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Chandigarh: Sector 17

A man with a book in hand is an oddity at most public places in India

but in Sector 17, Chandigarh I did not feel so. Nobody- and I mean

nobody – so much as turned his or her head to even look twice, let

alone stare. Just exactly how refreshing this was cannot be conveyed

easily. It was even more of a surprise to note that no one was

hurrying either. There was no frenzied running to nowhere and at 2.00

p.m. in any case, everyone walking by appeared at ease. They were

busy with themselves and I guess the ambience and layout of the

place facilitated this self-absorption but more on this later.

Now this tendency of the city dwellers to be with their own selves

was something that went against my preconceived notion about the

natives. They were fashion conscious, no doubt, and also neither shy

of displaying their affluence nor unaware of the effect but they were

not the least bit conscious. They seemed to not only own their riches

but to be born into them.

I occupied several benches in turn to avoid the sun and, thus, had a

view of the plaza from different angles. I felt free and relaxed. And,

this wasn’t all. I felt welcomed. The plaza was like an open house –

ready to have you in anytime you chose to walk into it. Yet, it did not

have that brazen look of cheap invitation that adorns disreputable

places which try to lure you because you bring them something they

prize and from which you leave as glad to go as they are to see you

go when you have nothing left to offer them.

The place by itself did not impress itself upon the onlooker and this

was its most impressive feature. By design or inadvertently (I suspect

the former), all buildings were of low to medium height and thus did

not fall over, so to speak, over the open spaces in between. Their

height did not obstruct the winds. However, some were in urgent

need of repairs as they were mildewed and if care is not taken they

might soon sport that particular greasy look which is so offensive to

the eye.

The pavements could have done with a bit more width, no doubt, but

they were still quite spacious and, for most parts, not swamped by

makeshift shops set up by ingenious retailers and protected by

unscrupulous cops. In fact, this was one more remarkable feature of

the place. Men in khaki were not swarming around.

The whole place was so designed that at no time did I hear vehicular

traffic. The parking lots were some distance away and evidently the

designer knew his business. Cars whizzed by on the flyovers flanking

the plaza on two sides but while one saw their outline one was

mercifully spared their clatter.

The plaza seemed to grace the fountains and not the other way

round. I mean, had the fountains not been there, I would not have

missed them. True, they were an added attraction but, to me, a rather

superficial one. Even in the May afternoon sun the plaza did not seem

to burn under one’s feet and the walls of the buildings were not

hurling heat at the passers by.

Wide avenues at right angles facilitated automatic sweeping of dust

by the winds. A couple of jealous sweepers did the rest. As a result,

the place was clean by any standard. Dustbins had been placed at

different corners but I think a few more will not hurt. The washroom I

visited was quite good and the best part was that not only was there

minimum stench inside it, there was absolutely nothing to screw your

nose about in its vicinity as well. The ubiquitous ‘paan’ stains were

conspicuous by their absence.

The one irritating feature was the many shoe-shine boys constantly

on the look out for customers and constantly being rebuffed. I

indulged two of them on different occasions just to get rid of them. Of

course, things would have been different had I been wearing sports

shoes! The beggars, on the other hand, were rather reticent. The fruit

sellers were slovenly dressed and the place where they squatted was

perhaps the dirtiest part of the landscape. The milkshake shops, too,

could have done with some facelift. I enjoyed the bookshops but not

the interaction with members of their staff, most of whom were

merchandising books they had neither any knowledge of nor any

interest in. The branded showrooms were like what they are

everywhere else but, again, the quality of staff was below par.

A very thoughtful addition to the amenities available was the water

kiosk – offering what was claimed to be pure water. That I had to

accept at face value but what I could testify to was that it was cold

and very refreshing particularly with the sun at its apogee. Later, on

one of my many rounds of the place, I came across another such

kiosk. Near it were hawkers offering simple, inexpensive snacks. Just

adjacent was a small grass knoll fairly well occupied. I liked the

setting – all that one needed to relax was readily available.

Just a little distance away were several benches arranged in a sort of

circular fashion beneath a cluster of trees. This was supposed to be a

highlight of the place I guess but somehow I did not enjoy myself

there. May be the reason was that I was alone and all around me

were couples in various stages of intimacy!

The plaza had all the trappings of a young place. However, ‘oldies’ did

not look out of sync and even appeared younger while strolling

through it. Youth was the predominant flavour but I did not chance

upon any ‘unseemly’ sight. Freedom like wealth is least abused when

it is part of the culture of the surroundings and the youngsters,

therefore, came across as easy-going in a normal, natural manner.

And, how can I forget those instrumental strains of old Hindi film

songs that wafted across the place mellowing everything and

everyone in their path and lending a nostalgic colour to the otherwise

youthful setting. Sonorous, rhythmic and soothing – imagine me being

drenched by them as I sat on a bench nearby munching popcorn; my

eyes now poring over the arresting pages of Camus’ ‘The Plague’ and

then, once in a while, lifting to view the swaying tree tops; all the

time my inner self aware that I was happy and that I shall be happier

still when my companion would join me later in the day. The effect

was memorable. What more can you ask for from a spot you are

spending your vacation in?

I found Sector 17 worth visiting several times – as many times as one

wants to be with one’s own self without feeling lonely; as many times

as one wants to enjoy human company without being submerged by

it; as many times as one feels like marveling over human creation

without being intimidated by it and, of course, as many times as one

wants to enjoy one’s time rather than simply ‘kill’ it.

Sector 17 is a large, non-pretentious, open-air club whose decorum

does not depend upon such artificial things like dress code, social

status of the members etc. This club is intrinsically graceful and

wonderfully inclusive.

Chandigarh is known as ‘The City Beautiful’ and Sector 17, to me, is

one of the factors why the city acquired-and still richly deserves- the

soubriquet. It fits in so very well with the image that I have of

Chandigarh - a modern, pleasant, carefree yet disciplined city.

June 23, 2008