Chandigarh was born in an era when Nehru decided to launch his idea of the first planned ‘smart’ city of post-independent India. He roped in Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier and the Chandigarh Capitol Project Team was established, headed by Pierre Jeanneret.
Nearly three decades later, I was born to Chandigarh. Her blood ran through my veins, her air filled my lungs. I was a true-blue Chandigarhian. I learnt to walk on her tarmacked roads, and played without a worry in the world, in one of her many lush parks till dusk.
The Plaza of Sector 17 was the heart of my city. No special occasion was complete without a shopping trip or a sumptuous meal there. I have such vivid memories of lugging huge bags of shopping behind mother, as we walked from one end of the plaza to the other, since the parking lot was far away. We watched many a movie at the iconic Kiran Cinema in the ever-so-busy Sector 22. The larger-than-life Ravana at the Parade Ground on Dussehra remains etched in my memory. The legendary golgappa wallah in Sector 23 market hasn’t aged a bit even today.
As our generation transitioned from being noisy kids to becoming gawky teenagers, we realised the importance of the famed ‘geri route’ - the road connecting Sectors 10 and 11, notoriously known for having united several Heers and Ranjhas of the city. A trip to the Rock Garden was mandatory for any relative visiting from abroad. How their eyes would widen looking at the marvellous pieces of art made from sheer waste, and how our hearts would swell with pride talking about Nek Chand, the founder and creator of this one-of-a-kind initiative.
True to its symbol of an Open Hand, Chandigarh embraced people from far and wide. Allure of the good city life uprooted many sons of the soil. On pretext of pursuing a no-good degree from the local institutes, many youngsters arrived in Chandigarh and lingered on, till their resources dried up. Some came here looking for lucrative business opportunities and made the city their home. New singers sprang up, each singing a tune on Chandigarh’s wicked spell.
Despite it all, the city remained special, especially so for the people of my generation. We were born and raised by her. She witnessed our moments of euphoria. She watched and caressed us when we were low. She embraced us when we returned from faraway exotic foreign lands, gushing endlessly about tales of their magic. She taught us to move with the times, allowing swanky malls to grow alongside expansive plazas. She ensured the green belt and the concrete co-existed happily.
As the states continued to fight each other for water, quota reservations, identity, she stands tall, meting out justice to both Punjabis and Haryanvis. Despite it being a melting point of different cultures, she has been able to hold her own steam.
The Chandigarh of today has undergone a facelift. Her heart now beats in a glittery mall, and the ‘geri route’ has widened its base. Kiran Cinema, albeit deserted, bears the look of a seasoned elder who has weathered many a storm. When a foreign family come visiting, they look forward to much more than just Rock Garden.
They experiment with Chandigarh’s tantalising food culture, its sartorial elegance, the vibrant theatre, and the ability to find its own pace, which is neither too lax, nor too rushed - just perfect for the soul.
Chandigarh, you truly are City Beautiful!