Delhi Metro - Icing on the Chowk, Rajiv Chowk

Delhi Metro – Icing on the Chowk, Rajiv Chowk

Delhi Metro - Icing on the Chowk, Rajiv Chowk

On the 20th anniversary of Delhi Metro.

[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]

“All across the distance and spaces between us…” An instrumental rendition of Celine Dion’s love song from the movie Titanic is playing from the speakers this evening in Central Park, underneath which lies the harried world of a super-busy Metro station.

In this circular garden, tucked within the heart of circular Connaught Place, a woman is standing by the pool, mesmerised by the cascading fountains (see photo). Some distance away, the sunken stage of the park’s amphitheater is milling with a group of storytelling people sitting in a circle. The grassy slopes, the walking tracks, and the benches too are occupied.

This park is special—it is a metaphor of the transformation that the Delhi Metro has brought to Delhi.

In the Before Metro era, Central Park was a world of giant unwieldy trees and untrimmed grass. Benches would be littered with bird droppings. The park had a reputation. In the evening, you would rarely spot a woman here. The area would become a cruising joint for lonely homosexual men (this was the time when the Supreme Court still had to legalise gay sex). Other regulars included other society misfits, such as the trans people. A part of this secretive crowd would huddle half-hidden under the trees, some angling for hurried caresses. Others would hover elsewhere, including around the park’s toilet, which was in the center of the park, and which, today, is the site of the amphitheater.

Early this century, the park was taken over by the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation. It was thoroughly dug up to make way for an underground rail terminus (hello Rajiv Chowk!). The redeveloped park was returned to the citizens in December, 2006. The Delhi Walla was there on the renovated park’s second evening. Its reticent life was gone, it was totally gentrified. Straight couples lounged confidently on grassy slopes, smiling multi-generational families posed for digicams (there were then no smartphones!). “It is like walking in a foreign country,” a woman had said, awed by the twinkling lights of the surrounding Connaught Place skyline. She was not exaggerating. The garden looked beautiful, and was spotlessly clean. Nearly 700 trees and 2,750 shrubs had been planted. The new Central Park was a fitting tribute to an increasingly ambitious metropolis.

Years later, this evening, the park still looks beautiful, and betrays no hint of its earlier avatar. Its former regulars have long been forgotten. Meanwhile, the Titanic song concludes: “… You are safe in my heart and my heart will go on and on…” Next song starts: “Maa tujhe salaam” by AR Rahman. The eyes instinctively go up to gaze at the Tricolour wavering gently in the park’s cold breeze.