Chandigarh

“Where to?” she asks as we get in the car.

I am still taking in the cool morning air. “I have no idea… should we start the morning with breakfast? I am not really hungry, but if you are…”

“I am not hungry either but let’s go to Nik Baker’s in 35. We can have something light, if nothing else.”

“Yeah, that would be good.”

She’s been bragging about Nik’s for a long time. Let’s see if the place is really worth a dime, I think.

I welcome the winter air through the open window. The weather is bit overcast, and the trees along the road are laughing in the wind. Chandigarh has the spirit of a young, carefree maiden.

*

The walls covered in yellow and green give the appearance of a typical Punjab farm with sky high marigolds. And it is the aroma of the coffee that has got me hooked.

Nik Baker's

Nik Baker’s


“Try the pancakes, with honey – they are good” She suggests.

I nod and add a masala tea to the order. Her phone rings while she is scanning the menu. “An omelet for me…” she rushes out of the café to talk.

I find a corner table and start scanning my mobile for morning news. The café rings with laughter suddenly and I pull my face to see some young girls giggling their way in. She’s still talking on the phone outside the door, shifting herself from one leg to other.

There’s cassia blooming outside on a tree behind her. Surprised at its own fertility his young flower laden branches are struggling against the bitter January wind. Perhaps, the nature wants to have spring early this year.

My eyes focus back to her slightly troubled face. I wonder…

The tea arrives and while I soak in its aroma, the pancakes too. They are good – these guys at Nik’s – they won’t serve the omelet until she’s here.

She comes back in pulling her warm coat closer; her face is back to her usual blank-happiness state.

“How is it?”

“Ummm… pancakes are good, masala tea is better at CCD!”

“Hmmm…”

A hmmm? I wonder if it’s the call or that I rated CCD better than Nik’s…

The cassia shudders once again outside in the wind. I wonder if he had a choice – whether to blossom so early this year or not? I wonder if he can wonder like me…

*

I have a faint memory of walking through the rose garden holding on to my dad’s hand. I don’t remember the roses.

The garden is named after Zakir Hussain saab.  Did he lay the foundation? It’s only Nehru’s love for roses that I can recall.

The walking path is a complex of surreal snakes across enormous flowerbeds of roses and trees. It occurs to me that they are of various types and here I was thinking of difference only in their colors. The spectrum of their red varies from a lovely almost white, pinkish red to a deadly tar like black red. There’s yellow, orange and all the colors of fire in there.

Have they also made that elusive blue rose somewhere?

Rose Garden

They have names too and funny ones at that – a mughal prince, a son of the Beas, Bengali gul and yes, a Kashmir ki kali. It seems as if they have their own living spirits – a long thorned one, one with none at all, one as tall as me and one with funny heart shaped leaves.

Genetics, cross breeding has done them wonders. Perhaps, they’ll make humans one day in the same way.

I spot a yellow gulmohar at some distance and stop to admire its courage amongst the sea of roses. Only then do I realize that she has hooked her hand in mine. I am shaken out of lone dream world to realize that I am not the only one in trance of the flowers.

A couple is enjoying the warm sunshine of the winter and the air is cackling with the sounds of kids playing around. There are some elderly people here for the morning walk.

We cross a dry inbuilt channel of water through a wooden footbridge, a small canteen and then a solar power station for the lighting in the garden.

A mynah is laughing on a tree somewhere. She must be watching me with its head crooked to one side.

*

“Let’s not drive in the car next time. You know, this city is not made for cars… it’s just not!” I say as we enter the car.

“Yeah…” She frowns.

I realize that it was not the right thing to say to her. She is used to cars.

The sky is slightly overcast and a cloud hugs the sun embracing all the sunlight within its contour. I let out a shiver involuntarily…

*

She cuts across the maze of the planned roads like I would elsewhere…

She is talking to me, only I am not sure about what. I steal glances at her flying hair murmuring only a yeah or ok or hmmm punctuating her tirade. Am I always this inattentive or is everyone like this?

Somewhere in between my monosyllabic replies she has brought the car to an isolated road. There’s a golf course on the right and a, errmmm… long hill, on the left. There are stairs marked across it, rising as they do at the pilgrimages. One is not sure of what one will find at the top but for one’s faith.

Surprisingly there’s a Buddha at the end of the road. And an auditorium surrounding it, and lights, and people. We sit at the bottom facing the lord as he sits there calmly unperturbed by the furiously clicking cameras around.

There’s a boy playing on the feet of the statue while his parents walk around.

She’s snuggled closer, her arm wrapped around mine.

I wish I could look into the Buddha’s mind in his state of absolution – when he left his kingdom, when he left his wife and son, when he took to begging, when he made the sangha… or when he inducted Amrapali.

She rests her head on my shoulder and we watch the world pass by, together.

Buddha and the quest for peace

*

Sukhna lies on the northern end of Chandigarh at the foot of the foothills and on the other side of the long hill which is actually an embankment that culminates to Buddha. It is a fair in itself until you walk to the unchartered territories of the path in search of silence.

There are flocks of ducks in the water. From the high road their reflections can be felt rippling in existence across clear facades of water.

“How do you spot the leader of the flock?” she asks.

“Do they always have a leader?”

“Well… isn’t it the natural instinct of the group?”

“Of humans, yes, of ducks, I am not sure.”

“Still, if they would have one…”

I love her curiosity, among other things, “Perhaps the one that they decide to follow shall be the one.”

“Won’t color matter?”

“Amongst all grays, whites and browns? Hahah… not unless the leader is the one who woos all females.”

“Yeah, true. But they are quite dynamic, this lot, aren’t they?”

They are shuffling their ways and hence the leadership, the ducks, I observe.

Sukhna’s Ducks

And then, I shift my gaze to the path. They are in love, in and with the sublime beauty of the lake. The newlyweds can be easily spotted amongst the crowd with the red churas.

“Do you think of life after marriage?” I did not realize that she was also looking at the couples too.

I stay silent not sure of how to reply.

“Never?”

“Only of a home, on the hills”, I say, pointing to the hills in the north. “With loads and loads of books and a balcony that would open to the south so that I can trace the path of the sun from its birth to death and look down upon the world, as perhaps a god would…” I add.

“Ummm… and a cabinet full of liquor!” and we start laughing together. Birds fly out of the long slender bushes populating the far northern end into the reddening sun and the sky gets filled with their melodious cacophony. I keep watching them disappear into the bright winter sky until she tugs at my elbow.

Sukhna in the evening

*

For a city that embraces all seeking quietness from a dastardly city life, markets of sector 17 are an island. Perhaps, it was for this reason that Corbusier chose to push it away to an eccentricity rather than keeping it in the centre. I take in the grandeur of the complex standing in the crowd.

For the first time, in this city I feel uncomfortable but then…

There’s a sufi song playing somewhere – I have not deceived you, but I was… in a wink of his eyes I was his, of whom else could I be… my friends…

It’ll keep playing in my ears as I keep following, yet accompanying her.

What is it with women and shopping, the urge to have newer things? Perhaps she would want a new man for herself too… I wonder if my mind was getting reflected on my face.

She is talking of her friends and how they would bring each other here to cheer them up, of how they would roam and chatter endlessly seeking pleasure in the moment. Such things, I realize, one realizes only in hindsight. In the state of joy, one lives only in present.

Sector – 17

I realize that she has brought us in front of a book shop. She is beaming at me.

Perhaps, she won’t find another man…

*

We are walking on a curvy path made of stone amidst lush green grass. The arena is lined with trees swaying in cold January wind. There’s a water sprinkler running at a distance and I silently appreciate the water conservation techniques of the city and its administration.

“All the drains slope towards the channel that runs in between the garden from one end to another, I guess, that would minimize wastage” she comments, reading my mind.

“Yeah, that should…”

They have chosen not to keep the path straight anywhere for more than a couple of meters so that there is no humdrum while jogging. Each couple of meters, placards display exercises and their benefits and some carry information on medicinally beneficial plants.

Leisure Valley Garden

But it is the bougainvilleas spread across leisure valley and the flower named park across the road that take my heart. It is one flower; I tell her that my dad has never agreed to have in his garden.

Spread across arcades, pavilions, walls it has got colors burning in the winter sun.

I have never seen so many shades of b’villeas earlier. They are so rich, so earnest in their short lives…

*

A war memorial spreads spirally in black marble across the garden. I was not aware that Chandigarh had one. The country’s heroes are usually… short lived. Names of numerous soldiers who have laid their lives for the country are inscribed on the walls along with their operations.

“I have not even heard of some of these operations. Which one was Meghdoot?”

“They countered a Pakistani threat to capture Siachin and have stationed men there ever since.”

“Wow… Siachin!”

I look at her aware that I might be having a look of disgust on my face, “Siachin is the coldest and probably toughest battlefield on earth”.

“There’s nothing wow about it…” I add in a hushed voice. She does not listen or perhaps chooses not to.

We walk out of the memorial, yet again on the stone path.

“War… for land or for political ego, why do they have to fight?” I mumble to myself.

“For justified nationalism and perhaps for glory. Do you remember that quote from Kargil about glory and failure? I have forgotten it” she says.

I feel my pace slacken. She walks ahead of me her hair bouncing, flowing behind her.

“Some goals are so worthy, it’s glorious even to fail” I recall, looking at her in bright sunlight.

The War Memorial

13 Comments

  • Anupam Chakraborty says:

    Hi Arpit

    Nice day out in Chandigarh! Sukhna Lake looks beautiful.

  • Prasad Np says:

    Chandigarh is only one of the few planned cities in India, and it is really beautiful, nice article . All those going to Himachal can actually stop there for a day to enjoy this urban splendour.

    • Arpit says:

      Thank you Prasad ji! Even if one is not going to Himachal, Chandigarh offers a lot as a travel destination…

  • Nandan Jha says:

    Long time Arpit. You quietly come, submit your story and then we see very less of you. :)

    I have stayed in Chd for about 6 weeks. Been there few times since you can not escape Chd if you want to go to Shimla, Manali etc. My first visit (if I discount the one when I was young) was in 1993 or so when we visited Chd for a festival. And we loved the city.

    Your poetic prose was a good refreshing take on this city. Wishes.

    • Arpit says:

      Interestingly my first visit to Chandigarh too was in 1991, when I was young.

      Strongly believe that Chandigarh should not be simply treated as a gateway to HP. Every city, every place has a spirit and it should not be kept in conjunction with others. Chandigarh is a mesmerizing place in its own…

      Yes, I have been a silent watcher here! Promise to write more Nandanji…
      Next one from Jaipur Literature Festival ’14! :)

  • Ashok Sharma says:

    very good, refreshing post with awesome photographs.

  • Hemant Kewlani says:

    Good photo of sukhna. In next few week we plan to visit Chandigarh by car. Can you suggest any tips for us.

    • Arpit says:

      It is going to get hot in summers (next few weeks, even hotter)… Plan your itinerary in such a manner that covered places – markets, museum etc. are visited in day time while Sukhna and gardens are best left to evenings.

  • Nirdesh Singh says:

    Hi Arpit,

    Lovely prose about the city we all love!

    I like my pancakes with maple syrup!

    When is the book out?

  • SHIV BATRA says:

    Nice to read about chandigarh,I wish to inform if you wish to hire very well furnished 3 BR (6 to 8 persons may stay too easily at nominal charges) Flat very near to chandigarh for enjoying family hoildays at chandigarh or around which is surely the best city of our country.contact me at 09716589509

  • Mansi Mahajan says:

    Really nice written piece. I am from Chandigarh and I got nostalgic reading this which I generally dont become about Chandigarh :). Have shared this with a few of my friends who have also visited Chandigarh and hoping they will relive their experience again.

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