Delhi in my heart
Inauguration of Delhi Urban Platform, an initiative to discuss the city — its past, present and possibilities
Photo: V.V. Krishnan
Constant cHANGE The Commonwealth Games, like the Asiad, will transform the city forever
A mood for nostalgia, a sense of intransience and a cautious sanguinity about the future encompassing Delhi the city, thickened the enclosed air of the old library at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies on Delhi's Rajpur Road this past week. Surrounded by stacks of books, the setting was faultless for a studious debate, about the city we call ours and the trajectories that it has taken over millennia to be where it is today. And to take part in it were not just a string of speakers with proficiency in history and sociology, but a lot of university students, many filling up the chairs, some taking the corners between the book shelves, some others squatting on the floor — all wide-eyed, all ears and prepared to pipe up with questions.
Ravi Sundaram, one of the heads behind this brand new initiative of CSDS named Delhi Urban Platform, gave a spin to its inaugural meeting by stating, “There are a lot of unanswered questions about what kind of a city Delhi is today?” With the Commonwealth Games looming over Delhi, and bringing along with it many physical changes to the city considered sleepy till late, it is time, he insists, there should be a debate involving not just scholars and students, but individuals from different walks of life on the past, present and the possibilities of it.
“There is a lot of instability about Delhi's future, which is actually an asset,” for it gives people space to deliberate on which way the city should drift, he said, calling for “a critique of possibilities of Delhi” via DUF.
Narayani Gupta, a seasoned historian and part of the Conservation Society of India, pointed out how many people were as worried about Delhi during the Asiad as “you all are before the Commonwealth Games.” She also noted some of the fall-outs of the Asiad Games, “like the jhuggi-jhopri colonies” and also constructive initiatives “like INTACH”. She called attention of those assembled on the increasing trend of shutting off public spaces for people's use. “For instance, there is a park east of Red Fort called Delhi Chalo Park. Unfortunately, you can't ‘chalo' there as it is closed for public use, then there is the case of ice-cream vendors who are being moved away from India Gate. So many people go there for that experience.”
Yet another speaker, well-known sociologist Amita Baviskar marvellously weaved in whiffs of nostalgia by talking about the city “in our memories” and the changes borne by Delhi in the process of “seeking a world class status.” She brilliantly touched upon life — then and now, “between the Ridge and the river”, “the air of rundown-ness about Delhi the Sarkari city of the 1980s”.
The event, divided into two sessions, also featured speakers like Awadhendra Saran, AGK Menon and Gautam Bhan. Among other interesting thoughts and questions that floated about the vibrant discussion was “thinking about what we should preserve and what to let go” about the city, and also how Delhi, unlike present-day Mumbai, doesn't have a brigade of assertive locals. To Sundaram's credit, he responded to it by saying, “There is still a lot of hate against Muslims in the city, it is still very difficult to find a house for a Muslim tenant.” Though there was no mention of the growing prejudice against the northeasterners in the city, one hoped DUF takes it up too in one of its deliberations.
(To take part in the next DUF debate, either log on to its website www.delhiurbanplatform.org or join the platform's Facebook group.)
SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY
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