Curzon Road is the road that connects Outer circle of Connaught Place (or CP as it is popularly called even today) from Scindia House with India Gate. Those of you familiar with Delhi will recognize it as KG Marg, named after Kasturba, spouse of the ‘Father of the Nation”. When did CR become KG and why? I am not sure, but it was among the first of the Delhi roads to lose their original English names!! It certainly did not happen in the nationalist fervor for the post-independence 50’s, but when my parents briefly lived there in the late 60’s, we were already remembering Kasturba rather than Curzon.
Earlier this week I had to visit KG Marg for some mundane ‘investment’ related activity – due to change of addresses, banks etc. since the original investment, the company insisted on my personal appearance with photocopy of photo-ID to redeem my money. And as I drove from the Ferozeshah Road roundabout towards CP outer circle (can’t get myself to think of it as Rajiv Chowk), looking out for No 23, Himalaya House where the offices were located, I realized that it was a location going back to my childhood. In our early years in Delhi, in the latter half of the 1950s, my father had a dear friend who lived in one of the bungalows along this stretch of road. The road was then lined with these large fairly similar looking bungalows built in the 30s, each one sorrounded by large lawns. The friend had no children that stayed with him, and our visits usually meant that my brothers and I kept each other entertained in the garden. I also recall some later visits in the early 60s where the adult conversation drifted towards the sale of these houses and the prospects of commercial buildings coming up. I am not sure, when the these were actually built! But, I do recall that by 1966, when my parents moved out of Delhi, the character of this stretch had already changed.
As I drove through the area, I had recollections of the my many other associations with Curzon Road. I gave my Senior Cambridge exam (the last batch from India) in December 1962 and had 6 months to spend before joining DU for pre-medical. So, along with a friend, I enrolled for German classes at the Max Mueller House, which was and is still located at 3, CR/KG Marg. This looks well maintained and in much better condition that it was back then!
I used to travel by public transport from Satya Marg for the classes – and nobody thought anything of a 16 year old doing this alone at that time!! Delhi was a safe and compact city. It might be of interest to some that one among the random group of 15-20 people who attended these classes was a Mr Sanjay Gandhi. I remember little of him, except that he was the very quiet and did not participate in any of the usual pre- and post-class chatter. Also, unlike the rest of us, he came and went by car, which we did not find unusual as his grandfather was at the time Prime Minister.
As I was returning from my errand (cheque safely in hand) and passed the Ferozeshah Road circle, I also remembered that my Uncle had briefly lived in Canning lane in 1960-61. This is a road that runs parallel to Ferozshah and connects KG Marg to Ferozeshah Road close to the Mandi House Circle. As we turned into the road, I saw that it had been renamed and is now called Ravi Shankar Shukla Lane!! However, as you drive down this road, Shuklaji has been forgotten and 36, Canning Lane still stands as 36, Canning Lane. Of course, the walls are higher, there is a barricade of sand bags and a security guard stepped out to say that I could not take a picture!! I told him to show me that in writing – and took this picture anyway!
This house was allotted to my Uncle as ‘transit’ accommodation, when he moved to Delhi from Madras. The next four years he spent on Tees January Marg, opposite Birla House.
And then, further towards India Gate, after the Bahartiya Vidya Bhawan circle, are the multi-storey government housing that was known as “Curzon Road Flats”. This was where my father got transit housing in 1969, on his return from a foreign assignment. These now look shabby, like much of the public housing in central Delhi.
But to return to Himalaya House. This business district was well in place by the early 70’s, as i remember it, with a number of high rise office buildings at the CP end of the road. How proud we were of these buildings that rose above the skyline!! Mumbai and Kolkota had a few tall buildings, but none like these. We felt that we were moving towards a New York or Los Angeles or Tokyo, cities with these amazing skylines of towering skyscrapers (what a name!) This was a first baby step towards a modern India!
But as I waited for the lift that was to take me to the 14th floor of Himalaya House, and looked about me in the corridors and waited in the stuffy office waiting area, I could see that these buildings had an abandoned air about them. They are probably fully occupied, but are badly maintained and shoddy in appearance. They could not in any way compete with the modern commercial spaces of 21 st century India that we see all over the country. This is best seen in Gurgaon, or the Millenium City, as it is called, where I now live. In many of the corporate offices in Gurgaon, you could forget you were not in the US if you kept your window shutters down. While, every window in Himalaya House (and its fellow high rises) over look the lovely tree covered expanse of South Delhi.
What a wonderful location KG Road is! Is it that the value of this location is ill realized and these buildings are being allowed to get run down due to sheer neglect? Or is it deliberate neglect, so that they can be pulled down and new ones can be built!! In either case it seems sad, especially when you think that the iconic buildings of New York such as the Empire State Building and Chrysler Building were built in the late 1920s!!