City Hangout – Bench by the Tree, Shivaji Bus Terminus
Back to the bench.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The sun’s glare is blinding, but here it feels like an unconfirmed rumour. The leafy tree is doubling up as an ample parasol. Make the bench on this cool spot your part-time getaway. It is in a bus terminus in Connaught Place.
Only a few chai shacks are open this afternoon in Shivaji Stadium Bus Terminal. Only a sprinkle of commuters. You could as well be in some secluded corner of the city. Being on this bench is special because it connects you to the Delhi of a different era, when our city’s underground had not been hollowed out yet into a maze of tunnels—that is, when there was no Delhi Metro. When travelling in the DTC bus was the primary experience of every carless Delhiite. When the city roads would be chock-a-block with those privately-owned Blueline buses notorious for their reckless speed.
Around the turn of the century, Shivaji Stadium would team with these now-extinct buses from early morning to late night. A great number of Delhiites working in Connaught Place would board their route numbers from here rather than from the bus stop nearer to their office, in the hope of finding a spare seat, for the terminus would be the starting point. The place also doubled as an all-purpose bazaar. There would be pavement stalls hawking a great variety of “ladies and gents garments”; there would be a handful of magazine kiosks that also stocked questionable monthlies one would buy with some shame; there would be stalls serving every desi snack imaginable, from jhalmuri and roasted bhutta to anda bread, aloo tikki and chhole bhathure. Very many commuters would buy takeaway burger-cum-softy from a chain outlet whose rear side opened into the terminus. A rare person with spare time might settle down on this bench to catch a breath.
Today, most of the area’s magazine stalls are history (including many of the magazines they stocked). Most snack stalls are gone as well. You don’t see that many buses either. Perhaps because the Connaught Place commuters have shifted their loyalty to the super-busy Rajiv Chowk Metro station nearby.
One isn’t certain if this bench dates from those years or has replaced a previous bench. Whatever, sitting on it—under a tree that has been a continuous witness to the area’s changing life—gives you a sense of escape from the hurry-hurry of contemporary life, and connects you to the ghost of Delhi’s former commuting subculture. Come here, preferably by bus.