The first thing that strikes you when you reach Chandigarh is the traffic or rather the lack of it. Wide roads and avenues, flanked by trees and side walks where you can actually walk without being in danger of either getting knocked down or fumigated, with the occasional car zipping by is a familiar sight, totally alien from anything in any other part of India. Coming from a city where it now takes me about 40 minutes to traverse a distance of five and a half kilometers, this is as close to heaven as it is possible to get without actually getting run over ! Delhi also has wide roads, but every inch of space is taken over by all modes of transport. Which brings me to another aspect - auto rickshaws are few and far between, I never saw a bus, and few two wheelers. So here is my deeply thought out prescription for clearing Chennai roads -- remove MTC buses (ok, maybe keep 10 or 15), get rid of two wheelers (I am dreaming already) and cancel the permits of all auto rickshaws (I am drooling). Just cars and nothing else (perhaps pedestrians who are confined to Chennai's non existent side walks). The ultimate dream city of capitalist America (Los Angeles?) . How does it look?
And talking of cars, Chandigarh I am told has the highest standard of living in the country. This means big cars with few Altos and Maruti 800's . On my first day here, I counted seven Honda City's in the Physics Department parking lot in Panjab University (the rest were Maruti SX4, Ford Ikons and so on). Very different from a standard parking lot of an academic institution in the rest of the country. Presumably people have secondary sources of income since academic salaries are about the same everywhere. I also found out (yes, I like getting such information!) that these were all four to five years old which meant these were not the result of the largess of the sixth pay commission!
The other surprise is that motorists are regularly fined for traffic violations. This includes not wearing a seat belt, over speeding, jumping lights and other such infractions. As a result, traffic here, whatever there is of it is very organised and disciplined, and nobody tries to jump a traffic light even at night when there are no other cars at a traffic signal. (Am I really talking of an Indian city). The city is also full of parks, rose gardens, (the University itself has one) the famous rock garden, lakes, making quality of life distinctly a cut above the rest of the country.
The rock garden which most locals will tell you to visit is a concrete monstrosity, a park made up of the detritus of an upcoming city full of narrow tunnels with towering walls, the mandatory water fall and all kinds of items salvaged from garbage dumps set in formation with concrete. This is my second visit to the rock garden and I find it impossibly claustrophobic, with all that tonnage of concrete giving it a very hard and soulless character -- a three dimensional Jackson Pollock piece gone wild. I realise that this is probably a minority viewpoint but there you have it.
On the other hand the zoo, in the outskirts of the city is a pleasant surprise. There is a lion safari, a deer park and the usual collection of somewhat underfed lions, tigers, jaguars, leopards and so on. But it's spread over a huge area and it's easy to spend a couple of hours there, though I am told that the animal collection used to be much better earlier. I also had my first Rainbow Trout caught in the Beas at the 'Flamme Bois' in Sector 35B and it was excellent.
So is this utopia where most of us would like to move. There you have me -- one should perhaps ask those who live here -- including some of my colleagues who moved here recently. My guess is that it would come as a breath of fresh air (literally!) in the initial period. In the long run, though, I wonder if one would miss the bustle of a standard Indian city, the cultural life, the eating out places, the general chaotic richness of an Indian urban landscape. I leave it to readers of my post to comment. I am only a bird of passage, here for a mere 10 days.