India Gate on Rajpath
The other day a TV channel asked me for a byte on Delhi. Wanted me to choose a place – a favourite one with which I associated myself – for this interview. I chose India Gate on Rajpath! The pretty little lassie’s first question, expectedly, was to ask me why this place? For someone who lived on Ashoka Road for 23 years plus (which is most part of my service career) Rajpath every morning for my constitutional was a must. And I remembered telling someone: there is hope yet for me to find a place on the Guinness Book of World Records; if for no other reason than the number of times I have touched the gates of Rashtrapati Bhavan from where Rajpath starts.
For that was my routine. At crack of five out of my own gate opposite the Bangla Saheb, turn into Pandit Pant Marg and then on to Talkatora Road between Parliament House Annexe and Library, to Red Cross Road past the roundabout that is now minus the statue of Lord Irwin, and the maqbara of Fakruddin Ali Ahmed beside it.
Then a U-turn at the next round-about opposite Rail Bhavan, onto Raisina Road up to the at-times-dry north fountain, then Vijay Chowk. And up the incline to Raisina Hill between the ramparts skirting the courtyards of the South and the North Blocks that served as two sentinels overseeing from either side the drive that led you up to reach and touch the majestic wrought-iron gates of the complex that housed the nation’s first citizen. And there, I had arrived for my walk down Rajpath.
I turn around, take in the breath-taking view of the world’s best central vista unfolding before me between the turrets atop the two Blocks, housing ministries that decided the destinies of the nation and its people. The view extended down to the tunnel of lights as it narrowed down ahead to reveal at the far end the yet not visible India Gate against a dark background that made it difficult at that hour to demarcate the horizon.
As I start walking down Rajpath, from that elevated level I see below, the artistic traffic pedestal occupying the pride of place at the centre of Vijay Chowk, placed there in the early 90s as my little contribution - to merge with the surrounding architectural grandeur of Lutyens’ New Delhi.
Forced to increase my pace as I briskly walk down hill now under the glow of the sodium vapour lamps, even as silhouettes of the lamp-posts emerged from the mistiness beyond. Now in communion with the elements that surrounded me, with only my thoughts for company, breathing in the dew-ey fragrance of the crisp early morning air. As the sky in the distance behind India Gate displayed tinges of dull crimson fringes lining the dark grey clouds, I see more beyond the dark tarmac under my feet – the velvety smoothness of the red bajri raped in places by the tyre marks of the previous night’s revellers, and the sickening litter of ice-cream cups and cellophane wrappers. I hold back a silent curse at the lack of civic sense and sensitivity that some of our ilk are plagued with.
All too soon I have reached the flickering flame of the Amar Jawan Jyoti under the India Gate, to recall my own staff officer Pundir once showing me his World War-II veteran grandfather’s name inscribed on it. And then a further reason why India Gate remains special. People’s appreciation of the still-going-strong successful one-way flow of traffic I introduced on the C-Hexagon around this national monumental area in 1992; however fool-hardy was someone’s suggestion then to name it Mawell’s Circle, indeed for me India Gate and Rajpath will ever evoke nostalgic memories of something experienced and enjoyed - which will never be, again!
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