I am longing for a visit to my favorite – the India Gate, a Memorial built to pay Homage to the brave Soldiers and defenders of India and so we are planning a trip to Delhi in the near future. Delhi is a city that has always enchanted the Whole World. It is the city that has seen every type of Government and Kings and Queens and War and Peace and Music and Cuisine and People and Language and Sport and Literature and Culture.
Who would not like to visit such a rich city which one more time, like the times bygone, is impressively vibrating with enchanting excitement –embracing the new International Culture, the Culture of Western Technology and Eastern Wisdom. It is a city that has witnessed the steps of Udhishthar, Arjun, Ashoka, Pritvi Raj, Razia Begum, Akbar, Shah Jahan, King George, Gandhi ji, Pandit Nehru and his daughter Indira in their full splendor.
Delhi is ever changing and never changing—as if it says you can plan and scheme and fight and build and destroy and pray and kill and dance and die – but “I” am forever and just as Krishna had said - “in the Mountains I am the Himalayas in rivers I am the Holy Ganga” - in the Cities ‘He’ is Delhi. Delhi is the embodiment of the whole World—they were playing Jazz in Delhi before they played it in New Orleans and frying steaks and enjoying wines before they did it in New York and London. Delhi has always been the best and the oldest Capital of the World regardless of what is written in the History Books, written mostly by Westerners. But now their books are passé just as their slowly dilapidating cities of London, Paris and New York are also becoming—passé. The true History of the World will now be written in Delhi and Beijing. And soon there will be a clamor to learn Sanskrit and Mandarin and Tamil and Panjabi and the sweet Bengali and Marathi and so on.
So when we go there what are we going to do? First of all we will stay in the India International Centre – I am a proud member. It is located bordering the Lodi Gardens; Delhi has the most beautiful Gardens anywhere bedecked with the most beautiful flowers anywhere—unfortunately many Delhites don’t know it. The following is a brief history of the IIC taken from their web page:
“The idea of the India International Centre first came up in October-November 1958, when Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, then Vice President of India, and Mr. John D. Rockefeller III discussed setting up a centre for the ‘quickening and deepening of true and thoughtful understanding between peoples of nations’. Mr. Rockefeller suggested an International House on the model of Tokyo’s International House of Japan, in whose founding he had played a great part and offered a generous grant towards this end. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, then Prime Minister of India, was so enthused by the idea that he personally took interest in the selection of the beautiful 4.76 acres site adjacent to Lodi Gardens, on which the present complex stands.
Some of the best minds of the time came together in the preparatory committee to spell out the objectives of the Centre set up by Dr S. Radhakrishnan. They were Dr C. D. Deshmukh (Chairman), Smt. Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya, Pt. H. N Kunzru, Professor Humayun Kabir, Dr V.K. R. V. Rao, Shri Raja Ram, Dr Malcolm S. Adiseshiah and Shri Prem Kirpal.
Dr. C. D. Deshmukh, then Chairman of the University Grants Commission (UGC), was identified by Dr. Radhakrishnan as the person who would be able to set up such an institution. This faith in Dr. Deshmukh was vindicated for by 24 December 1958, the Centre had been founded and by 19 March 1959, it was registered under the Societies Registration Act (XXI) of 1860.
Dr. Deshmukh invited Joseph Allen Stein to be the architect of the Centre’s building. What Stein created here is best expressed in his own words: ‘There was an attempt to create something which depended upon simplicity and relationships rather than things. So this is not a five-star appearance in marble and granite. But it is a place where a certain kind of relationship exists— between the garden and the building and the water and the earth and the sky, and the learning and activities that take place and the things that happen...’
Dr Deshmukh was convinced, however, that unlike the Japanese institution, which was mainly supported by businessmen and journalists, the Centre in Delhi would have to lean heavily on the universities--it would have to be ‘a pooled guest-house of the universities in the metropolis’. Funds were raised from the Rockefeller Foundation, and from 37 Indian universities. On April 15, 1960 Smt. Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya a Life Trustee and the first Vice President of the IIC turned the first sod. In November 1960, Crown Prince Akihito of Japan laid the cornerstone for the superstructure. The building was completed by 22 January 1962 and inaugurated by Dr S. Radhakrishnan. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, John D. Rockefeller III and many prominent citizens and intellectuals of Delhi were also present on this historic occasion.
At its inauguration, Pandit Nehru exclaimed, ‘(It) surprises me, now it is here, to realize that we did not have it previously, because the world today is so constituted that there can be no escape from international cooperation…. This international Centre will, of course, not change the nature of the world, but it will help in the process, which is very essential today....’.
It is currently being nurtured by the Likes of Dr. Karan Singh and Prof. M G. K. Menon. And I am very fortunate to be a member of the IIC. Everything about the present IIC has unfolded as per the dream the founders had and the vision of Nehru ji. A visit to Delhi without attending a seminar at IIC is like going to the well and not drinking the water. Some of the best art shows and seminars are held in the IIC and one of my desires is to give a presentation about the potential role of Delhi in the World of today – a fast changing World where the West is once again looking towards the East. The East – where the streets are once again getting ready to be paved with Gold and where all the failing Companies of the West are looking for opportunities. This trend eerily reminds one of the history of the East India Company, the company that changed India forever, and westernized her.
For me Pandit Nehru was truly the greatest Statesman of the 20th Century. I marvel at his vision of India to be a Democratic Republic which was truly inspired by his mentor Gandhi ji. Pandit Nehru was so powerful in 1947 – had he wanted to be a dictator like Mao, he easily could have. But he was a man who stood strongly for the bright future of India, he not only steadfastly implemented his ideas to make India a country strong in science and technology, but also encouraged debate and opposition and dissent—the foundation of a true democracy. He is the founder of that true democracy in the modern India—there is no debate about that. He is sometimes criticized for his policies and decisions, that is what he would have encouraged anyway – but that is done without contemplation and emotionally. His policy on Kashmir was the correct policy and will eventually be vindicated and be proven so—absolutely correct that is. His role as a World leader and vision for peace and Non Alignment is ringing true as we witnessed the Dominoes fall in the Communist World and are now seeing them fall in Egypt and elsewhere. The World is a family – and Pandit Nehru was a gem, just as his name says ‘Jawahar Lal’—he was a Diamond, of that family. His book ‘The Discovery of India” – is a must read for all.
Well – that is only a part of my love for Delhi. Being a Hindu Brahmin – I will visit all the major temples of Delhi, the ones that I always go to are - the Hanuman Mandir, the Kali Bari and the Birla Mandir. As a young lad I went to the Harcourt Butler School that still is there - near the Birla Mandir, although my school, with same name and management, was located in Simla. There is something about the Birla Mandir that enchants me a lot – its playgrounds remind me of my childhood, when I used to play cricket in the Wilson Square. There were many squares designed and built in the Delhi that Lutyen put together - such as Lumsden Square, Havelock Square, Wilson Square etc. These were housing complexes where the Government Servants lived, near the Gol Market, Gol Post Office and the Birla Mandir. It was a Grand time that the ever changing Delhi had seen and with joy.
So a visit to the temples near Birla Mandir tweaks more than spirituality in me - it brings back my childhood memories and reminds me of the only ‘sixer’ I hit when I played cricket in the Wilson Square – now gone forever like many landmarks in Delhi have. And it also brings back the memories of the prayer meetings of Mahatma Gandhi ji that I have attended which were held not far from the Birla Mandir. And today on January 30th I am once again reminded of the merciless and cruel killing of the man of Peace, the father of the Nation by a Hindu fanatic. My heart is full of sadness and my eyes are wet. Gandhi ji has changed the whole World – his method of Non Violent protest has trumped all other methods and forever. All that is a part of the History of Delhi—she has also witnessed the steps of Mahatma Gandhi ji and his Killer Nathu Ram Godse.
After visiting the temples our next haunt after a soothing walk in the Lodi Gardens will be Karol Bagh. Delhi metro, the great transportation system of the Modern Delhi, has opened up easy access to Karol Bagh and Chandni Chawk and Bengali Market. I like the Paronthas of the Paronthawali Gali in Chandni Chowk and the Chat of the Bengali Market. I can see pictures of Jawahar Lal Nehru and Vijaylaxmi Pandit and Indira Gandhi etc on the walls of the Restaurants where they too enjoyed the delicious Panronthas. And Karol Bagh is the Market of all Markets – one can easily spend a whole week, nay a month, nay a life time shopping there. But nothing can beat the price and value of shopping in the Chandni Chowk, built in the times of Shah Jahan in 1650, it has always been the greatest Market of the World.
And after that our next visit will be to the modern wonder of the World – the Akshara Dham—a temple built by the devotees of Bhagvaan Shree Swami Narayan. It is really the best thing in Delhi, if one sees nothing else in Delhi, for a lack of time – this one temple shows everything about the ancient and the Modern India. I can go and see it again and again and again. But, no visit to Delhi is complete without visiting Lutyen’s Connaught Place, the India Gate, the Raj Ghat, the Mogul Gardens at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the National Museum, the Qutab Minar, the Jama Masjid, the Sis Ganj Sahib ji Gurudwara, the Lotus temple, the Jantar Mantar and the restaurants of the Ashoka Hotel.
But for me there is no end to what Delhi can show – it has seen it all and more. And all I can say, I wish you also were with me, so we could together enjoy the Paranthas in the Paranthawali Gali and Chat in the Bengali Market and also visit the Cathedral of The Sacred Heart situated near the Gol Post Office in New Delhi. Father Luke, from Franciscan First Order founded by St. Francis of Assisi, wanted to build a church in Delhi. So, he purchased the land near the Gol Post Office for the purpose. Henry Medd, a collaborator of Sir Edwin Lutyens and the designer of the Church of Redemption for the Anglicans, designed and constructed Sacred Heart Cathedral of Delhi. It is so very beautiful and peaceful. Peace that is the Hall Mark of India and that Delhi has always achieved and welcomed. Teachings of Jesus are preached in the church throughout the year.
Come on join me in my visit to the historical and the oldest and the most modern “Capital of the World” that always welcomes peace and joy – Delhi.