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Nostalgia: Growing up in Civil Lines, Delhi
I had often wondered why every major city had a Civil Lines. The Wikipedia has this to say - 'until New Delhi came into being in Civil Lines (archaically White Town) the residential neighbourhoods developed during the British Raj for its senior officers. These townships were built all over the Indian subcontinent and were allotted to civil officers in the respective countries. It was the hub of European-style hotels in1911'.
I remember as a child peeping out of a balcony of our home near 'fawara', Chandni Chowk. Across the fountain was the famous shop of Maharaja Lal & Sons. They were the biggest suppliers of gramophones and 78 rpm records. Nearby on the main road was Kali Charan & Sons, our family jewellers. My mother claimed that his ancestors were suppliers of jewellery to Emperor Shan Jahan and his court.

The Ghantewala Halwai too used to supply his famed sweetmeats to the royalty. This was the historically rich and thriving vicinity, where we lived. Not to mention the mouth watering strolls through the Parathe Wali Gali. Our aunt lived in one of the lanes of Dariba. When the vendors shouted their wares, we would lower a basket with the payment. Having loaded the change and the wares, we would pull up the basket! Those houses were also built in Shahjahan's days.

When my father started teaching at Hindu College, we moved into a compound next to GPO. We children used to play on the imposing British canon installed in middle of the road. It was a grim reminder of the Mutiny and the major fighting near Kashmiri Gate. Later, I learnt that this gate was named as such, as every summer the royal family used to go that way to Kashmir for the summer months.

Often my mother used to give me letters to post at the GPO, next door. That grand edifice and the hubbub inside fascinated me. I enjoyed watching the shiny brass plate, which swung every time a letter was posted. In fact, I loved the sight so much, that any time I saw an envelope at home; I used to sneak out and post it, just to see the swinging brass plate against the bright red of the letter box.

Once mother was frantically searching for a letter. I told her that I had already posted it! She was horrified. The stamps had not been pasted on the envelope and the inside was not yet complete. She dragged me to post office and enquired from a post man, where the postmaster sat.

She spoke no English and the officer was an Englishman, who knew Urdu. She explained her plight to him in Hindi, while I had my eyes cast down. The gentleman replied 'Aap mere saath chaliye.' He asked a postman to empty out the letter box, and finally much to my relief the unstamped letter was found. And it spared me a terrible verbal spanking. When Dad returned home, Mom related the episode to him. He was rather amused, professor of philosophy that he was!

From Kashmiri Gate we shifted to the serene world of colonial splendours of Civil Lines. Populated with columned bungalows, we lived in one of them. That's the first time I saw a flushing toilet! We shopped at Exchange Stores, stacked with goods from England. Our milk was delivered on bicycle by uniformed milkman from Keventer.

We picked up slabs of New Zealand butter from Exchange Stores. The nearby regal Maiden's Hotel had a very exclusive feel, where I saw a swimming pool for the first time! Till then I thought that one swam only in rivers and village ponds! When Edward Lutyens was designing what is now Rashtrapati Bhavan, he stayed at this hotel. A grand ball was held in this hotel to welcome Prince of Wales, who later abdicated.

Every evening we would walk down and cross Bela Road to the banks of Jamuna River. Here we children played 'gilli danda' and other games which are not to seen anymore. In summer, we would boat across to the other bank, to munch on crunchy, freshly plucked 'kakdi' and water melons.

Shri Ram Road had residents who were in high places or otherwise well known. In one of the bungalows lived an editor of Statesman. His neighbour across the road was the son of famous Russian artist. Assorted British ICS officers and well off Kayasthas had also moved in from the walled city.

Our neighbour, an Englishman had a Japanese wife. A very soft spoken couple, they had a socially embarrassing time, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour and became enemies. We also had an Italian neighbour, who used to patrol the area with his shotgun, whenever there were rumours of riots.

Owners of Essex Farms also were close by. My father used to cycle down to the Hindu College. My sisters used to walk down or cycle to Indraprastha College. Eve teasing is something we had never seen or heard of. Cycling around, I was amazed at historicity of edifices all around us.

The 18th century Ludlow Castle among others had also been the European Club. The imposing Old Secretariat later became seat of Delhi Government and the Assembly. That edifice has seen a lot of history in its corridors. Delhi University's first convocation was held there in 1923.

In late 90's, I chanced upon a book at the airport, 'Old Delhi - 10 Easy Walks' by Barton and Malone. I got to know the detailed history of many bungalows and the Railway colony on Shri Ram Road. During the Mutiny many Englishmen and women were killed around Red Fort area. Alarmed, the British created exclusive area for Englishmen outside the walled city, beyond Kashmiri Gate and named it Civil Lines.

While roaming or cycling around our area, I used to see an imposing historical pillar on the Ridge, near Delhi University. There was another pillar in Firoz Shah Kotla (14th century). I did not at that time realise history's great time span from 3rd century BC to 14th century AD!

Both these pillars like those all over India, Afghanistan and elsewhere were edicts issued by Emperor Ashoka (3rd century BC). Mostly in Brahmi script, among others they exhorted people to lead a civilized and moral life. During his hunting expeditions he discovered the Ridge pillar near Meerut, and the second one while hunting in another area. He realized their great historical value, and had them carefully transported and erected in Old Delhi.

I realised that growing up in Civil Lines, I was living and moving around among monuments and residences, which had witnessed a span of centuries of history. Carrying fond memories, I went there again after 40 years and much to my disappointment the 'civilian calm' had disappeared. And Jamuna across Bela Road was not the Jamuna, where downstream Krishna had sported with the Gopis! Now, it looked more like a 'ganda nala'! Time and again, I have learnt a sad truth: 'Never revisit your nostalgia'!

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