City Landmark – Civic Center, Central Delhi
The tallest building.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Here, it is partly entangled within the leafless vines of a tall pavement plant. There, it is framed within the upturned shaft of a horseless tonga. It has many other perspectives as well. But then it is very special. In this city of monuments, it is the most modern of them, and at 112 meters it is Delhi’s tallest. The world-famous Qutub Minar is 73 meters.
Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Civic Centre, since 2010, has four six-storey blocks, one 28-storey tower block, and it houses the headquarters of the Municipal Council of Delhi (MCD). You might have seen recent photos of the newly elected MCD members breaking literally into a fistfight. That was enacted within this building. Naturally, the edifice is best experienced from a distance, from various vantage points.
1. Climb to any roof in Old Delhi, and you shall see the Civic Center shooting up high into the smoggy air, occasionally obstructed by the Walled City pigeons wheeling about the roof. The building lies within a walking distance of the historic quarter. The view is more dramatic in select spots such as from a private terrace in Chhatta Sheikh Mangloo: the Jama Masjid stone domes on one side, and the Civic Center’s grey-glass edifice on the other.
2. The kothas of GB Road red light area, near the New Delhi railway station, are extremely claustrophobic. The small hall in which the women await customers are without windows. The rooms, big enough to accommodate only a single bed and a side table, too, are without a window. True, a kotha might have a tiny balcony, often blocked by metal jaalis, and it does give a glimpse of the outdoors, but that’s limited to the crowded road below, and of the adjacent raikway line. Fortunately, every building has an accessible roof that gives its residents a momentary escape into air, light, sky and a view of the Civic Center. “The sun may or may not give us its darshan but that tower (Civic Center) is always there,” says Sushma, a kotha dweller.
3. The grassy Ram Lila Maidan lies deserted most days, and gets crowded only during the political rallies. But it is enlivened every evening when boys from nearby galliyan and mohallae gather in the ground to play cricket. Sometimes tonga owners also release their horses in the maidan during the twilight, letting the underfed creatures quietly graze on grass. It is then an experience to sit in the maidan’s temple-like pavilion—where Queen Elizabeth II addressed thousands of Delhiites in 1961—and watch the sun touch the tip of the Civic Center.
4. The enclave of Khwaja Mir Dard Basti lies like a sleeping whale right beside the Civic Center. The basti’s serpentine alleys are so cramped that they stay sunless even during the peak afternoon. On wading through these lanes, it sometimes feels as if there could be no exit from their world. Suddenly, a view of the Civic Center springs up from an unexpected corner, along with a tiny sighting of the sky. Depending on the daylight, the glare of the glass windows might appear like miniature water pools tilted vertically in the air. The sight is magical.
Perspectives of the same