That villagers were paid a pittance in exchange for their ancestral properties in Delhi is only now being grudgingly accepted, and yet there is no sign of them at least being given basic amenities in the urban villages
The famous Qawwali singer from Pakistan Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan used to sing a composition about the mysterious ways of God and the constant refrain of the Qawwali was “Tum Ek Gorakh Dhanda ho” loosely translated, the refrain would say “You are an Enigma”. The lyrics turned the author Naaz Khialvi, born in Tandlianwala -- 170 kilometres from Lahore -- in Pakistan in 1947, into an overnight celebrity and a household name all over South Asia and beyond.
The text is being mentioned here not in connection with anything even remotely spiritual or musical, but in connection with the enigmatic functioning of our civic agencies. Every time I step out of the house I am confronted with the intriguing, inscrutable and unfathomable signs left behind by these masters of our destinies at work.
Naaz Khialvi could not have had the foggiest idea that right here in South Asia, in the Capital of a nation, that claims to be rapidly marching towards super-power status, are faceless agencies that are more than capable of being more inscrutable ‘Gorakh Dhandas’ than the celebrated subject of his poetry.
There is news that after prevaricating for decades these agencies have finally decided to accept the reality that they cannot continue to insist that the villagers of Delhi -- the oldest residents of this sprawling megalopolis -- should be denied any rights over the territories that they have come to occupy outside the Lal dora -- the red line drawn around every single rural settlement in Delhi by the British in 1908.
The fact that the villagers were paid a pittance in exchange for their ancestral properties is only now being grudgingly accepted and yet there is no sign that at least some of the wealth from the overflowing coffers of the land owning agencies is going to be used to at long last provide the very basic amenities to the urban villages.
This street in Kishangarh, opposite Vasant Kunj, is not unique, step into any urban village in Delhi and it is the same story. Leaking sewer pipes and drinking water hydrants sharing the same space, unlimited quantities of potable water, or what passes for potable water in this city, leaking into the streets and creating puddles in which mosquitoes breed and street after street is dug up by one agency or another and left untended for months on end.
The two accompanying photographs were taken after a gap of almost three months.
The first photograph was taken on September 19, 2012 when the Delhi Jal Board had begun work to lay a sewer line next to a pre-existing one. September is hardly the best time to dig up a street and spread pipes and joining material in the open while the monsoons are still active.
I have always wondered at the logic of carrying out repair works on roads during the monsoons and the only explanation that I have for this practice is that the repaired bits will wash away in the first rains and come the next monsoon, the civic agency will be able to raise another proposal for carrying out repairs on the same road. This is a system that keeps everybody busily engaged and working and yet everything stays as it was.
The second photograph was taken on December 11, 2012. Nothing has changed, except that the dug up parts that were hastily covered have settled unevenly. It is a bone jarring experience for any one moving in a vehicle and those compelled to walk this obstacle race everyday. They have to do everything in their capability to escape being plastered with stinking mud every time they step out.
And this is not a unique street, all the plush colonies we have built and all the multi-brand chain stores that will soon come up to sell us world class stuff in a world class city was built and will be built on land that belonged to the residents of these forgotten, uncared for, ignored villages.
This is a much bigger Gorakh Dhanda than the enigma poetically imagined by Naaz Khialvi. It has been said that when God created Adam he told the angels and all other life forms that he had created earlier, that he had created man in his own image. I think he overlooked one detail, Man was capable of creating enigmas that would be more unfathomable than the enigma that the creator could ever be.
If you don’t believe me, go and visit any urban village in Delhi.