City Hangout – India Gate & Central Vista, Central Delhi
A new era.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The hat-wearing lady in sari poses with her family for photographer Vijay Babu (150 rupees for a single print in two minutes). The background is India Gate. This will be a keepsake photo of their Delhi trip. They are visiting from Telangana. Another set of tourists are buying cotton candies, barely paying attention to the British-built war memorial. Traffic on the road is sloughing through.
This same humdrum scene has been happening over and over, here in India Gate, for a long time. Families from across Delhi, Gurugram, Ghaziabad, Noida, Faridabad would drive, especially in the evening, to this slice of the capital’s heart for an archetypical India Gate experience, which would involve frolicking on the grass, wearing red devil’s horns, playing antakshri— and, of course, the experience would be incomplete without an ice cream.
For some years, this India Gate tourism has been seriously disrupted. Because of the pandemic. And because the area is being revamped as part of the Central Vista project, which will also give India its new parliament building. Due to the ongoing construction, it is not possible to go near India Gate, but crowds gaze upon it from a distance.
This evening, helmeted labourers are busy in various assignments around the memorial. Some are shovelling. Some are laying tiles. Many others are inside the large grassy spaces barred to visitors. Piles of red sandstone tiles stand beside mounds of cement. A clothesline is covered with pants and shirts of, presumably, labourers. The dusty air is full of many sounds, including of machines. Cranes and bulldozers are standing here and there.
Delhi is a patchwork of gigantic construction sites from different eras. While walking through a Purana Qila or even the Rajpath of yore, it is natural to wonder what things must have looked like when the edifice was being built. Who were the labourers? What was the din and noise like? How did the construction dust travel? How did the city respond to the changes?
Here, in India Gate, is your rare chance to find those answers. This is a world in shift. Something familiar is being replaced by something that is, for now, incomplete. The material symbol of a new era is coming up. You may witness the work-in-progress to tell it firsthand to the generation that will take the forthcoming India Gate for granted.
Meanwhile, three labourers jump out of the site’s barricades. They join the tourists and get their selfies clicked.
Tomorrow’s India Gate