Once We Made Chandigarh

By Rupali Gupta

196*…

Rupali Gupta. Photo © gcaffe.comIt is the most well planned city in the world – With palatial roads and hygiene to die for – With trees and parks and houses that a few lucky people of the country live in – The best in planning and absolutely the best in execution.

We the Indians of the Mohenjo Daro and Harappaan diaspora recreated the magic of the lost civilizations in this one sample city of CHANDIGARH.

2011…

One night, little late, quite late actually, we (my husband and I) were being driven home by our chauffeur – Nothing spectacular in this and we were sort of on snooze mode when suddenly the car accelerated and we both became alert.

To understand the next part better one has to understand the topography of the town we were in.

Ghaziabad, a city / town / district / whatever (known for all the wrong reasons, once the hot spot for all industrial development in Uttar Pradesh), is divided into two halves by a railway line. As in all Indian cities the development starts on one side and without any real planning grows like water seeping out of a pipe. Amoebic in shape, unplanned in vision.

One fine decade Gzb, as I fondly call it, found some of its better colonies on the wrong side of the railway tracks. Wrong side because Delhi was on the other side. Since most civilized and upper middle class activities in those times (70s, 80s, 90s) happened in the heart of the country there began the tedious task of trying to cross over to the Delhi side.

Day in day out life revolved around the opening and closing of the “fataks or phataks” or in simple words the crossing. Women planned their excursions according to the train timings. Children left for school in their cars praying on those freezing mornings enough to turn you mind to ice cream, not for warmth or a good day at school. But for the gates to be open.

For every time one was unfortunate enough to find the gateways shut, one had to wait for 30-45 minutes minimum. The gatekeepers were of the firm belief that if there was a half an hour time lag between two trains it did not merit the opening or closing of the passage. Indeed, if they had their way they would have opened the gate for maybe just a couple of hours.

Or maybe they did it for the merriment of the children waiting to cross. This wait gave them the opportunity to observe the cattle being transported in some trains, count the number of bogies passing by (some brighter kids would count the number of windows), wave at some soldiers if they were lucky enough to see some, observe the distastefully fascinating back sides of people relieving themselves by the tracks. Entertainment was lacking in the country as a whole so I guess it was a good way to pass time.

As for the traffic that would collect in that time the lesser said the better. Picture a 20 feet crossing with cars, big cars, small cars, school buses, tempos, sometimes a stray truck, rickshaws, two-wheelers, cycles, pedestrians, cows, dogs, pigs, goats and what not trying to be the first to get to the other side with not directional compulsions.

It was like no other travel experience in the world.

The main thing is that there was one crossing when there should have been four. As the town grew into a city there were four but by then the requirement was for several over bridges.

To get back to the story –

What happened is that our driver found the “Nasirpur fatak” closed and made a dash for the other gate in the dim hope that the other (maybe half a km away) would be open. Finding that closed, he decided to take a long detour over the one and only fly over (YESSSS we have one now, this is the 21st century remember?) rather than wait for the train and then the jumbled traffic to clear up.

This made me realize: NOTHING HAD CHANGED IN THE LAST 30 YEARS.

We were still dashing from one crossing to the other to get to the other side.

I didn’t know whether to cry or laugh at the absurdity of the entire thing. Urban planning in India seems to be like soap dishes. No one has invented a dish that can hold a wet soap and avoid the glue that collects at the bottom.

Gzb is one case. I am sure it is replicated in almost every place. Mumbai I know is a case that should be studied for “how to kill a city through non-infrastructural development”. The only place people have woken to reality and done some phenomenal development is in Delhi. Kudos for that !!!

My lament is this:

WHY ARE WE ALWAYS PLAYING “CATCH UP”?

WHY DO WE HAVE 2 LANE ROADS WHEN WE NEED 4, HAVE 4 WHEN WE NEED 8.

WHY ARE COLONIES NOT PLANNED WELL?

WHY DO WE TEACH YOUNG CHILDREN ABOUT THE HARAPPAN CITIES, THEIR ROADWAYS AND WATER DRAINAGE SYSTEMS AND NOT APPLY IT TO CITY DEVELOPMENT?

AND MOST OF ALL – WHY DID WE EVER MAKE THE CITY OF CHANDIGARH IF WE HAD NO INTENTION OF REPLICATING ITS STERLING EXAMPLE?

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