Beauty and the Dream – On Chandigarh and Mumbai
I grew up a confused mix breed, with little to no understanding of my roots. It stemmed from my being told that I was born in Chandigarh and raised in Mumbai. The latter city had welcomed me, a month old infant, a few weeks after the 1993 riots left a riotous tatter in its wake.
Mumbai built itself in larger strides and I grew with it, taking smaller ones of my own. But Chandigarh remained unchanged. Its tranquil stagnancy was a refreshing change from Mumbai’s relentless dynamism. My academic life rumbled on in inertial drudgery in the thriving metropolis, while my family life was relegated to the occasional snatches of rest in an idyllic Union Territory.
To term it as a cultural shock would be too extreme. But when I did alternate between two very different worlds (in every sense), I could not help but feel simultaneous attachment and detachment from my surroundings. India’s first pre-planned city (most independence) is a far cry from Mumbai’s hectic bustle. It is an antithetical concept, a slow-motion button to my city’s perennial fast forward. The filth and squalor of Maximum City’s slums is an unimaginable visual in my hometown.
Despite being a thumbnail to Mumbai’s arm, Chandigarh has vast stretches of lush green playgrounds and the patch of fresh flowers lining the rows of most bungalows in the neighbourhood. Mercifully, it does not yet reek of impending urbanisation. A friend did say that there were plans being drawn up for a Chandigarh metro system, though why a city with an area of 114 square kilometre (I am almost certain that it is much less than that) would need one baffles me.
More so, because I cannot imagine it. Changes in an unchanging city. It is unheard of, in my books. Unseen too. It may not comprise of a complex network of transport stringing the city together. It may still be relying on man power (I refer to the delightful cycle rickshaw rides, even if it draws the ire of a human rights official). But I do enjoy comparing Mumbai’s narrowed, broken roads with Chandigarh’s broad, concrete motorways. There are smaller pathways which stem away from the main road, meant for two wheelers and cycle rickshaws. I believe that they have been there since architect Le Corbusier first conceived of it in his plan. It is a blessing in disguise. Chandigarh drivers are not known to be particularly restrained in expressing their right of way.
You could get all the information you want from the Wikipedia page on the city. All the encyclopaedic information on rare migratory birds from Siberia and Japan passing through Chandigarh may not inspire much enthusiasm, except among the most nature enthusiasts. Nor would details of its vegetation or official language for the average tourist who sees Chandigarh as a connecting point to the hill stations of Himachal Pradesh.
The city may not have much to offer in terms of a pulsating nightlife, its somnolence in keeping with the adage that says, “Chandigarh is the city of the tired, fired and the retired”. I am surprised that a walk along the rippling expanse of the Sukhna Lake does not find much favour among the tourists. They prefer to paddle about in Swan boats, without half the grace of the avian species that glide past them. Or take pictures of the setting sun as it descends into their palm.
The Rock Garden is a tourist favourite, though I wonder how many stay for the cultural events on the venue. I remember watching the enactment of a Punjabi fable called the ‘Naag Mandal’, which remains the most memorable experience I have had with my family at the place. The Nik Baker’s in the Sector-35 market and Oscar’s Hollywood Diner in Sector-10 remain my favourite haunts. There are eating joints and some of the most stylish boutiques at every corner. The sartorial sense of Chandigarh (and this I admit with grudging acknowledgement ) is incredibly tasteful. They know their Patiala salwars from their chudidaars, as yet uncorrupted by the harem pants trend that has gripped the city.
Always, and I cannot say this enough; always try to wrangle your way into a Sikh wedding. Every marriage palace is booked for the season for there is no dearth of celebrations in Chandigarh. Or a considerable festive Punjab exodus that converges in the city.
There is a lot to soak up in this Union Territory. The ambience, the culture, the dialect. I would be a kill-joy if I gave away all of the fun of roaming the city. It is a joy that you must discover for yourself. If you are not a person of leisure, you could still stay for two days. Go forth. If you are lucky, you will find me scouting for road-side trinkets in Sector-17.
SOPHIA COLLGE FOR WOMEN