City Neighbourhood – Punjabi Bagh

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Sikhs of Delhi

Your guide to Delhi’s signature district.

[Text and picture by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Sonu Nigam, not Daler Mehndi. Health soups, not Tandoori Chicken. Neighborhood stores, not flashy malls.

Is Punjabi Bagh really Punjabi by nature?

Instead of being boisterous, this upper-middle class residential district is quite quiet. The avenues hum with the gentle purr of slow-moving DTC buses. Whilst red-cheeked Octavias and Opel Astras rush past leaving behind slight ripples that flow through beauty parlours and grocery stalls and palatial houses lining both sides of the road.

Nothing else disturbs the stillness of the sleepy bylanes but, ah, the bungalows. Goethe once described architecture as frozen music. Punjabi Bagh bungalows with their loud cupolas, cheery balconies, and noisy colours are surely then irregular-shaped bubbles of Bhangra beat.

Punjabi Bagh is West Delhi’s happy haven for wealthy Sikh businessmen and Punjabi-speaking people. The well-off area is well connected to rest of the city and the metro station lies next door at Rajouri Garden. The Rohtak Road cuts it into two slices–West and East. The Westside is westernized with Pizza Hut and McDonald’s. The Eastside is sort of eastern with its subzi-wallas and Agrawaal Sweets.

In the Westside, the uppity Punjabi Bagh Club has a verdant ground where cricketers bowl away their winter afternoons. The East is content with its Dhingra Park (named after a Lahore-born army captain killed in the 1971 war) that stays abuzz with grandkids, grannies and gossip. Both sides though share the same essential: big multi-storied bungalows with Shining India lives locked behind their tall gates. Crime is rare and women walk freely. “People coming out from banks are sometimes looted,” cautions Head Constable Birchha Singh.

Known as ‘Refugee Colony’, the neighbourhood was re-christened to its present name by Prime Minister Nehru in 1954. Bless the original inhabitants–those hardworking refugees from Pakistani Punjab who settled here after the partition. They and their descendants not only created wealth in the city but also added more richness to its cultural landscape. Can it be denied that the new Delhi is shaped as much by the exuberance of Punjabi Bagh as it is by the grandeur of Lutyen’s Chankyapuri?

The World of Sikhs

1:30 pm. Gurdwara Singh Sahib. Two sevadars with white-flowing beards are bundling books in a silk cloth. These English-language translations of Guru Granth Sahib have been ruined by the silverfish and would be burned. Meanwhile students from the nearby Guru Nanak Public School are tiptoeing in to murmur prayers in silence.

I’m told this tranquil gurudwara was burned down during the ’84 Sikh riots. Perhaps all is forgiven. Else explain why the 2005 circa inaugural plaque at the Westside’s Radhe Krishna Marg proudly boast of Sajjan Kumar MP, a politician accused by many of instigating the massacre against the Sikhs? Similarly, the plaque at Ginni Devi Marg, in Punjabi Bagh East, is graced with the name of Jagdish Tytler, another neta linked to ’84 riots. Strange these tainted men are so honourably immortalized in a neighbourhood that has more than one gurdwara.

The skyline is in fact dominated by the three white domes of Tikana Sahib.

Of course, Punjabi Bagh is not only about the Sikhs and the Punjabis. The 30-year-old St. Mark Church, at Radhe Krishna Marg, has around 400 Parish members. On Sundays, 1500 odd Catholics attend separate services in Hindi, English and Malayalam. Curiously, a notice outside informs, “The church does not provide domestic maids.” (Too many people enquiring after Filishias and Marys from Jharkhand?) Now turn to Westside’s Central Market. No maids here but a good range of choices: showrooms and gymshops (40 treadmills sold monthly), IIT-JEE and Call Center coaching centers; Moti Mahal Delux and the Great Kebab Factory. And all you entrepreneurs–go, get your loans from…well…Punjab National Bank.

Real Estate Info

According to property dealer Rajesh Arora (9810707072), rent for a 2-bedroom flat range around Rs 15, 000. 280 sq. yard plot comes for 5 crores approx. Monthly rent of a floor in a bungalow of that size is around Rs 35, 000. Arora says that the Westside is approx. 15% more expensive then Eastside.