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Roundabout: My city comes of age

Once labelled a city with a high rate of mental depression, surveys find Chandigarh to be the happiest urban destination in the country: a look at the changing mood.

opinion Updated: Jul 22, 2018 10:03 IST
Nirupama Dutt
Nirupama Dutt
Hindustan Times
Roundabout,Chandigarh,mental depression.
Amaltas blossoms mirroring the mood the of the city. (HT Photo)

My city has grown, some say for the better, some say for the worse; but nevertheless it has grown. What is extraordinary is that it has grown from old to young and not vice versa. Of course, it took a long time to do so: Sixty-six years to be precise!

It was considered a good place for retired people and I recall a Delhi woman saying, “It has beautiful houses but no one lives in them!” So the barbs went on but a city has a life of its own and gradually from being the abode of the old and the doddering it has become a city friendly to the young with satellite habitation surrounding it and educational institutions of all kinds ever growing. Surveys had once labelled it as a city with a high rate of mental depression. Now, new research says it’s one of the happiest urban destinations in the country.

Chandigarh was dismissed as the refuge for the old and retired, all clean, green and calm. It’s well-known that Delhi-based Punjabi writer late Kartar Singh Duggal referred to it as the habitation of chittian darhiyan te harian jharhian (white beards and green hedges). Many others mourned for Lahore or the familiar haven of their villages. Others pointed to its lack of history and culture with poet Devinder Satyarthi adding, all sarcasm, Kal de jamme Chandigarh da ki itihas, Miss Das? (What is the history of this town born the other day) and Miss Das was the dig at a dusky city girl all powdered and made-up.

The physical growth is such that people are harried by traffic jams and ever-growing number of vehicles with the city, mind you the place has the highest number of four-wheelers per capita. Others are panicking over the flyovers that are threatening to come up and I am wondering if I will have to change the name of this column for it was inspired by city roundabouts and the pun on the word is unintentional.

A Photograph in Autumn by S Raj Kumar.

Before I meander again, let me come back to the change of mood or rather spirit of the slow-moving dejected city of squares, planned by Swiss-born French architect Le Corbusier and named after Goddess Chandi. Nothing happens overnight, it is the slow yet constant effort of the people who find themselves in a place and gradually learn to love and own it. The dreams of a city, it is said, are shaped by poets and the city has had its share of muse. But artists too give a visual shape to the dreams.

The famed creator of the Rock Garden, Nek Chand, was perhaps the first lay his artistic claim on the city quietly, almost stealthily. This was because he came as a refugee from the Shakargarh area of Pakistan’s Punjab and started humbly as a PWD inspector with the dumping yard as his domain. By the mid 1970s it had a presence of its own, surviving near-demolition because it was something unplanned in a planned city! The rest, of course, is history.

With the College of Art becoming a part of the city, artists as young men and women had no choice but to sketch and paint what they saw. The parks, benches and brick walls got a second life in the paintings of Raj KJain. Prem Singh’s gaze rested on the wrought-iron gates of the big houses and the children peeping through them. S Raj Kumar captured the cityscape in Sector 17, painting the balloon seller, the lost semicircular backdrop of what was once the KC Cinema. Balvinder, who lived for a long time at Sector 16, its roads lined by flowering amaltas trees, never ceased to paint the blasts of yellow unless, of course, he was busy sketching the Coffee House scenes.

The city was slowly coming of age with a poet crying out in glee: “Sometimes this city is also mine, More so when snow shines on the Kasauli hills, Like the smile of an Adivasi girl”. The poets were not the only ones who owned the city that had first once alienated them. Today, it is a vibrant scene with protest poetry gathering crowds in the city parks, young people telling stories in cafes of their Chandigarh connect and determined young girls taking upon themselves to gender-sensitise the environment with a cry of ‘Azadi’. The city has done well and so also its young and old citizens, so carry on Chandigarh!

(The writer can be contacted at nirudutt@gmail.com)

First Published: Jul 22, 2018 10:03 IST