Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Delhi Story contd

Last year in London, I was a bit foxed that my cousin Neal thought it the most natural thing in the world to use the tube every day for travelling to his office in Canary Wharf – despite having his own car in town. I was thinking about that again during my conversation with Lalit Nirula, who I met last week for some insights into the changing face of Delhi, for that Big Story I’m terrifiedly working on. Mr Nirula, who’s lived in Delhi for all of his 62 years, agreed to the interview only after confirming several times that I wouldn’t be asking him personal questions ("personal" meaning related to his company; Nirula’s is famously media-shy).

He believes that once the Delhi Metro is completely functional – and of course that will take at least 10-12 more years – the travelling culture within the city will change. "The youngsters who will come of age in another decade-and-a-half," said Mr Nirula, "will grow up without this snobbish attitude to the metro that all of us have now. In another two decades, even youngsters from upper-middle class families won’t be averse to using the metro to travel to work, rather than contend with the stress of driving/finding parking space."

Chatting with Mr Nirula was a delight. He had the light of fond recollection in his eyes and his memories of what the city used to be were fascinating, especially to someone who’s lived 27-odd years in Delhi, never been away for more than 4 months at a stretch, and always been conditioned to believe that one can’t possibly have an unqualified love for this soulless city – that love if any must be tempered by words like "grudging" or "ambivalent".

He painted a charming picture of the Connaught Place of another age, when most of the shop-owners and office-goers in the vicinity knew each other by name, and a universally recognised churan-seller did rounds of the middle circle on his bicycle. He also recalled how, in the early 1960s, his father stopped the car by the side of the rough road they were travelling on, and picked up a head of cabbage from the adjacent field. "That cabbage field," said Mr Nirula, "was in what you now know as Hauz Khas." - a colony in mid-south Delhi which, as the city’s southward expansion continues, is now practically in the heart of the capital. It reminded me of my father’s stories about going hunting in the 1960s in the forestland that Saket, where I now live, used to be.

Am still not completely sold on this Delhi Development story I’m working on – one learns very quickly to be cynical about the claims made by authorities and their booklets - but who knows, it could turn out to have promise after all.


  1. why were you surprised that your cousin preferred the underground to driving? no sane person would drive to work in london or new york - for london, the average speed of traffic on the roads of central london is now slightly *less* than before the automobile was introduced. the only people who drive in central metropolitan areas of big cities with good mass transit systems are, i think, crazy. in london of course it would also be prohibitive, since the introduction of the central london congestion tax. having said that, i don't think the commuting culture in delhi will change that radically. delhi is too multi-centred, and even the full metro system too rudimentary, for this to happen. still, one can hope...

  2. Ya, I guess I have some of the Delhiite mentality myself - the snobbishness about the underground train. Plus the car-owner's thing about being completely independent, always having one's vehicle at hand, even though you're always grumbling about the pains of driving.

  3. As a Delhi-ite who is studying in Mumbai, I can say that it wasnt until I came here that I realised how much easier life is with a efficient public transpot system. now when i return to delhi, i feel so crippled, since i have to rely on the driver and hope that he doesnt have to run any errands. impromptu plans are almost impossible, especially for long distances. the metro shud change all that. also, i think it will be better connected to the suburbs than the ney york underground railway.

  4. Yeah that's true...I wonder why the metro culture hasnt caught up in India and people still prefer to drive their cars. But atleast the good thing is Carpooling and ridesharing numbers are slowly peaking up...

  5. Living in London and commuting via tube are so very closely connected.Its the most cost effective way through which ne can actually get to desired destination in no time.Driving up and down the boiling pot is a call for a lot of hassels.Save me from paying tax and parking quid,the thought of getting snarled up is another major issue which can get you being a perfect INDIAN as well(keeping in pace with the indian standard time)
    Delhi star matked as a city of show n flamboyance would definately not want to dump their luxury for convenience.However,for the students, Metro comes as a bliss and well with nano in the scene the delays through rowdy traffic would defiantely get us to c a major shift in the commuting pattern.

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