City Times – The Connaught Place Facelift

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Glitter in the Time of Recession

Botox shot for Delhi’s heart.

[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Without creating any noise, hype, fuss or traffic jams, central Delhi is re-inventing itself. From Platform No.1 of New Delhi Railway Station and Connaught Place’s C-block to Gole Market, the entire area, as on May, 2009, is in the midst of a makeover.

If the outer façade of the railway station looks toothpaste white, then many portions of the colonial Connaught Place structures are at present hidden behind scaffolding.

Connaught Place – also known as CP or Rajiv Chowk – was constructed by the British in 1929 and was completed four years later. Its Georgian architecture is said to be modeled after the Royal Crescent in Bath, England.

Down the years, both the Inner and Outer Circle of this premier shopping and business district had fallen to decay. Other than the crumbling walls and paan-stained corners, CP was considered unsafe for girls after dark. In evenings, one still sees sex workers enticing customers behind the grand pillars of Outer Circle. Even the respectable Central Park, till a few years ago, had a difficult reputation. It was frequented by homosexuals, eunuchs, and hashish-addicts. However, in 2006, the construction of an underground metro train terminus in the park and its subsequent revamp as a haven for middle class Delhi helped in the disappeareance of those social rejects.

After the social ‘cleanup’, it is now the turn to get rid of physcial eye sores.

In May, 2009, the New Delhi Municipal Council earnestly began work on restoring the façade of the Inner Circle. (They actually finished work on C-block in 2008 but that was a pilot project). Windows are being replaced, walls re-painted, pillars and jaalis restored to their original look. Those shoppers who have recently hopped past blocks A and E must have noticed that the shaded corridors have been barricaded, forcing them to walk out under a hot sun. Not many mind, though. “A little inconvenience for a better look tomorrow is okay with me,” says Ms Nalini Shah, a Raja Garden resident who comes to CP at least twice a month.

The physically disabled have not been ignored in the restoration plans. Since the beginning of 2009, fourteen ramps have been built in the Inner Circle and Central Park.

While the restoration is a larger project, primarily aimed at sprucing up Delhi in time for the 2010 Commonwealth Games, major standalone landmarks in CP, too, will soon get a new look. What used to be the popular Nirula’s outlet at L-block will soon house Haldiram’s. Similarly, the renovation of the grimy Odeon cinema is almost complete. The building’s white colour is blinding under the summer sun, while the walking space outside the theatre is all smooth and glossy. “We’re opening in the next 2-3 weeks,” says Mr Tushar Dhingra, COO, Big Pictures, which is managing the theatre.

Not far from here, a large patch of ground next to the Shivaji Stadium bus terminus is teeming with labourers and machines. A new state-of-the-art Metro station is coming up there. Close by, the dismal façade of Gole Market — which is in the ‘A’ category of Indian heritage buildings — may finally see renovation after years of legal wrangling. Right now, the central portion of this ‘monument’ could make a good setting for horror films, but it may soon regain the glory it had when the British built it almost a century ago.

Restoring CP

Faceover in Process

Nirula’s history, Halidram’s future; at L-block

Once Was Nirula

Rivoli Cinema, too, had a makeover

CP @ Night

CP’s now relatively safer for girls, outside Blues

Yaari Dosti

Though subways may still be risky

Yaari Dosti

The park above Palika Bazaar

Dusk Hour

CP Dreams, C-block

Connaught Place Under Attack