Even the harshest critics of the Kejriwal government’s Odd Even road policy are grudgingly admitting that it worked. The conversation has now mostly taken a 360 degree turn, to — only if they would make it permanent. What’s heartening to know is that Delhiites, long derided for being both aggressive and regressive, are surprisingly amenable to change. The most important lingering effect of Odd Even is, somewhere the realisation has dawned, if we want any real quality of life in Delhi NCR we’ll have to change our ways.
Besides the crisis of bad air and random construction like the BRT, Delhi has for too long also been a victim of arbitrary aesthetics, sanctioned by governments who have disregarded subtle historical cues for cheesy picturesqueness. The 600-year-old tomb of Muhammad Shah in Lodhi Gardens is lined with tall, stately palms from Cuba. It’s unlikely this was the plan during either the Lodhi or Mughal regimes. The logic might be these paintbrush like trees don’t block the view of the monument. However, palms conjure images of a tropical paradise, a beach, or Hollywood. They’re hardly emblematic of the capital and seem strangely out of kilter with a magnificently proportioned structure, also a throwback to a glorious past.
Delhi’s native trees are majestic and beautiful: whether it’s ber, shehtoot, jamun or Gulmohar, but in a city that’s rapidly modernising, they’re no longer in vogue. A newer generation of architects and horticulturalists have made the upwardly mobile Delhiite palm crazy, and the trend is to buy exotic and unusual plants that have purely ornamental value. It’s interesting to note saplings of spindly and skinny palm varieties of trees and shrubs are the costliest plants in nurseries. It’s in keeping with that dreaded word, globalisation, since worldwide palm trees are an aspirational status symbol, closely associated with luxury real estate. Think Dubai or Rodeo Drive, or closer home, Palm Springs in Gurgaon. In fact, the most expensive housing developments in Gurgaon, Magnolia’s and the upcoming Camellia’s, are both named after trees that are woefully out of sync with our climate.
Vegetation can be wonderfully evocative of places and times. A palm tree has a distinctly regal and fashionable look and maybe the idea is to be transported, just for a moment, to an azure blue sea and a memorable vacation. They lend themselves to imagination and memories and make for a pleasant distraction. But nothing like a leafy, shady, traditional peepul tree to give us a real sense of where we are.