City Walk – Chelmsford Road, Central Delhi
Stretch of serenity.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
“… The 20 kiloton warhead, which had exploded 1,600 ft above Chelmsford Road, midway between Connaught Place and New Delhi railway station, had demolished everything. Temperatures at the blast areas would have reached 3,000 degrees Celsius. The heat had no discrimination. Nothing appeared to have survived.”
Delhi is nuked in Humphrey Hawksley’s apocalyptic 2003 book The Third World War: A Terrifying Novel of Global Conflict. This can actually happen to our city but the British journalist is overstretching his geopolitical fantasy by making the bomb explode exactly above Chelmsford Road.
This mile-long stretch, named after a British viceroy, is not worthy of such drama. Although it is traffic-heavy due to its proximity to the railway station, it retains a character of awesome stillness. The road’s daytime inhabitants subsist unobtrusively on both sides of the avenue. A man sells booklets of romantic poems; a woman sells fruits. There is a shaving salon, and a chai shack. There are wandering chaat vendors. The homeless sleep by the wayside.
The road is also home to senior railway officers. Their apartments and bungalows are protected with high walls, which are used by the homeless to dry their clothes. Some of these moss-covered enclosures are plastered with notices for the missing people. One Hom Prashad Tijali whose “skin color” is “neither so black nor so white” was last seen at the Main Bazaar in nearby Paharganj. Anybody who helps trace him would get a reward of 30,000 rupees.
A different kind of notice is seen outside the Rail Reservation Center: “Do not pay bribes if anybody of this office asks for bribe or if you have information of corruption in this office or if you are victim of corruption in this office you can complained (sic) to the head of the department or the Chief Vigilance Officer and Central Vigilance Commission.”
The “computerized” reservation office is becoming obsolete. (Most of us now make our travel bookings on the internet.)
A relatively new landmark on Chelmsford Road is the white-painted Sri Lanka Buddhist Pilgrims Rest Guest house. Run by that nation’s High Commission in Delhi, it is already starting to look shabby.
The white-colored Abdul Ghani Masjid is smaller but more affecting. Covered with green creepers, the mosque is without an obligatory dome. Almost level with the road, its inviting homeliness may easily tempt a walker to stop for rest.
Times moves slowly here
Mr. Hawksley, thank you for the fancy images. Some neighborhoods in our city already look like the post-apocalyptic nightmares you describe in your book. We don’t need no explosion-wexplosion for that.
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