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Posted at: Nov 17, 2019, 7:41 AM; last updated: Nov 17, 2019, 7:45 AM (IST)

Are there no takers for Lutyens and Baker?

Keki Daruwalla
Keki Daruwalla
How come Delhi, 107 years old, needs an overhaul? The Brits had done a marvellous job. Neither secularist India nor Hindutva Hind has anything comparable to show... Why on earth do we need a new Parliament?
Are there no takers for Lutyens and Baker?
Renovation of Parliament will be a huge drain on our exchequer.

Keki Daruwalla

In a recent Salman Rushdie novel, Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty Eight Nights, a character called Airagaira, who works on a plant, makes bold to ask the plant manager, who is called the Orderer, ‘What does the machine of the future produce?’ ‘What does it make?’ the Orderer screamed. ‘It makes glory! Glory is the product. Glory, honour and pride. Glory is the future, but you have shown that there is no place in that future for you. Take this terrorist away. I will not allow him to infect this sector…’

That almost sounds like someone high-up we know.  We are now told that the Central Vista of New Delhi is being altered, North and South Blocks turned into museums, some streets bludgeoned, a corner being scraped off, a new Parliament building, a new Prime Minister’s house! Guys, this is gonna be a major overhaul. Not only will the engine be changed, but even the chasis! Rab da na lau.

But let us start at the beginning—Varanasi, especially the land between rivers Varuna and Aasi, where if you die, moksha is guaranteed by a divine spiritual bank, and you won’t be short-changed. The area around Kashi Vishwanath temple is being cleared. There is a considerable reason to clear it. If you take half-a-day to get darshan of Mahadev on a Shivratri day, the administration had better do something. But modernising one of the oldest cities in the world takes some doing. London, if you remember your history, was luckier. The plague (1665) and the fire (1666) flattened the city and a new one came up. So did Goering’s Luftwaffe flatten London during the blitzkrieg. Varanasi, rather our beloved Benares, has not been so lucky! As the 4-foot wide lanes coil and uncoil around the temple, and a lakh of people gather for an entry into the sanctum sanctorum, matters can become tricky. Six hundred crores were set apart for clearing 45,000 square metres. As three-storeyed buildings are being brought down and joint families split, resentment is smouldering.

But New Delhi has all the space it wants and no particular temple has the sanctity of Kashi Vishwanath to back it up. Crowds gather here only when the Aam Aadmi Party leads a demonstration against some chimera, or when lawyers decide to thrash some policemen. How come this city, 107 years old, needs an overhaul? The Brits had done a marvellous job. Neither secularist India nor Hindutva Hind has anything comparable to show. Chandigarh looks like a grey, characterless city, badly in need of a myth to attract attention.

Why on earth do we need a new Parliament? (A wag may say that we need new and better parliamentarians). Have they gone crazy, the Urban Affairs ministry mandarins? The previous Speaker of the Lok Sabha wanted more space. In the House of Commons, there is no room for everyone to sit when the House is full. Some MPs have to stand and debate. The precincts look old and shabby, but much respect is attached to that shabbiness. The hall was built in two years from 1097 to 1099 under William 11, known as William Rufus because of his red hair. It was demolished in 1834 because of fire and rebuilt in 1840-1876. The Capitol Building in Washington was built in 1800. The White House is true to its 1792 conception, and has absorbed all the additions. Why are we in a hurry to revamp our capital?

The hurry was evident with the Public Works Department floating tenders for the project. There have been already, according to press reports, four corrigendums and one addendum to the tender and only the architects who have ‘executed single building projects of 250 crores or more for state or Centre’ have been asked to apply. Hope these specifications don’t rule out reputed architectural firms. The way tenders are worded, people can guess who is going to get the contract. It will be a drain on the exchequer. And there had better be some clarity about the plans, which buildings will be axed and which turned into museums. The delimitation exercise, now limited to the Union Territories of J&K, will get going all over the country. An increase in MPs (mostly stemming from UP and Bihar, which are bursting at the seams with people), will spell considerable trouble because political equations will be turned askew. I remember that once the empty canopy at India Gate was touted to be filled with a statue of Mahatma Gandhi and there was an outcry. How would the Mahatma fit into that imperial passage? Now the ball is in Modi’s court. Many of us will hope for no dramatic changes.

To conclude, a word about the great Fire of London. Charles II was himself throwing buckets of water at the advancing fire.  And the Lord Mayor of London, Sir Thomas Bloodworth, when he was pulled out of bed and saw the flames, was not impressed, and remarked, ‘Pish. A woman may piss it out’!


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