Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Obituary - Connaught Place, Central Delhi

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Romantic Delhi

The British-built district's distinctness has disappeared.

[Text and picture by Mayank Austen Soofi]

The dating point Nirula’s is now the family-friendly Haldiram’s. Connaught Place, the place I knew, is gone. Look around Central Park: couples on the slopes, college students in the amphitheater, families on the cement pathways. The place is sanitized. Once this was a refuge for ‘anti-socials’.

Then, in 2007, the Delhi Metro barricaded the park, felled the trees, dug the ground, and set up a rail terminus below, a garden above.

By the time the park re-opened, the familiar ‘eye sores’ - the charsis, the eunuchs, the prostitutes, and the homeless - had vanished. Also gone? The lonely people who would come here for casual sex. Also, the ear cleaners, the masseurs, the kheera wallas, and the chai wallas.

Where are they now that Delhi’s izzatdar people have claimed their sanctuary?

And where are all the books that lined the shelves of The Bookworm? The B-block bookstore visited by the likes of Satyajit Ray closed last year. From a booklover’s point, the Bookworm never had the best collection in town, but the spiral staircase, a revolving bookcase, jazz and the charming cashier gave the place its ambiance. The owner blamed the demise on the discount-friendly chains that took his patrons.

The chains have changed the CP experience. In Rai House, next to Shivaji Stadium, Bhartiya Sahitya Sadan bookshop made way for a shoe shop, which gave way to Café Coffee Day (CCD). In the pre-internet age, the Thai Airways office at A-12, Inner Circle, was always crowded with backpackers looking for cheap tickets. KFC is there now. Similarly, a travel agency at A-21, next to Baskin Robbins that replaced a Vimal showroom, has closed. There's a CCD now.

In B-3, there was the office of a property dealer. Today there’s a CCD. Nearby, B-24 was the site of Capital Boot House, now McDonald’s. In the same block, Mr Rakesh Chandra is running his New Book Depot for 35 years. “Change is the only constant in life,” he says. “The chains have deep pockets but I’ll survive as long as people buy books.” Most independent showrooms, in fact, are surviving because they are paying rents based on original quotes, far cheaper than the present.

In B-49, women had facials in Shahnaz Husain's beauty parlour. Now there’s a CCD. Metro Shoes was in F-16. It shut down to make way for a TGIF.

In the Outer Circle, shutters rolled down on the Raymond showroom at N-11 and rolled up for CCD. At N-16, Barista patrons perhaps have no idea that TVs and stereos, not brownies and biscotti were sold there.

In the Regal Cinema Building, a branch of the Punjab National Bank is a McDoanld’s. McDonald’s is also at P-14 in Shivaji Stadium where a press used to print books.

Close by is the Rivoli cinema, once an independent theater and one of Delhi’s oldest, now run by PVR Cinemas, which also runs the Plaza in CP.

In place of Rangoon Photography Studios at 58, Janpath, there’s a Pizza Hut.

Sometimes the changes are made to recreate the past. In 2009 the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) began restoring the façade of the CP’s colonial corridors. Windows are being replaced, walls re-painted, pillars and jaalis restored. Can NDMC bring back the lost charm?

No doubt cinema, fast food, apparel chains are clean and convenient but their uniformity has taken away CP’s identity. The old showrooms, bookstores, printing presses, eateries, theaters, and ‘anti-social’ areas embroidered Delhi’s most scenic commercial district. Some threads survive. Order the chicken stroganoff in D-block’s Embassy restaurant (circa 1948), or watch a movie at Regal, or buy a piano in A Godin & Co., or get a paperback outside Wimpy’s, or hop over to the L-block where the pigeons remain.

12 comments:

Kaushik Chatterji said...

Wengers. Mahatta. Galgotia. Berco's. Some things are still in place.

Madras Hotel. Gone. Giggles. Don't know.

Central Park, though, can never be the same again. You can't carry a camera inside, which is just one of the restrictions.

Spardha Malik said...

I've only been accustomed to the new CP that I didnt even realise that the old one was far more...lets say... distinctive? or unique?

but i like the way your words create an image of the old one ;)

h said...

Gone, gone, gone. Only to be replaced by a slew of CCD outlets. If that's what the people of this city want, then it's probably what they deserve.

Abdusalaam al-Hindi said...

I for one like the changed and sanatized CP. But then that's just me.

Anonymous said...

Aapne yaad dilaya tou mujhay yaad aaya...


@Kaushik - Giggles is still there :)

Rajiv said...

yes ji
apna old STANDARD is also closed but anand hotel is there in janpath nd da biryani is same nd kevenders is there nd so is english dairy wth his crispy naans nd daal....yummy:D

Rangachari Anand said...

How could you forget the amazing Rikhi Ram store on the outer ring. Many celebrities, including the Beatles, have bought musical instruments from here. Definitely worth a visit.

vipin said...

Is southie food like 'Madras Hotel' available anywhere else in delhi. Please help me.

Prasenjit said...

Was lucky to be able to visit Bookworm just some time before it was to close down. Still remember the first time, mid-90's when I went there. Images a city presents are representatives of its social and also economic culture. Here in Allahabad, the famous sprawling bungalows are disappearing and giving way to high rises, malls, multiplexes etc. There are no Brits to live life king size from their colonial exploits.

Magnus Linde said...

A fitting epitaph!

Anonymous said...

Actually, with globalisation and change in lifestyle, the market-place changes too. But the things that are popular are still there. As long as the change is for the better.

Anonymous said...

So what do you want CP to be? A garbage dump? It wasn't built to be a hangout for whores and homeless. It's a good thing that it's being cleaned up. Now it will be a great shopping center as an alternative to South Delhi. Sure, it is sad that the independently owned stores are closing but that's the way of the world for now.
(If this is double posted, sorry for it but I am clumsy with blogger)