Forget the potholes and dug up roads that have clouded our thoughts of Connaught Place in recent years. Let’s go back to the times when it was the heart of New Delhi — its four cinemas, its age-old Gaylord and Standard eateries, its United Coffee House, Volga and even Palika Bazaar which came up much after Connaught Place was established but went on to carve out its own distinct identity. Let’s go back to the circular market named after the Duke of Connaught — uncle of King George V — and its impressive colonnaded verandahs, its circular park with its jamun and jarul trees, its gulmohars and a central fountain.
Remember those days of leisure and languor; those walks past shops selling antiques on Janpath or being amused at the sight of jay walkers on Barakhamba Road, the street named after twelve pillars none of which survived to see independent India. Or spare a moment for Parliament Street which was so designed to facilitate an uninterrupted view of the city from Raisina Hills to the historic Jama Masjid. Or go a little deeper into Connaught Place and quietly take in all the concentric circles. Each one has a story to tell, each one has had its patrons, its artists and even politicians. Talking of politicians, Connaught Place has seen the mightiest of them all, ranging from the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to Iron Lady Indira Gandhi and the eminently amiable Lal Bahadur Shastri.
Connaught Place has been many things to many people at many times. In winters, office-goers once soaked in the sun on its vast lawns circled by jamun trees, in monsoon the same trees provided ample fruit. In summers, the paanwallah roamed around offering Mughal-time post-lunch delicacies as did the jeera pani-wallah. Once people watched a film here and hopped on to a tonga to ride all the way to the Walled City.
The mashaq-wallah — water skin — the tonga-wallah, the soothsayers are all gone. Connaught Place, like a sepia-tinted family album, lives on its past. And its formidable name.