I travel up north, to Delhi. Crowded city bursting at its seams. An excess of traffic and humans jostling for space in roads frequently interrupted with construction work. New roads, wider roads, flyovers, hotels. To accommodate more and more. People, motors, business. To claim more and more. Open spaces, green vistas to gray. Boom or bust?
I had been to Delhi once before, for a very short visit. And hated it. There really isn’t any genuine reason. My acquaintance with the city is too limited to pass an opinion. Perhaps it was the heat then, arid and enervating. It is cool now, being winter. But the city itself does not evoke anything conciliatory. Familiarity breeds contempt, so they say. In my case, the feelings for Delhi stem from unfamiliarity, though contempt is too strong a word to describe it. Disinclination is a closer word. Or perhaps aversion. A city I would avoid if I could. But there are places in Delhi I am eager to see, for their historical worth. Red Fort, Purana Quila, Tombs, gardens. The heritage of the great Mughals. The seat of power in the subcontinent for a thousand years. Or is it thousands? Indraprastha, the city of kings, the capital. The center of power, strategy and diplomacy. Yet somehow I feel all its heritage fails to give Delhi any character, unlike the distinctive airs of Kolkata or Mumbai. Unfamiliarity? I’ll have to wait, years or forever, to know, due to my disinclination and aversion. Certainly not in this trip, where I have about two days, which includes a Monday, when the Red Fort (and perhaps other monuments) are closed. Meanwhile, I’ll please myself with the opinion that Delhi as a city is highly overrated.
On Sunday, I visit a memorial originally built for the British soldiers in the 1857 uprising. This was later, in 1972, re-dedicated to the heroic revolutionaries.
On Monday, to visit India Gate, I take the Delhi Metro, which is crowded, but fast and efficient, and clean. Cleaner and newer than subways in many mega cities. It is windy, the warmth of the winter sun somewhat diluted in its sudden surges. And dust. It is hard to find a place in the subcontinent without dust. The wind blows it around in swirls as we appreciate the magnificent structure of the gate, a dedication to the soldiers who lost their lives in the first world war. They no longer allow visitors through the gate, to avoid vandalism. A 24×7 flame (Amar Jawan Jyoti) is in vigil within it, to honor the departed, which one can now only see from far.
The India Gate has come to be a symbol of India, maybe not as widely as the more illustrious Gateway of India in Mumbai, but certainly equally representative.