Today the national capital celebrates its 100th birthday! There are numerous articles and TV features about its birth and growth. The pace was leisurely until the decade of the 60s. Delhi gained speed in the decade of the 70s.
I came to New Delhi in March 1972 and should be completing my 40th year in the city in the coming March. I have witnessed the city growing. I have been a part of this growth. I have seen beautiful localities in the South Delhi developing into glorious residential places with tastefully built independent houses. A few ugly DDA(Delhi Development Authority) built residential complexes presented an irritating eye sore. Otherwise South Delhi rightfully boasted of colonies like Safdarjang Enclave, Safdarjang Development Area, Green Park, Hauz Khas, Mayfair Gardens, Udaya Park, Gulmohar Park, Niti Bagh, Anand Lok,South Extension, Defence colony, Jang Pura, Panchsheel Park etc. A long walk through these colonies in the morning was a rewarding experience for any connoisseur of architectural mesmerism. It was a time when traffic was not frightening on the South Delhi roads and a scooter drive from India Gate to the Kutub Minar was the most thrilling experience. One could witness only a pleasant extension of Lutyens Delhi towards the South: tree-lined, beautiful, opulent!
As compared to New Delhi, Old Delhi presented a different picture. In fact, the two Delhis presented a peculiar contrast. Old Delhi radiated an identity of its own, a culture and a tehzeeb of its own. It practiced norms of social and economic behaviour. It was whole sale market for retail buyers.It was the best hub for food connoisseurs. The quality of food, goods, services and the price attracted buyers from all over Delhi and even south Delhi. Residents belonged to the city and the city was theirs. They were proud and contented to be Delhiwallahs. They were warm, affectionate, welcoming and friendly.They conducted themselves in the most civilized manner.
Unlike the old city, the New Delhi beyond the limits of Luteyens Delhi, had everything excluding the speciality of the old city described in the foregoing. It could boast of wide roads and beautiful new houses occupied by the rich and a cosmopolitanism, but it could not project an image of a city with a personality, a culture or an identity. On the contrary, it came to earn a reputation for all that is held against Delhi as a city. Nobody seemed to belong to the city. Everybody was proud to be a resident of south Delhi, but never considered anybody else as his or her equal. All norms, all taboos, all manners, all etiquette underwent a drastic change. A kind of rudeness took the place of tehzeeb and tameez. Care two hoots attitude towards the law radiated from petty shop keepers to the high class residents. Aloofness, coldness, anonymity, arrogance, flippancy came to occupy the air. After all, the neo rich and the parvenu were settling down in south Delhi. Nobody considered it as his or her Delhi as was the case with the old city. This presented a contrast that continues even today.
New Delhi is only the body but Old Delhi is the soul of Delhi residing in a precious body! The woes of Delhi will end the day New Delhi either adopts fully the mores and methods of the Lutyens Delhi or imbibes the cultural excellence of Old Delhi moderated by the norms of modernity symbolized by Lutyens & his associates, who introduced it to the leisurely world of the Indians !
I am hopeful of the entire Delhi developing into one of the best cities in the world. As new generations of the residents succeed, they too crave for a distinct identity and a cultural personality of their own. Emigration from the city is bound to lessen. It would be a sign of the people feeling proud of belong to the city.