City Landmark – India Gate, Redeveloped Central Vista
First day in the new Central Vista.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
People in funny hats. Selfie snappers. Photographs pestering visitors to get souvenir photos clicked, their prints guaranteed in ten minutes flat.
Everything around India Gate feels exactly the way it felt before it was closed for the big Central Vista redevelopment.
And at the same time, it is profoundly different. The eternal fire of Amar Jawan Jyoti, for instance, no longer burns. It was to be found under the monumental arch commemorating the soldiers of the British Indian Army killed in World War I and in the Third Anglo-Afghan War. (The fire was taken off months ago, and merged with the fire at the National War Memorial, nearby.) There are no ice cream carts anymore, no bhelpuri hawkers, no chai sellers with kettles in their buckets . And the empty space in the grand canopy that originally had the statue of the British monarch is no longer empty. It has the statue of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose now, his right arm on his forehead in a pose of salute, his visage starring right ahead to India Gate, and beyond it to the Kartavya Path (formerly Rajpath), and beyond it, to the British-built Rashtrapati Bhawan. The statue was inaugurated by the Prime Minister the previous evening. This burning afternoon, two young labourers, Basharat and Danish, sweating profusely under the sun, are standing there (see photo), reciting aloud manmauji shayri (fun verses) to each other.
Close by, a man in tee shirt and shorts is sitting with his sketch pad, drawing the aforementioned canopy and the statue in it. Amitabh Deshpande is a native of Pune, visiting Delhi for a few days. He shows his pad, each page depicting a Delhi monument that he drew during the ongoing trip. “I’ve been to India Gate before, but this time too many barricades are here, too many soldiers with guns… maybe because it is the first day of the new Vista.” He goes back to his sketch pad, his eyes continually shifting to the statue.
Two guards are standing inside the barricaded India Gate monument, their limbs lithe and alert, their eyes darting around. When you stare too long at them, they look back at you with suspicion.