnath Banerjee to leave the shahar and come here back then was like for us to move to Greater Noida now," she said.

"There were very few people living here then and letters with just my husband's name and Queensway written on it will arrive easily," the senior Banerjee said.

"The area was open and airy but at night I would be scared of all the jackals howling nearby. More houses came up later where the Park Hotel and DLF city centre stands now and Irwin Road (Baba Kharak Singh Marg) had government flats instead of emporiums," she added.

In the 80-odd years that the Banerjees have spent living close to Connaught Place, they have seen it turn from a desolate market to the capital's most happening zone. They have also seen it fortunes ebb and flow with constructions and renovations.

"Life in Connaught Place in the 40s and 50s was very good," Geeta said, adding, "Regal then hosted programmes like play by Prithvi Theatre and Uday Shankar's dance recitals. We would have coffee at Gaylord after the show. Other times we would eat at Kwality, Volga, Embassy and Wenger's."

"We bought household goods from Empire stores, milk from Keventers, pickles from Harnarain Gopinath and medicines from Gaindamal Hemraj," she said.

"The Rhythm Corner, where Barista has come up now, had a great collection of music records and LPs."

She added, "Connaught Place made for a far more exciting shopping experience back then with a variety of world class items. Now it is full of mainly eateries and branded clothes."

Where the LIC building (Jeevan Bharati) stands today was an empty ground where the government films division would showcase patriotic films during the 1962 Sino-Indian war. "Bunkers had come up all over for residents to hide in case of bombing," Amita recalled.

"CP is very beautiful now but the people back then were more civilised. You wouldn't find anyone urinating in the open like they do now," Geeta said.