City Landmark – Central News Agency, Connaught Place
Passing of an era.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
There would be many, many (print) dailies, in many languages and editions, trooping in daily from across India and abroad. Where have they gone?
The shelves and racks are empty. The door is locked. But it is a weekday noon. Guard Raju Ghosh is perched outside on a chair, silent. This Connaught Place (CP) icon has been here for so long that it feels disorienting to find it in such a state.
One of Delhi’s oldest companies distributing newspapers in the country, Central News Agency (CNA) was founded by Balak Ram Puri in 1936. The consistent sighting of the establishment’s signature base, here in P block, has always given to insecure CP aficionados a rare sense of stability in the ever-changing CP. Take the rest of the colonial-era shopping district: almost all the early landmarks have been replaced by retail outlets. The bookstores ED Galgotia & Sons and The New Book Depot, which stood next to each other, are a H&M emporium; Volga restaurant is a Levi showroom; Wimpey’s in N Block is Cafe Sandoz; the British Airways office is a UNIQLO showroom. Meanwhile the dependable CNA continued to function, inscribing enduring footprints in the dunes of time. In the 1980s, Rajiv Gandhi would hop in to get the foreign photography magazines. Teji Bachchan came daily in an auto to pick newspapers. Manmohan Singh would walk in to claim his copy of Guardian Weekly.
Today, four copies of a printed notice are taped on the glass walls and wooden panels outside, informing “our office has shifted temporarily to the following address.” A location in Jhandewalan Extension is listed.
Until as recently as two weeks ago, the agency’s interiors had stayed unaltered for decades. It was also a shop selling books and magazines. Loitering inside would give the visitor a thrilling glimpse of the old CP. The long tables, the wooden cabinets, the low hanging ceiling fans, the matted staircase, and the old metallic tijori called New Era collectively preserved a long-ago era, vanished elsewhere. The staffers were the ultimate CP gentry, so polite and gentle — Uma Rajput, Twinkle Sharma, the elderly Madan Mohan, and the regal-looking Nita Puri, the founder’s 75-year-old daughter. (Perhaps they are at work in the “following address”, which, alas, is not in CP).
This moment, the glass front is reflecting off the shoppers, busily walking along the corridor, oblivious to the landmark, as if it were always empty.
May be the familiar world of CNA will return. The aforementioned flier does include the word “temporarily.” But, citizen, you ought to visit this city icon as it is now, to personally witness the uncertain interlude falling between the two periods of before and after.
A CP icon