Lutyens on my mind

Old men (like me) should stay away from things like Twitter and Facebook. Most do, but some (again like me), find these platforms fascinating.

Twitter, as Ogden Nash might have said, is better, but FB is not. If you ‘friend’ someone, you are likely to be inundated with the most repulsive details of their private lives; and if you ‘unfriend’ them, they start hating you.

So I am on Twitter but not on FB. I find the challenge of saying something utterly profound in just 140 characters irresistible. I do it often.

One day a very old friend, and not merely aged, asked me to follow the Lutyens — pronounced as Luiyens and not Loot-yenj — Twitter ‘handles’.
I did so and found them all full of the most utterly delightful gossip. Having spent my life in Delhi’s underbelly of journalism, I felt like Ali Baba in front of the cave after saying ‘Open Sesame’.

On FB if you ‘friend’ someone, you are likely to be inundated with the most repulsive details of their private lives; and if you ‘unfriend’ them, they start hating you.

Lutyens Delhi is where the gora sahibs used to live before 1947 in massive plots of land in which stood huge but dark and drafty bungalows. These 1,000-odd or so bungalows occupy around 400 acres in the heart of Delhi.

After 1947, when the British left, the most boring Indians — politicians, bureaucrats and faujis — moved into Lutyens. By the 1980s they had started fighting over it. From being a mere government servant habitat, it became a status symbol.

Lutyens Delhi, for those who don’t know, comes in two parts: pre-1947 and post-1947. The latter is Lutyens Lite, so to speak. It has thousands of very ugly flats for the ever-expanding bureaucracy. They are all falling down now.

The original Lutyens Delhi used to be around a quarter of Delhi — new and old. Now it is down to around 0.001 per cent.

In a rare flash of humour, given the kind of people who live there now, the government has classified it as a forest. In Hindi that would be jungle or jangal.

In a rare flash of humour, given the kind of people who live in Lutyen’s Delhi now, the government has classified it as a forest. In Hindi that would be jungle or jangal.

Most people only know about the main roads of Lutyens Delhi, but having grown up there and around there, I know the innermost lanes and service roads. In the old days, love birds would converge in those ill-lit lanes for a quick hug and a furtive kiss.

But today, thanks to security, they are full of police constables. I think they should all be issued free phones with 4G so that they may desist from the very private but publicly exhibited pleasure of constantly scratching in unseemly places.

Anyway, although the gossip on Twitter about this small ‘forest’ is salacious, it is mostly rubbish. Bar a couple of dozen or so of the houses, the rest are occupied by very boring people and there is nothing to gossip about them.

The social character of Lutyens Delhi has changed thrice in the last 25 years. The first time was in 1990 when the first large coalition government was formed under V P Singh. The non-anglicised Indians of the regional parties moved into the bungalows in large numbers. Some even brought cows with them.

Then in 1999, when Atal Behari Vajpayee was able to form and lead a stable government, a whole lot of BJP people moved in. But their sojourn was short-lived. That BJP was different from the current one. Most of its members in those days could speak good English and even write it properly.

In 2004, the anglicised Congress Indians moved back in. They behaved as if they had reclaimed a disputed patrimony. Their arrogant strutting was what eventually made Modiji so popular.

Ten years later, in 2014, the new-look BJP sort has moved in. It is they who have turned Lutyens into a pejorative term exactly as they did with secular. They renamed 7RCR as Lok Kalyan Marg.

I am waiting for the day when some sociologist writes a book about these 400 acres. I could, but I have… I guess, better things to do.

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