Sunday, March 06, 2011

New Delhi's disconnect and the nation's continuing status quo

The stoniness of its giant structures in red sandstone seems to say something about New Delhi. Nehru must have said "New Delhi is the visible symbol of British power, with all its ostentation and wasteful extravagance" but it is not just ostentation that we see today as we drive through the tree-dotted avenues. We see inertia. We feel immovable powercentres. We see symbols of imperial power monstrously rising against the sky.

Long after I drove out of New Delhi, if there is something that strikes instantly about New Delhi, it is the sheer grandeur of this imperial setting. Yes, I loved the tree-lined avenues with the lovely white bungalows on either side. The vast space around, the consistency in using the red sandstones all around in this well-planned city and the beautiful filigree stonework are all breathtaking. So is the rich amalgamation of diverse architectural styles from European, Mughal, Buddhist and Jain traditions. But, for me, nothing defines India's political capital, as do the monstrousness of power centers like Rashtrapati Bhavan and the Parliament.

The Rashtrapati Bhavan is the largest residence for any President on this planet (It has more than 350 rooms while the super power's White House has around 130 rooms). The Raisina Hill, in all its steepness and high altitude, seems to present us the challenge in getting our woes heard. The Rashtrapati Bhavan and the Parliament along with the North and South Blocks wield unchallenged power and sit over myriad challenges facing this nation today. While a million mutinies and countless civil wars are being waged across the nation today, these powercenters in all their stoniness are unmoved. They symbolize perpetual power with their sheer vastness and utterly dwarf the citizens and their delusions about democracy.

Lutyen's Delhi, in its architecture, today symbolizes the huge disconnect between the rulers and the ruled. Historians often said Rashtrapati Bhavan was the abode of a disinterested elite whose rule was imposed from above. I couldn't agree more. In fact, I think it is true also with Imperial Bhavan's neighborhood - Parliament, North and South Blocks. My experiences with some democratic exercises here in New Delhi and the reception they got here, reinforced in me these ideas about how disconnected Delhi is from the trials and tribulations of the millions of its own people across the length and breadth of the area of its rule. New Delhi symbolizes a sleeping elephant which simply does not heed  requests and demands for actions to change things for good. So things continue de facto and the status quo continues. More about this in my next post.


Madhav said...

"The Raisina Hill, in all its steepness and high altitude, seems to present us the challenge in getting our woes heard."

Great write-up Amar. The giant, 'grand' structures can turn into inert, immovable, monstrous structures depending on the side of the opression line you are placed. Today it is the turn of Telangana, tomorrow, who knows? Very sad state of affairs, indeed!

Konatham Dileep said...

Great post Amar. Nothing could have summarized our Delhi trip more succinctly.