City Monument – Old Connaught Place Staircase, A Block, Inner Circle
Finding lost time.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
A creaking wooden staircase going up one side of the hall, opening into a narrow attic, or the mezzanine floor. In the earlier landmarks of the colonial-era Connaught Place (CP) shopping district, this simple element of architecture tended to be most common. But most of those longtime landmarks — or perhaps all of them — have now become history.
You may remember this typical staircase, so evocative of an earlier time, from the legendary New Book Depot, famous for its collections of classics and for its charmingly eccentric owner. But that relic of the old CP shut down in 2012 – today, it is part of a clothes showroom run by an multinational brand. The staircase is gone.
Fortunately, one address in today’s CP has managed to keep its staircase, as well as the flavor of yesteryear. It is the post office in the Inner Circle’s A Block. One of CP’s quaintest spots, its mere existence is already permeated with a sense of long-gone time. Indeed, when was the last you entered a post office to drop a handwritten letter?
But it is the hall’s layout that immediately transports you to the CP of an earlier age. It looks spacious, except for the counter filled with post office employees. In the pre-pandemic era, this particular post office used to be filled with foreign tourists lining up to send postcards or parcels to their countries. Now, the tiled floor is marked with red circles, probably to shepherd customers into physical distancing. A corner of the hall has a metal trolley filled with a great pile of India Post parcels.
And here’s that familiar wooden staircase, on the side, leading up to an attic. It is painted in the shade of dark coffee, with faded patches here and there. This evening, a phool-jharoo is placed right in the middle of the staircase, suggesting that the structure is cared for even though the attic upstairs is empty.
In all, the entire post office is intensely haunting, but the staircase doubly so. The more you gaze upon it, the more absorbing it becomes. As if by staring concentratedly upon it you were to find some echo of CP’s dead past — but all you see are the pale shadows of the stair sticks falling on the wall. On exiting, you are no richer of any historical facts about the beloved CP, and yet, you feel more connected to what it once was.