Our city planners clearly are not aware of the exhortation by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Ah, to build, to build/that is the noblest art of all arts.” Now this does not mean that we shy away from building. In fact, we are perpetually engaged in matters brick and mortar. And we shun such concepts that dictate that a building should not only be functional but also be pleasing to the eye. This explains why all the members of the Delhi Urban Art Commission (DUAC) headed by architect Charles Correa have quit their posts in disgust. It is the same old story: the government, that well-known custodian of art and architecture, would not countenance objections from the DUAC on overlooking aesthetics when putting up new buildings. The poor dears on the DUAC felt it their duty to ensure that all new buildings were in harmony with Delhi’s historic past.
A visit to any ancient monument will show you what we think of our grand past. That is if you can get to the premises in one piece after fending off sundry cows and other livestock. After braving a sea of filth and touts, you will arrive at the hallowed precinct. What greets your eager eyes? Upon the patina of history are legends like ‘Pinki ª Rinku’. Future archaeologists will spend sleepless nights wondering what noble beings named Pinki et al roamed these magnificent ramparts. Other countries may take pains to ensure that the location of a proposed building is thoroughly sized up to ensure that it is in sync with its surroundings. Here we have the ‘enni, meeni, myni, mo’ version of bureaucratic decision-making that brooks no dissent. So we had a situation where the government put up two luxury hotels during the first Asiad Games in Delhi at strategic locations. Only to find that one of them had several floors with a bird’s eye view of the prime ministerial residence.
Now there will be many who may want to take a peek at the PM taking a morning constitutional. So the offending floors were shut to the public and handed over to the spooks. But why stop at public buildings designed to put off people from visiting even when it concerns vital matters? Just take a look at some of the residences in our metros. The Hansel and Gretel-ian colours, the Wizard of Oz turrets and towers, the ghastly curlicues and columns are some of our unique contributions to architecture. The only things missing are moats and crocodiles, but we are getting there. Will better sense eventually prevail? Not likely. So don’t let your blood pressure up when the next monstrosity begins to climb skyward in your vicinity. At the end of the day, it is just another brick in the wall.