City Secret – Gandhi-King Plaza, India International Center
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The Macondo of the mind.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Please keep this to yourself. The Gandhi-King Plaza is a snug little garden at one corner of the India International Centre (IIC), Delhi’s so-called intellectual hub.
The next time you walk through IIC’s gate, rather than go straight to the foyer, turn left from the driveway, to a pavement lined with potted plants. A few steps straight ahead, then up a few stairs, through a low gate, and you are inside one of the city’s best-kept secrets.
Unlike the rest of the IIC, this is no exclusive club. You don’t have to be a member to come and spend hours here.
Designed by Joseph Allen Stein, the American architect who planned the entire IIC complex that opened in 1962, the plaza is as old. The first thing you see might as well be a brick pillar whose four sides are inscribed with the sayings of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King (hence the name!). But the truly incredible sight is that of two pilkhand trees, giving the plaza a permanent shade. They are huge, like characters of some great magic-realism novel. Their trunks a union of graceful folds, branches as wrinkled as the face of a 100-year-old woman, and leaves possibly numbering a million.
Thank God, there is a little sunny curve towards the plaza’s other end, where the trees’ network does not reach. Or else, who would sit here in the winters?
While the Gandhi-King Plaza has been used as an active space for exhibitions and similar events since 2004, you rarely see anyone lounging here during the quiet days. Are Delhi people unmoved by its strange ordinariness? After all, there is no showiness of the next-door Lodhi Garden: no exotic flowers, no grassy expanse, no scenic ruin. Instead, every element here conspires to un-excite your feelings and lull them into tranquility.
Be it the two trees, the cane chairs, the stony landscape, the bird chatter, or the lovely pool, they all intermingle to create a Macondo of the mind, a place with no contact with the outside world. Though the autos, cars and buses honk and whoosh past just outside the plaza’s boundary, on Max Mueller Marg, you still feel far away. The plaza allows you to see and feel what you want to. Everything else is screened off, like the sunlight.
Now, more on the pool.
The legend is that the famous cover photo of Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things was shot here. This pool has that same dark-green water, those same floating leaves, and the same lotus flowers. Its beauty gives the plaza a hauntingly wonderful feel.
You must come here.
Where India International Center, 40, Max Mueller Marg Ph 24619431
The God of Small Things
Take a seat
It’s a secret