City Hangout – AIIMS Flyover, South Delhi
An unlikely haven.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Consisting of sloped mounds, parts of the landscape resemble the sandy Chambal valley ravines that were infamous for sheltering dacoits. But here the crests and troughs of earth are carpeted with trimmed grass. And these are currently sheltering a handful of law-abiding citizens. A man is sitting still. Three folks are playing hide and seek, with a woman in blindfold. A couple is whispering into each other’s ears.
Around them, an endless procession of speeding bikes, cars, autos and red DTC buses.
Many years ago this used to be a smoggy square dreaded by commuters for its hour-long jams. Today, this is an island of utmost peace.
It’s 6 pm in Rajiv Gandhi Setu. Opened in 2003, you might be knowing it more informally as the AIIMS (All India Institute of Medical Sciences) flyover. (The place was featured four years back on this space but it has drastically evolved, for better, and necessities a re-appraisal). The two gardens tucked at the traffic circle’s heart exude a weekend getaway’s serenity. Only by lying flat on the grass will you be able to absorb the place’s transformative character. This evening, the rush hour sound has the calmness of lilting music — the shriek of an occasional car horn intrudes into the melody as politely as an orchestral cymbal. If you close your eyes, you feel you are swaying with this sound. Open them and you see the sky above.
The serenity feels unusually intense because it is conjoined to the frantic life rushing about the circle. And since AIIMS and Safdarjung Hospital are just beyond the gardens, the cool October air is frequently echoing with the wail of ambulance sirens, reminding every attentive ear of life’s frailty.
The two gardens themselves have changed over the course of their brief lives. A decorative fountain has come up in one, which usually remains dry, and idlers sit on its waterless steps like audience in an amphitheatre. The sapling that was planted in a corner here years ago has matured into a giant leafy tree under which crowds gather on sunny afternoons. One more object of beauty is a narrow lane lined on both sides with flower-heavy frangipani trees.
The other noticeable new sight is of the recently erected multistories across one end of the traffic circle. Built to house senior government officers, their twinkling balconies inadvertently advertise the great scope of sarkari privilege to us tax-paying commoners lounging in the gardens. In the twilight, as the sky darkens, the shiniest thing in the horizon becomes the signage of AIIMS, lit in the color of blood.
City escape, in city’s heart