February 18, 2021 12:30:31 pm
“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” ― Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities
This piece could be mistaken for an obituary, but it is for someone essentially in a state of limbo — walking the tightrope between life and death, hanging precariously, leaning this way and that. A city can be personified because it is the sum total of its population. It lives, breathes, and bleeds with its occupants. The national capital has always been the nucleus, the hub of all activities. Like fireflies at night, it has guided weary travellers and has been the light to attract moths. But the pandemic has brought Delhi to its knees.
One year down, fresh cases continue to be reported in the city, whose occupants are dangerously fatigued. And even though the city braves it all and wakes up every day, the question of just how much damage has already been done — and how it can be contained and controlled — lingers.
So, while 2019 allowed wine-stained, blurry Friday evenings, 2020 hammered on like the worst kind of Saturday morning hangover-headache. The lockdown — that devoured the large part of the year — proved to be dear for the Delhiite, whose life essentially encircled the labyrinthine lanes of Connaught Place. The city lost its many restaurants, some of which were iconic.
When Cafe Turtle, which was part of the Full Circle Bookstore enterprise, announced the closing down of its Khan Market outlet in the middle of the pandemic, in June 2020, it made people heartbreakingly-nostalgic. The cafe — which was inaugurated in December 2000 — was known to have been the pit-stop for writers, journalists, artists, book lovers, travellers, and the like. Many other similar closures followed. In fact, it was even predicted that more than 40 per cent of restaurants in Delhi-NCR will be shut eventually.
Indian Express had previously reported that the capital’s restaurant industry was among the worst-hit, with lockdowns, night curfews, and revenues hitting rock-bottom. And for a city that thrives on its night-life and its resto culture, this was crippling.
But the city bounced back shortly after, for the deeply-disheartened Dilli wala. It tried to resuscitate a few lost treasures, Cafe Turtle being one of them. “Though we are not going back to the same location, we hope to recreate our signature look with the blue and green theme, wooden flooring and a balcony,” Priyanka Malhotra, director of Cafe Turtle, has stated. Its new location is right next to the original one.
But the city also walks out of its restaurants and expounds itself via its many other tenets. The Delhi Metro, for instance, is the arguably complex and well-manned network, which is like its bloodstream. Since it remained inoperative for too many months, it is facing financial distress now, having incurred heavy losses because of the pandemic-induced lockdown that halted passenger travel.
Then, there are the monuments that form the cultural backbone and the pride of the city. Delhi boasts of three World Heritage Sites, 174 national protected monuments and hundreds of state-protected monuments, along with several unprotected and lesser-known ones. In the second phase of Unlock in July 2020, these monuments reopened for the public with several protective measures in place, but the crowd only trickled in, trepidatiously.
It is naturally discomfiting then, to see Delhi — the largest metropolis in India — in a state of vulnerability. The city has throbbed as the heart of the nation and continues to put on a fight. And like the many storms it has previously braved, here’s hoping the city gets back on its feet again. And that someday, its winters will melt, and its spring will bloom. And it will blossom once again — with all its thorns — like the roses of Mughal Gardens.
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