In Delhi's East of Kailash spiritual encroachers do not allow for road widening and can stay. Shack dwellers, though have to go
The area bound by the railway line near the Ashram crossing to its east and the old village of Garhi to its west was by and large open scrubland till the late 1950s. It was only in 1960-61 that part of this land was renamed Sriniwaspuri and used to build quarters for government servants. In the mid 1960s the rocky area to the west of Garhi began to be levelled and a colony now known as East of Kailash came up in place of the outcroppings of the Aravalis. A road, starting at Ring Road to its north and ending at the Modi Flour Mill to its south, was laid between Sriniwaspuri and the Garhi-East of Kailash areas. It is this road that presents a peculiar example of encroachment on public land that no one in this city is prepared to touch.
As plots were sold in East of Kailash shacks began to come up along this narrow road. The first lot sold, bricks, cement and sand, then came stockists of door and window frames, ply board, timber and paint merchants. Shops selling latches, nuts and bolts, screws and fasteners came up to keep company with the dispensers of electrical fittings and fixtures and close on their heels came suppliers of bathroom and sanitary fittings and gradually a full-fledged market spread its tentacles on one side of the road for almost a kilometre.
A couple of tea shops and a few dhabas that catered to the needs of the large number of labourers opened their doors for business, a few shops selling vegetables and those selling chicken joined the burgeoning boom. A few stalls that sold fish became a regular feature in the evenings. While all this was going on could property dealers be far away? They also arrived.
All this was unfolding in full view of everyone. The shacks became semi-pucca structures, kerosene patromax lights gave way to electric lights, someone must have pulled wires and released power, water connections were applied for and granted and so over a period of several years the stringy row of gunny sheet, thatch and bamboo shacks turned into homes behind and shops in front.
With residences come places of worship and so two temples came up, a mosque made its appearance, suddenly overnight the shrine of a Sufi materialised, a local wrestler, past his prime, set up a school to train future Olympians and to make sure that his claim was not questioned started an ancient temple on the land that he had captured.
East of Kailash colony was now almost complete, no one had need of building materials and so the nature of the market also gradually changed from supplying house building materials to meeting the daily needs of the residents of this largely upper middle class colony. The market now had mechanics, vegetable and fruit sellers, fishmongers, meat and chicken suppliers, dry fruit sellers, plumbers, electricians, buyers of old newspapers and empty booze bottles. Second hand book sellers, stationers and florists, a couple of halwais, the residents of East of Kailash managed to grab a bit of land as well and the East of Kailash Arya Samaj Mandir came up to add to the spiritual diversity of the market.
And then one day the city planners came up with the plan to widen the road and to call it Captain Gaur Marg. The market was demolished. Not one of those who the poor hutment dwellers had bribed for years came to their help. They could not have sat there for decades without greasing every palm that moved in their direction. God knows where they were thrown, probably to begin from scratch once again, this time with card board and plastic perhaps? Because we are now more advanced and to find newer palms to grease, for the more we change the more we remain the same. This is perhaps the continuity with change that our leaders always talk about.
The road has still not been widened; all the spiritual encroachers are still there and as long as they are there the road cannot be widened. All the temples are pracheen temples; they always are, aren't they? And no one is prepared to risk the wrath of the Sufi, the wrestler has at least four gods with him, he has built a Shikhar for each and the residents of East of Kailash who triggered all this development in the first place have a foot firmly planted in the Arya Samaj Mandir. So the shack dwellers have gone, the gods will stay, this is as it should be. The Gods are eternal everything else is ephemeral.