Like any great city, Delhi too has changed down the decades. Once, when the 2 Up Kalka Mail would steam into Delhi through the old Yamuna bridge, your grandfather would turn right and see the grand Metcalfe House. Now, when the electricity-powered superfast Kalka Shatabdi Express zooms into the Capital, you won’t be able to see that building thanks to the concrete that has sprung up on its compound.
Once, Kashmere Gate was home to the workshop of the legendary tailor Mohammed Umar, who stitched sherwanis for eminent Delhiwallas like Jawaharlal Nehru. The Inter State Bus Terminus (ISBT), Kashmere Gate’s most defining landmark, had yet to come up. Now, the place boast the first McDonald’s to have opened within the premises of the Delhi Metro.
Once, there was a tram service in Delhi. It had started in 1903, the year electricity arrived in the city. 18 years later, Delhi had 24 tramcars and 15 km of track. From Jama Masjid, the trams would putter along Esplanade Road, down Chandni Chowk, towards Fatehpuri Masjid, and from there to Sadar Bazaar. Another line would sneak out from Jama Masjid and snake through Chawri Bazaar, Hauz Kazi and Lal Kuan, before turning to Fatehpuri. Now, there are no trams.
Once, DTC (Delhi Transport Corporation) was called DTU (Delhi Transport Under-taking). No bus was allowed to carry more than its capacity of people and, at the most, 12 standing passengers. Legend is that author Nirad C Chaudhuri would walk from his office at All India Radio to his home in Mori Gate rather than wait for a bus that would take no new passengers since it was already ‘full’. Now, DTC buses are as crowded as chicken coops with people hanging out from the doors.
Once, Delhi’s tree-lined avenues had Hindustan Fourteen, Landmaster and Hillman running on them. They gave way to Standard Heralds, Fiats, Ambassadors and then to sleeker cars of our times. Once, Khan Market just had Bahrisons and Faqir Chand for booklovers, the ‘dairy stores’ for daily essentials, Carryhom ice-cream parlour for children, and Alfina restaurant for serious diners. Now, there are twice the bookstores, two Big Chills, two Chonas, several more cafés, several designer boutiques, and a free parking service with insufficient parking space.
Once, Nizamuddin railway station had just two trains stopping by for exactly four minutes. Now, it is a noisy junction with trains shuttling all day long. Once, Chawri Bazaar was famous as an iron market. Now, it is ‘the’ destination to buy wedding cards and bathroom fittings.
Once (July, 1959), Che Guevara came to Delhi for two days and stayed at Hotel Ashoka. Now (July, 2009), Hillary Clinton come visiting for four days and stayed at the Taj Palace Hotel.
Once, during the early 40s, the Indian Coffee House used to be on Janpath, where it served doughnuts and coffee to American GIs. In the 60s, it moved to where the Palika Parking is today and started serving idli-dosa to the city’s intellectuals. Now, it is in Mohan Singh Place, frequented by old fuddy-duddies, and in danger of being shut down.