Tuesday, October 14, 2008
The Nobel, Delhi and all that
Since I left Delhi in the late 80's this is the first time I have spent 2 weeks at a stretch here. However, a hectic lecture schedule which involved two and half hour lectures daily, coupled with a dodgy internet connection meant that my blog has remained neglected for some time. First things first. So we all got it wrong -- the Nobel went to Nambu, Kobayashi and Maskawa, and while all of them are most deserving, it's unfair that Yoichiro Nambu had to wait this long (he is, I believe 87) to get the prize and then share it with two others. To get back to Delhi. When I was growing up in Delhi, in the 60's and 70's, Delhi was a charming city, with tree lined avenues, beautiful and stately buildings, and shopping complexes (can you compare Connaught Place with these present day monstrosities in Gurgaon) and lots of wide open areas. The ugly concrete jungles of South Delhi were yet to crop up. During the 80's and 90's when I used to visit Delhi for short periods, Delhi literally seemed to be falling apart at the seams -- the traffic was horrendous and polluting, the people even more rough and crude, and hideously ugly concrete jungles sprouting everywhere. Moreover, from an academic point of view, there was little reason to visit Delhi University. In a couple of visits in the last two years, I am happy to see that this downward slide has been halted. There are still horrible traffic jams in rush hour, people are as arrogant and rude as always (though in all honesty, not much worse than Chennai). However, there is the wonder of modern technology actually applied successfully to an Indian city - the Delhi Metro. Spick and span, perfect timing, and completely professionally run, the Metro has truly changed the face of Delhi in the areas it runs. Part of the traffic is now transferred to the Metro, resulting in better traffic management. It takes 20 minutes to go from Central Secretariat to the University, something that used to take upto an hour or more depending on the time of day. There are two other lines one of which goes all the way to Dwarka on the outskirts, so it's not the one-line wonder like the Kolkata metro. Of course South Delhi still has its jams but hopefully when the metro reaches those parts, things will improve. (Nothing will change the classic Delhi attitude though -- I noticed that people would rather spend an hour in one of their airconditioned limousines stuck in a traffic jam, than take the metro and be seen with the hoi-polloi). Dare I say it -- without naming names, some of my well-heeled friends have never even seen the inside of the Metro and its been around for more than two years! Nothing also will improve the average Delhi temperament. Too much money has brought with it a brashness, a rough and ready tendency to take matters into one's own hands, a general disdain for others' convenience. In the last two weeks, a women journalist has been shot while driving a car, a man had petrol poured on him and set on fire because of some minor dispute, and road rage has resulted in all kinds of fights, altercation and police cases. In the midst of this, the blue line buses continue to contribute their mite in keeping the population in check. Which reminds me -- DTC now has neat and clean low floor buses, some airconditioned, (with doors which open only at bus stops), which are actually cleaned everyday (no, I am NOT making this up). A colleague of mine once said pithily, Delhi is all history and no culture. While the latter is not quite true -- being the National Capital, there is a huge amount of cultural activity taking place somewhere or other in the city -- it's true when applied to the general 'culture' of the place. Delhi will always remain my favourite city, despite its people and its traffic jams. Perhaps it has to do with where one grows up. (I am always astonished when children of my colleagues think that Chennai is the best city to be in). And now with academic activity in Delhi University showing an upward trend with many good appointments, I look forward to using that excuse to reacquaint myself once again with one of my first loves.