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H I N D U STA N T I M E S , N E W D E L H I S AT U R DAY, J A N U A R Y 0 1 , 2 0 1 1

1911-2011: Journey of a new capital

A view of South and North blocks from Government House (now Rashtrapati Bhavan). At the Delhi Durbar of 1911, King George V declared the capital of India would be shifted from Calcutta to Delhi. The foundation stone was laid at Kingsway Camp (near Delhi University) but later the rocky ridge areas south of Shahjahanabad (now old Delhi) was chosen for the Imperial city. The new city, which cost R13.07 crore to build, was inaugurated in 1931. COURTESY: ‘NEW DELHI, MAKING OF A CAPITAL – LUSTRE PRESS, ROLI BOOKS

Growing up with New Delhi

POWER CENTRE The 8th capital city Delhi has hosted through ages was a western-style metropolis carved out of ancient villages and a medieval walled city

On February 13, 1931, the Hindustan Times carried an editorial expressing reservations about the show of the celebrations when India’s struggle for independence was at its peak. HT said – “...it must have been obvious... that a display like the present was by no means in keeping with the distress in the land... a huge deficit budget is anticipated... crores that have been spent... constitute an extravagance for which we can find no parallel.”

I am almost as old as the city I have lived in for most of my life. When I came to live in Delhi I was barely five years old and there was no New Delhi. I recall there were herds of deer, Nilgais and wild boars to be seen in what is now Sunder Nagar, Kalindi Colony and Maharani Bagh. I saw the new city go up day by day as my father Sobha Singh got contracts to build the South Block, India Gate and much else. Most of the contractors were Sikhs and lived on Jantar Mantar Road. A railway along what is now Sansad Marg was called Imperial Delhi Railway. It brought stones and sand from Badarpur to what is now Connaught Circus. We often got free rides on the I.D.R. As New Delhi began to grow it began to change its flora and fauna. Keekars, Neem and Pipal gave way to Jamun, Sausage Trees (Kigelia), Gulmohar, Banyan and other exotic trees were brought from Africa to line the wide avenues. Vultures disappeared. Soon after so did Sparrows. Many varieties became scarce. During monsoon we heard frogs croaking all night and fire flies flitting about in bushes. Now we have no frogs or fire flies. We heard the wailing of Jackals at night and Choukidars calling Khabardar ho. They too have been silenced. Living in New Delhi was gracious till the influx of Hindu and Sigh refugees from Pakistan flooded the city.

Muslims who had formed 40% of the population fled to Pakistan. New colonies came up and New Delhi's population trebled or quadrupled. New Delhi I knew like the back of my hand has become an alien city in which I have lost my way. My father had many interesting tales about the building of New Delhi. When King George and Queen Mary came to India in 1911 and announced the decision to shift the capital from Calcutta to Delhi they laid two foundation stone in what is known as Kingsway Camp, where Delhi University is now. After World War I ended a team of specialists came from London and examined the site. They were of the opinion that Kingsway was not a suitable place to build the city. They spent a few days riding around the countryside and decided that Raisina hill would be the best place to build the Viceroy's palace, the Secretariat and Parliament House. My father got his first job as a contractor to shift the foundation stones from Kingsway to Raisina. He hired a bullock cart, pulled out stones and rode on a bicycle alongside the cart and planted the stones at the base of Raisina hill. The operation was done in the dark so that superstitious people would not take it as on ill omen. For this job he was paid the princely sum of Rupees Sixteen. When tenders were called for, he got the contract to build the South Block, India Gate and much else. He built himself a house, which he named Baikunth (paradise). He later sold the house to the Kerala government and built himself another house on 1 Janpath and gave it the name Baikunth. It is today the Hungarian government's information office. He spent his last years in a cottage attached to the new Baikunth.

The cover of 'New Delhi, Making of a Capital — Lustre Press, Roli Books. The book was published in 2009.

This map shows the two possible sites for the proposed Imperial City. The final site selected was five miles from the foundation stone laid in Kingsway Camp. The footnote to the map by one John Duncan says: “This area will be subject to the… very questionable air of native Delhi…. To obviate this…, Sir Bradford Leslie has put forward the benefits of the other site… with improvements such as the formation of a lake,… supplied by the glacier fed stream of the Jumna.”

The royal procession, which marked the beginning of the Delhi Durbar celebrations, leaves the Walled City to reach the King’s pavilion at Kingsway camp. The five-mile procession started from the Red Fort and went towards Jama Masjid and Chandni Chowk. The Durbar, held on December 12, 1911, cost £9,00,000 then. COURTESY 'ALKAZI COLLECTION OF PHOTOGRAPHY'

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