Thursday, June 11, 2015

Allahabad Civil Lines a Pale shadow of its grand past

Published in HT All U.P. Editions- 12-6-15 link-

Civil Lines - From Patrician to Plebeian

The wistfulness is painful. Standing in a corner, below a semi-demolished building, I look at the roads which were once so clean, so wide and, so quiet. Huge tamarind and neem trees lined these roads and little behind them stood the one or two floor pink buildings which housed the most posh shops of the city. These shops had a certain aristocratic air about them. The proprietors had a gentility in their bearings and, the shoppers were urbane and of exquisite taste. Jostling or speaking loudly were considered unseemly and, bargaining was infra dig.  A picture hall here could boast of having its ticket stall without an enclosure and a place as boisterous as a coffee house was served by liveried waiting men. Even the leisurely, aimless amblings on the grid-planned streets of this place had a distinct glamour which other market places in the city were devoid of.  Yes, the ‘civil’ in the Civil Lines was so marked till a couple of decades back.
And now? Choc-a-block with people and vehicles all fighting for space, umpteen numbers of open air eating joints encroaching the pavements and,  growth of shops like warts on the once beautiful face. Constricted by a divider, choked by bumpers brushing against each other, the streets are no longer for the leisurely movers but for the impatient honkers. With both the pink on the buildings and green of the trees having gone away long, the loss of colour accentuates the pallor.  If the big names in book shops have the e-books and e-shops as tough adversaries, many renowned names in sweetmeat and restaurants have either gone into obscurity or fighting a tough battle with takeaways. Now the shops, in keeping with the times, not only cater to those of exquisite taste but also store the commonplace. The patrician aura over these years seems thus to have dissipated to gather a plebeian tenor.
How should we take it- this metamorphosis of the once all white township developed by the British for its civilian officers? If before independence it was out of bounds for the browns, post-independence it was so for the lower on the economic and social ranking.  Since the 90’s however things began to change due to a combination of reasons.  The land-lease and free holds issue and the migration of the new generation to greener pastures led to the sale of the big bungalows either by division into smaller plots or by construction of high rise buildings.  With the economic liberalization and the rise of the subaltern politics, the neo- rich and the neo-powerful sought a space in this uptown area to announce their climb on the socio-economic ladder. Aesthetics has been the loser in the scenario.
Why should we rue this loss, if we ourselves are the cause of it?  Construction of buildings against the norms, non-provision of parking spaces along with non-compliance of parking rules, using four wheelers unnecessarily instead of (ideally)  our feet or cycles or two wheelers even for short distances, growth in the number of big motor vehicles without a corresponding, rather nil, growth in the width of the roads, ill-planned beautification drives and, of course, the absence of the civic sense has made the Civil Lines a pale shadow of its grand past.  Hope the realization dawns before it is past resuscitation.
                                                    Skand Shukla



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