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Lutyens Delhi retreats to Khan Market

Author: Reshmi R Dasgupta
Publication: The Economic Times
Date: June 14, 2019
URL:      https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/blogs/SilkStalkings/lutyens-delhi-retreats-to-khan-market/

What Tavleen Singh evocatively pinpointed as Lutyens’ Delhi has now become a bone of contention. Not between the haves and have-nots but the has-beens and just-relocateds. Now that the battle for the real estate of central Delhi has been lost—two successive electoral victories have lent stability to new residents who had come in via what was mistakenly assumed to be a ‘black swan’ event—there is a renewed vigorous effort to at least claim the soul of the city.

Reams have been written about growing up when Delhi was a nicer, kinder, smaller, friendlier place. For the phalanx of pukka-accented Indian officials of the hallowed Indian Civil Service, Lutyens Delhi was like a large, convivial club. The ICS lot had all attended much the same schools and colleges, joined government service together, often married among themselves, and happily concurred about their indubitably patrician ‘idea of India’.

And well they might, as nearly all those who lived in Lutyens’ Delhi’s official bungalows were privileged, no matter which side of the new border they originally lived. No bloody angst of Partition disturbed their cultured equanimity of their ‘idea of India’. That was left to the non-English speaking hordes beyond the pale of official Delhi, housed in miserable refugee camps, in deep shock over communal bloodletting and irreparable loss of life and livelihoods.

A couple of decades in, a bit of diversity crept into official Delhi, via new recruits into the Indian Administrative Service and other Class I central services. These new residents of Lutyens Delhi certainly did not go horse-riding the PM or duck shooting beyond the city limits though some of them, admittedly, were ICS progeny. Most of them, however, were bright young Indians, not always from metro cities, who entered by dint of academic excellence, not lineage.

But, eventually many of them also made common cause with their ICS forebears, laying almost permanent claim to the verdant boulevards and generously proportioned accommodation of official Delhi. They fitted in, rather than rocked the boat. The barbarians—in the form of the rather more rustic politicians—were kept at bay by the very nature of electoral politics. They were re-elected but also regularly voted out too, so permanence was not common.

In the ensuing decades, the progeny of official Delhi who did not join government fanned out to occupy other important niches in a growing city and nation. They became the comptrollers of art and culture, aesthetics and academic pursuits, so that there was a nice consonance between government and “institutions”. With the same roots—and, of course, that ‘idea of India’—there was little reason for anyone to demur on either side when it came to crucial decisions.

And then, cruelly, real India—which they contemptuously called ‘Bharat’—intruded into the idyllic, (metaphorically) gated colony called Lutyens’ Delhi. First came a new type of class I government official, not remotely connected to the old lot and unwilling to be coopted either—beyond membership of the Delhi Gymkhana Club. Then came elected netas not from the Congress cultural fold. A carefully constructed world began to crack.

The last decades of the 20th century saw an uneasy calm in Lutyens’ Delhi as the enormity of the imminent change began to sink in. There was a battening down of hatches, in government and institutions, quietly desperate measures to protect a certain way of life in the name of that ‘idea of India’. Most of their children had opted out of the diminishing returns of official India by then, joining international firms or simply emigrating to greener pastures.

Then the unthinkable happened—the last years of the old millennium and the second decade of the new one saw an unknown bunch of invaders swoop in and occupy those coveted offices on Raisina Hill and government accommodation. And shockingly, all the measures Delhi had used to deal with invaders since time immemorial and which Lutyens Delhi’s denizens also knew by some strange osmosis—coopt and assimilate—simply did not work.

So this new lot was poked with sticks (so to speak) to figure out what they were about. Conjectures and theories soon came spilling out: what “they” talked about, ate, drank, believed, hated, loved, envied etc, all from the vantage point of ignorance and apprehension. Consequently, new bogeys were raised, not least because the other side also lost no time provoking them by changing road names and other pinpricks calculated to cause panic in the ancien regime.

The next strategy was to console themselves that “this too shall pass” and that Bharat would instinctively obey their telepathic order to evict these iconoclasts from their central Delhi perches. Now that their wish has been rather rudely ignored, and their ‘idea of India’ apparently rejected, they have lowered their sights from Lutyens Delhi to a single kilometre radius with Khan Market as the epicentre, to be saved as the citadel of Mohenjo Delhi for future generations.

Shades of the Persian aphorism: Sultanat-e-Shah Alam, Az Dilli ta Palam…
 
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