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Delhi’s dream world

A walk in one of the city’s most privileged neighbourhoods.

entertainment Updated: Nov 15, 2010 01:17 IST
Mayank Austen Soofi
Mayank Austen Soofi
Hindustan Times

At its best, Amrita Shergil Marg in central Delhi expresses the aspirations of humanity — the hopes of a good life. With its broad avenues, tree-lined streets and elegant bungalows, the quiet neighbourhood is like a fairy tale. Living here is the pinnacle of upper crust existence. In 2006, a bungalow here was sold for R137 crores. If you aren’t super-rich, however, it’s difficult to break into this world. But we can dream for it. And there is no fee to take a walk in Amrita Shergil Marg.

Start from the traffic circle, in front of the old entrance of Lodhi Garden, where the plaque on the gateway describes it by its old name, Lady Hardinge Garden. Turn left to Amrita Shergil Marg. The walkway is paved. On the left: Lodhi Garden. On the right: the wide road and the grand bungalows. Trimmed hedges skirt the edges of the pavement. Trees on both sides curve towards each other to make a tunnel. Sunlight streams in through leaves and makes patchy patterns on the ground, carpeted with dry leaves. The traffic is scarce. When a car or an auto rickshaw drives down the road, its sound is as hushed as old money extravaganza. Otherwise, you only hear birds and the sound of your own footsteps. If tired, sit on a pavement bench that faces the turning to Aurangzeb Lane. The lamp posts are painted black.

Each bungalow in the area is a little castle, secured by hedges, guard cabins and boundary walls. Inside, imagine landscaped gardens, big cars, private libraries, uniformed ayahs, caviar tins in refrigerators, and MF Husains on drawing room walls. Some houses may also have works by Amrita Shergil (1913-41), the Lahore-based painter after whom the neighbourhood is named. Daughter of a Sikh man and a Hungarian woman, Shergil, a great beauty, died on the eve of her first major solo show. Over hundreds of her works are displayed in the nearby National Gallery of Modern Arts.

While walking, you might wonder if the residents of Amrita Shergil Marg have been exposed to other worlds. Have they, for instance, seen the inside of an LIG Delhi Development Authority flat? Are they aware that there are slums in Delhi? Do they know that India is a poor country? One place where you can enter without being snubbed by security guards is the white-coloured heritage bungalow called Goa Sadan. A guesthouse for visiting government employees from Goa, number 18 was purchased by the state government from a Duggal family. Reduced to the monotony of a typical government-run enterprise, the bungalow retains its original flavour. Spend a few minutes in the porch. Giant flowerpots are arranged between Grecian columns. Lamps hang low from the ceiling. In the reception, the ceiling fan has old-fashioned blades, small and curvy. The fireplace is hidden behind a sofa. The garden outside has a woman’s statue.

In front of bungalow number 32, there is a traffic signboard on which the shadow of peepal leaves make delicate artworks that change with the movement of the sun. A peepal outside the residence of Denmark’s ambassador is majestic. The facing bungalow, number 21, has finely-designed plant containers arranged along its boundary. Exotic plants emerge out of a sea of green outside number 19. The gates of 14-A opens to a paved basketball court. Solar heating panels top the roof of number 10. Number 5 is the registered office of the Leprosy Mission Trust India. Number 1 is the residence of the Venezuelan ambassador. If you walk straight, Amrita Shergil Marg ends and you enter Lodhi Road. Another bubble.

Best time to visit: Afternoon (winter); evening (summer) Nearest Metro station: Jor Bagh

First Published: Nov 14, 2010 16:17 IST