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Witness a Capital change

The new Capital remained a ghost town for almost a decade after its inauguration in 1931. But the Second World War, India’s independence and Partition changed the contours of New Delhi.

delhi Updated: Sep 06, 2012 14:19 IST
Sidhartha Roy,Manoj Sharma,New Delhi

After 20 years of construction work, New Delhi was unveiled to the world in 1931. But the spanking new Capital, with its grand buildings and wide vistas, remained a ghost town for almost a decade.

The older part of the city, on the other hand, was bursting at the seams. Earlier plans to build the new Capital envisaged a harmony between it and the existing city. This idea, however, was junked with the British determinedly cutting off the mingling of the two except for buffer areas like Paharganj and Daryaganj. What was the city before 1911, had become ‘walled city’ by 1931.

Though the new city had everything chalked out to take care of the needs of an imperial government, it lacked life. This is where Connaught Place came into the picture. Work on Connaught Place, New Delhi’s own Piccadilly Circus, began only in 1929, when all the other major buildings were already taking shape. The complex started gaining popularity during mid-1930s.

The contours of New Delhi also changed with the advent of the Second World War in 1939. New industries came up to cater to the needs of war and with it came migrant labourers. Hutments came up near the Secretariat for war time offices. In mid-1940s, housing for government employees also came up in the Lodhi Colony area. Timeline 1932-1969

Independence and Partition acted as a catalyst for Delhi’s drastic change. Nearly five lakh refugees poured into the city, which was not prepared for the population explosion. The refugees moved into every inch of available space and took up any work they could find. Despite odds, the Punjabi spirit was indomitable. The enterprising refugees boosted trade and once settled, the new residents of Delhi stamped their cultural dominance on the city.

The post-Independence era of 1950s also saw a slew of construction activity. The public buildings and mass housing projects that came up in this period gave shape to the New Delhi we know today.

Apart from the challenge of creating infrastructure for New Delhi’s growing needs, there was also a need to create indigenous architecture that would express the progressive ethos of the time. Utilitarian modernism became the template for almost all government buildings built at the time and the acute fund crunch also resulted in the austere façade of these structures.

Post-Independence, the city also witnessed a cultural renaissance thanks to Prime Minister Pandit Nehru, who took a keen interest in promoting Indian classical arts and theatre. The 1950s and ’60s inarguably, the defining decades of New Delhi as the cultural Capital of the country, saw the building of several top class auditoriums and art galleries such as Sapru House and Rabindra Bhavan.

First Published: Dec 13, 2011 00:54 IST