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Walking down Kartavya Path — a view of the Central Vista

The additions and improvements around India Gate and the surrounding lawns are superb. But unless the whole complex is integrated into a single, seamless visual and walking experience, the significance of modern history now embellished by the natural beauty of Kartavya Path would be lost

View of the revamped Central Vista Avenue in New Delhi. (PTI)

In September 2022, I paid two visits to India Gate and Kartavya Path. The first was with two former career women, like me, all pushing 80, accompanied by a solitary male octogenarian. On the second visit I was alone. Both visits were at 6 pm.

Without question, the change has enriched the India Gate lawns enormously. Even so, the glitches we four elderly citizens noticed should be read as an effort to better things.

Our plan was to drive around India Gate, view the War Memorial and Netaji’s statue and then take a walk up Kartavya Path. As children of the Forties, we had driven or even walked down from Rashtrapati Bhavan to India Gate scores of times. Generations of our families had enjoyed sitting under the jamun trees and there wasn’t a crossing, segment or a waterway we did not know by heart. The spectacular aerial photos in the newspapers had made us eager to view the changes for ourselves.

Alas, our programme started badly. The drive into and around C-Hexagon was an obstacle race which became increasingly chaotic. There was nothing to see. Iron shields along the perimeter grills of the roundabout obstructed everything from sight. If we pulled over to ask a traffic cop (there were dozens of them) about parking possibilities, we only got an irate, “full hai, chalo- chalo!”

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Our expectations of having a seamless view of India Gate, the Memorial, the newly-installed statue of Bose or a glimpse of distant Rashtrapati Bhavan flanked by the North and South Blocks were belied. The world over, every capital city’s most emblematic buildings can be easily viewed from a vehicle or from a Ho Ho bus. Arguably, these buildings constitute the most important parts of modern Indian history. The whole complex must, therefore, be treated as one and if not reachable on foot, made easily viewable and photographable from a vehicle. Presently, however, there seems no way of reducing the number of vehicles that use the C-Hexagon as a freeway and we seem destined to live with the chaos.

Despite the disappointing start, having set out to experience Kartavya Path, we remained undaunted. As we drove up Maulana Azad Road onto Rafi Marg, we were lucky to find a parking slot. We trooped up to Vijay Chowk because that was a high point for us all. Somehow, that vast expanse gave the impression of having shrunk in size. “Where will the Beating of the Retreat formations perform?” lamented one of our group, herself an army officer’s daughter. For her, the Retreat had always held profound significance.

Once we set foot on the grasslands of Kartavya Path, however, things changed visibly.

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The symmetrical granite walkaways set amidst carpets of luxuriant grass were spotlessly clean and wide enough for scores of ramblers. Just watching water cascading into the canals was uplifting.

The leafy jamun canopies and bottle brush trees swooning over the water canals, made it picture perfect even as twinkling lights (new) enhanced the fairy-tale atmosphere. Although most jamun trees had been transplanted, plenty of walking space had been freed up. Fortunately, the archetypal lampposts and balustrades and wrought iron chains on the main road remained intact.

Another huge plus was the changeover from the unkempt bajri strewn for decades along the road to expertly laid stone pavers. Running parallel there were troughs and drainage holes to prevent water accumulating in the rains. One among us did remark that the stone would get burning hot in summer, but for now, it looked lovely.

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As we wound our way back to the car, the seat of government had been lit up. Some common peeves need to be shared – if only to goad action. First, the illumination of the buildings on Vijay Chowk, including Parliament house was in our collective opinion, bizarre. The lighting should not be changing colours like a chameleon. The technicolour fountains on either side of Vijay Chowk were in one word — garish! Lighting monuments is an expert’s job. Living or not, monuments are symbols of art and history, and the interplay of light and shade define a viewer’s experience and emotions. Without delay, the lighting of those iconic buildings and fountains must be redone to harmonise with the ambience of Kartavya Path.

The toilet signages in the Janpath-Mansingh Road stretch were misleading as the toilets did not exist where the arrows pointed. The guards and attendants were busy dissuading visitors who had reached the toilets from going down some 15 stone steps (beautifully laid) and from using the amenities, because there was no paani. The bathroom fittings were good quality, but the western style toilets and upkeep would need vigilant housekeeping. Speaking of which, continuous water supply for the lawns, and anti-mosquito measures will also be needed throughout the year. On the walk back we confronted some impediments as the contractors had left exposed wires, rubble, and conduit pipes scattered around. Once the novelty wears off, such hindrances can fast become routine, unless they are checked regularly.

A few days later I returned once again to Kartavya Path to enjoy the greenery — this time, alone. Every green segment is imbued with natural and man-made beauty. It should become a living symbol to remind citizens of their duty to preserve the environment and public property. Pre-Covid, cricket, football, cycling, dog walking and large picnics were common. It denuded the lawns, but people also got a much-needed outlet. Those activities must now be given designated areas to avoid trampling and destruction of the verdant grass. It is an opportune time to remind people of their kartavya to maintain public property and care for it for everyone to enjoy.

The additions and improvements around India Gate and the surrounding lawns are superb. But unless the whole complex is integrated into a single, seamless visual and walking experience, the significance of modern history now embellished by the natural beauty of Kartavya Path would be lost. To make that happen is also a duty.

The writer is a former secretary in the Ministry of Health

First published on: 03-10-2022 at 07:22:50 pm
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