City Hangout – Art District, Mandi House
A new-look much-loved zone.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Here you are, sitting on the steps, in easy intimacy with green grass and smoggy sky. Submerged in solitary thoughts. Or, perhaps arguing with a friend whether Godard really was the James Joyce of cinema.
This is the same old Mandi House circle, but fresh off a facelift by the NDMC (New Delhi Municipal Council). It has even got a name—Art District, the metallic grey fonts installed on the plaza that skirts beside Lalit Kala Academy.
Being in Mandi House is now giving as much thrill as leafing through the September issue of a fashion magazine, eyeing at all the trends that are going to gild the forthcoming seasons. For years, the little plazas that dot the six corners of this central Delhi traffic circle have been places to mingle with friends over street chai. They have also been filled with actors and artists linked to the various theatres, art and music schools in the vicinity—National Scholar of Drama is right behind one of the plazas. But these plazas used to be grubby and unkempt. Abstract sculptures stood within dry pools littered with dried vomits and discarded syringes. And yet, we jugadoo citizens managed to cultivate these into zones of amiable socialising.
Don’t fret. The renovated circle keeps its sculptures. But is dressed more stylishly, with road-facing amphitheaters, tiled pathways, long benches, miniature lawns, and frangipani trees—all lined up along the circular pavement.
This evening, auto rickshaw driver Man Singh is sitting close to poet Pushkin’s statue. While the steps of the amphitheater, outside Sangeet Bharti, are dotted with folks. One woman is gazing upon the traffic circle. Or probably at the round park at the center buzzy with theater actors rehearsing their plays.
Long before Mandi House, or even New Delhi, came into being, it had the marble grave of sufi saint Syyed Nanhe Mian Chishti. In the past few decades, the shrine, located outside Himachal Bhawan, was covered by a tin shed. Occasional passersby would stop to offer prayers, placing their forehead on the gravestone. That shed is gone. But the grave stays: surrounded by a sea of green plants (see photo). No longer accessible, it is exuding calmness. Perhaps the mystic might have wished for such solitude in his afterlife.
See you in Mandi House