Annihilation of a Childhood

Each time I drive past India Gate, I slow down my car, look at that majestic structure to my right, then look left at the gorgeous Rashtrapati Bhavan, and then right again to view India Gate — it’s akin to a superstition. I feel my day will go well, even if Delhi’s smog makes it near impossible to actually ‘see’ both the structures. My heart knows they stand there, my eyes have viewed the abundant greenery here, my eyes have viewed diverse groups of people — friends, families, soulmates — faces that are happy, walking on the green pathways.

When we were much, much younger, Saturday-Sunday nights meant an inevitable visit to India Gate. Families would first assemble at Nirula’s in Connaught Place, make their way through the huge crowds to place an order for either a Hot Chocolate Fudge, a Jamoca Almond Fudge, 21 Love, or even the plain old vanilla ice cream. You’d consume the chilled edible right there at Nirula’s because CP offered you ample space, and the umpteen families assembled there were thrilled with their weekly outing. Of course, you stood outside, even if it was sweltering, because just being at Nirula’s was enough.

You followed this with the other compulsory visit to India Gate — amble along the green expanse, run around, while parents sat and chatted away, all the while keeping a watchful eye on their kids. My family’s ritual was to buy balloons — one each for my brother and myself. These were those big round balloons, which used to be bigger than us at one point of time. My father would indulge us every week, buying these big round balloons, taking pictures, giggling throughout. I think most families indulged their kids with balloons and those bubble making contraptions. Later visits to India Gate meant buying ice creams from the Mother Dairy cycle. It was almost meditative, and you never wanted to miss out on such an opportunity. I’ve demanded balloons even in my 20s, and my father would be more than happy to buy me one.

Like I said — it was a ritual, a discipline.

Despite being a hardcore Delhiite, I’m also mostly petrified of driving in Delhi at night. Once, I left my office close to 11PM, silently cursing my new team for dumping extra work on me. But as I reached India Gate, it was so crowded, so well-lit, so boisterous, my anger and frustration and anxiety melted in seconds. I knew I was safe; I knew I would be safe. At this same workplace, whenever a team member left for greener pastures, our ritual included a hearty dinner and lots of alcohol at the Press Club followed by delightful desserts at India Gate. We’d be there till the Delhi Police requested us to please leave because, “Dekhiye Madam, safe nahi hai.” However, we were a bunch of strong headed women, and so it was fun to negotiate a few extra minutes. The police officers gladly complied.

I now see that my entire childhood stands in ruins. While I continue to slow down my car, view India Gate, Rashtrapati Bhavan, and India Gate again, I don’t feel at home. The living, breathing stretches of green have been dug up to give way for dead mud, cement, concrete. One isn’t allowed to take pictures there anymore. India Gate and Rashtrapati Bhavan have become the stuff of legend now, to be included in ‘once upon a happier time in New Delhi’.

As I drive past one of my favourite childhood haunts, it actually looks desolate, it looks dead, it looks like it is being built over innumerable dead people and their memories. I’ve begun to feel only resentment at a government that’s possibly the worst my country has ever seen. Even Icarus’s wings melted; and while I don’t see that happening anytime soon with the men directly responsible for the ruthless annihilation of my childhood, I’m willing to wait.

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Shreya Sethuraman

Shreya Sethuraman

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