LODI GARDENS – THEN AND NOW

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THE LODI TOMBS IS ONE OF DELHI’S FAVOURITE HAUNTS, especially among health conscious walkers. During my own brisk march, I wallow in nostalgia remembering the gardens as they were fifty years ago, when I romped through them as a ten-year- old. I would just sprint across the wall of our government colony next door, to jump amidst tall grasses swaying their fluffy plumage between the Kikar and Pilkhan trees. The sight of a scampering hare was not at all rare. The howling of jackals, an occasional mongoose gliding across the undergrowth, parakeets raucously rioting on the tree tops were common sights and sounds. No secretary’s bungalows, fancy apartment blocks or luxury cars then spoilt the quietude of Ratendon Road, as it was then called.

At the Lodi tombs, set among the grassy knolls, one spotted mynahs, and hoopoes while clusters of dragonflies, hummed away, their wings shimmering in the morning air. There were no manmade moats then, no stone pathways, no artificial bridges. The symmetrical palm trees standing like sentries, guarding Mohammed Shah’s tomb did not exist. I could climb trees and peep inside a tailorbirds nest or retrieve a baby squirrel, tossed out of its home during a fierce ‘andhi’. It took an hour and a half to take one round so large were the gardens then, and I so small.

The years passed. School led to college and onwards to a career. My visits to Lodi Gardens became rare. Somewhere along the line the India International Centre silently found a niche inside the gardens to be followed by the Ford Foundation, the UN Offices, the World Bank and INTACH, each architect vying with the other to blend into the five centuries old ambience of Lodi Gardens. In the last few years Alliance Francais has joined the galaxy of big names. A ‘national’ bonsai garden has enclosed in a nice shady slice of the cake, its gates closed with a large padlock. The NDMC has appropriated another chunk ostensibly for growing saplings in a nursery. Both are of course barricaded with iron meshing. Despite the demolition man’s effort to thwart it, an elegant restaurant has also come up serving equally elegant (and pricey) Mediterranean cuisine, in what was once a part of the burial grounds of the Lodi monarchs. Here, the international set meet the ‘have-beens’ and ‘wannabes’ to compare notes on tackling India’s poverr Meanwhile chauffeur driven cars converge and crowd at the four entrances to the gardens, vying for space till they are beckoned via remote control by their masters.

Inside Lodi Gardens, both good things have happened and bad. Shrunk in size, hemmed in by construction from all sides, the gardens are still one of the prettiest spots in Delhi, even drawing international acclaim. The restoration work outside some of the monuments has been done with care, though plastic bags of ‘bajri’ and ‘reta’ are signs that some work is still in progress. After sundown the subtle lighting enhances the beauty of the monuments, while the trees throw dark shadows on the ramparts and ruins. Walkers and joggers jostle for space hut have evolved an unwritten code of conduct, even without NDMC’s instructions. Those on a stroll automatically give way to jogging aficionados, one or the other stepping on to the dust path, to avoid collision. Mercifully, the gun toting Black Cats and commandos menacingly escorting their privileged wards, so evident some years ago, seem to have disappeared.

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