On crisp winter afternoons in Delhi, in the pre-pandemic era, a reporter could do the rounds of the busy bureaucratic corridors on foot. The capital is not much of a walker’s paradise, except the small pocket called Lutyens’ Delhi.
A routine day would begin in the dark and slippery corridors of Shastri Bhawan that houses nearly half a dozen ministries including Education, Culture, Social Justice, Information and Broadcasting, and Women and Child Development. The building with its narrow windows, stacked one over the other like a child’s jenga set, rations sunlight. But though the corridors are dank, the officers’ rooms are well lit.
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A hop across Shastri Bhawan is Krishi Bhawan that houses the earthy ministries of Agriculture and Rural Development, among others. But Nirman Bhawan down the road is where I used to go if I was in dire need of stories.
Going down Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Marg is a rewarding experience. It provides a majestic view of Raisina Hill. The North and South Block flank the highest office of the land, the Rashtrapati Bhawan, which faces India Gate down the road. Going past the peanut sellers, the teeming bus stand and the multitudes of people, one could appreciate the orderly tree alignment on the India Gate lawns.
Nirman Bhawan houses the important Health Ministry. But my usual haunt was the Urban Development Ministry and the corridors of the Central Public Works Department where elaborate flower arrangements marked the Urban Development Minister’s office lending it a cheery air.
Often, after negotiating the bureaucratese, asking multiple questions on a relatively unknown concept, jotting the key phrases down in my notebook and memorising the rest just in case the official refused to part with documents, I would be in no hurry to head back to office (this was in the pre-online days) and instead take a detour towards Janpath.
Janpath runs parallel to Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Marg, but could very well be in an alternate world. The pace on this road is relatively unhurried. The bus stops are not populated like they are on Rafi Ahmed Marg. There are fewer hawkers and little traffic. If Rafi Marg is printed in colour film, Janpath, at least from the National Museum to the National Archives, should be printed in sepia tones.
Till two years ago, the barracks next to the National Museum had the headquarters of the Archaeological Survey of India. Their offices are as moth-eaten as the objects they excavate or examine. This is where I would have long chats with officials on why overnight renovations were being carried out on age-old structures or gently nudge them for information on who gave approval for an excavation in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh, based on some seer’s dream.
Now, Rafi Marg is dug up. Shastri Bhawan, Krishi Bhawan and Nirman Bhawan are all going to be demolished. There are signboards prohibiting people from taking photographs. There are no hawkers thanks to the pandemic. In a few years, all these familiar places, the landmarks of Delhi, visited by the most powerful and the least, will fade in memory when the Central Vista becomes a reality. Newer ways of control will be found in the shiny buildings to keep us pesky journalists at bay. My hope is that we will still find our way around it.