The first time I came to India, I arrived, like most visitors from the US, in the middle of the night. So it wasn’t until early next morning, driving through Gurgaon into the city along the Mehrauli-Gurgaon Road, that I got to see something of the country.
It was terrifying: Buildings looked like they had recently been bombed; piles of rubble littered roadsides; light fixtures looked as if they had been pulled out of their sockets. Devastation and destruction were all I could see.
I asked the taxi driver what the recent violence had been all about. How had I not heard of bombs exploding in the Indian Capital? What war had I missed?
(Illustration by: Jayachandran / Mint)
“Oh, no, ma’am,” came the polite response, “It’s just sealing.”
I quickly learnt all about the odd twists of logic that led the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, or MCD, to reduce to rubble the city’s famous shopping street, known for its furniture and designer stores, but at the time I couldn’t comprehend why on earth the government preferred what looked like a war on a row of shops.
I’m still not sure I entirely understand the logic, but just when I was getting used to entertaining myself on the ride to Gurgaon with bets on how long the half-destroyed buildings would stay up, the MCD reversed its decision. The furniture shops are slowly springing up again.
You still have to climb over potholes and broken sidewalks to get to the shops, but isn’t that what you do almost everywhere in Delhi? And, though the facades of the malls still have broken windows and cracked pillars, stores such as Viya, Living Spaces, Muse Design and Muslin have reopened their swank showrooms, luxury oozing out of them. After the sealing, these high-end shops were left scrambling to find new showrooms, and most had to make do with either Gurgaon or small spaces scraped together in Defence Colony. Most shopkeepers seem happy to be back: “We always knew we could come back, we just didn’t know when,” said one of them. The occasional grumble (an old one, actually) can also be heard: “Sainik Farms is right here. Do they seal that? No, because the minister’s secretary lives there,” says another.
For the smaller shops, the move was a bit more painstaking. Unable to come up with enough money to open a second location, Deepak Kumar, who owned a furniture shop, had to close for the entire sealing period. He says many of his neighbours, the small street- front stores selling wooden furniture, lost the waiting game and couldn’t find the money to reopen. But other shops, such as Take Me Home, were waiting in the wings to open in the vacated spaces. Owner Sanjeev Anand was happy to open a second store there, despite the threat that they may be sealed again in December. “I don’t think the MCD will come back. It has happened once, they won’t commit the same mistake again,” he says.
Hopefully. Even with all the billboards and the sidewalks, MG Road looks much better now than the “war-torn” country I arrived in.