Delhi has been a city, an important one, since 300 B.C. Change isn’t new to it. Yet, in the past 60 years, the biggest change that has happened to the city is outside it—the emergence of the National Capital Region, especially Gurgaon in Haryana.
The two main business districts of New Delhi, Connaught Place and Nehru Place, changed in the late 1990s, with companies in the two areas deciding to move office to Gurgaon, where there was more space to be had at reasonable rates.
Then, in the 2000s, the launch of the Metro, a part-elevated, part-underground rail system, set off another round of urban renewal in the city centre in a city where such renewal had become a way of life.
DELHI AT SIXTY (Graphic)
The first such effort after independence came in 1982 when the city was spruced up and the first flyovers made their appearance as part of the preparation for the Asian Games that the city hosted (the games also heralded the onset of colour television transmission in India).
The biggest change, however, has been cultural. “The atmosphere was so congenial,” says Uma Nandy who moved to the city from Ahmedabad in 1965 withher husband, the social scientist Ashis Nandy. “We lived in a small two-room flat. If somebody knocked on your door, you would just open it, without having to worry. Now I always ask (before opening).”
Today, Delhi is a city of over 13 million people. And it has more cars than the other metros put together. In recent weeks, the city’s Blueline buses have killed an average of one person a day. Shopping complexes have replaced neighbourhood stores; and despite efforts to move commercial establishments out of residential neighbourhoods, Delhi’s city planning is still wanting in several aspects.
That includes power, where, despite the privatization of distribution, the city continues to suffer severe shortages, especially during summer. Water and sewage management, and traffic management and parking are other problem areas.
Old-time residents also speak of how the city has grown. “Even in the 1970s, Connaught Place was the farthest we travelled,” says Tanika Sarkar, a professor of history at Jawaharlal Nehru University who moved to the city in 1974. “Going to see friends in South Delhi was a day-long affair. It was so far away, you didn’t just go for a few hours,” she adds. Today, South Delhi is considered among the best parts of the city to live in—and in a few years from now, people living in any part of the city will be able to travel there in relative comfort—on the Metro.