Editor : Satish Ohri    Edition : February 2017

Reshaping New Delhi

New Delhi had not got its full shape of a complete city. The British created seat of administration, few palaces and clerks quarters and rested before they left. It was perhaps a political city they set up. Or maybe they did not get opportunity to create the cultural hub that symbolized a thriving society. Moreover since they led a very exclusive living and never mingled or encouraged common aspirations, this aspect was never considered while planning the capital. If there were captions of schools, post offices and police stations on the maps, there was no inking of art centers. But this changed after independence. Till mid-fifties one did not find auditoriums meant for theatrical presentations. Vigyan Bhawan was still not made and staid government functions were held at the National Physical Laboratory auditorium at Pusa institute. The outdoor activities were held in the Amphitheatre at Irwin Stadium or Talkatora open air facilities. They were still considered far and out of easy reach. Sapru House on the desolated Barakhamba was the only place where theatrical and cinematic presentations were organized. There are instances where Schools, Messy Hall and Shah Auditorium near Ludlow Castle were utilized for public presentations. Even the British while planning and auctioning the area in 1936 had kept plots of land around Barakhamba circle unmarked. The cultural landslide one witnesses was the decision of Jawaharlal Nehru who initiated and turned the area into a creative hub. This was perhaps selected as a convenient spot for those coming from old Delhi and linked well with bus service that invariably culminated at daftar or Central Secretariat or Patel Nagar the farthest bus terminus then. Life around the area was much patterned, sparse and placid which suited creative thumping and erudite intellectuals. The quietude and stillness heightened the ambience with tree lined wide roads breeding aestheticism and capacity to cultivate arts. It enthused as ideal location for promoting cerebral churning. The performing culture of Delhi was getting accustomed to the Barakhamba circle. Most of AIR artists were allotted accommodation in the vicinal residential quarters and that further gave fillip to cultural coddling. Somehow it got fancy with burgeoning artists and those vaunting expression and adroitness made the Barakhamba, a circle of arts. Old timers recall congregation of poets at Firozeshah Road or even in the lawns of Sapru House embodied it as artist's nerve center. Mushairas or poetic symposiums and classic music expositions in tented grounds at Modern School during the period hallmarked as great creative expression asseverated it ideal for such activities.

Soon one heard eminent architect Ram Rehman commissioned to create edifices that still make roads proud. The Rabindra Bhawan, Sri Ram Centre and other buildings added dignity to surroundings. The Bahawalpur House was converted into National School of Drama and CCRT. Raja of Mandi gifted his palatial building to upcoming Doordarshan and completed the circle of art houses. Sapru House besides holding state functions would turn into a Cinema theatre on the weekends. Children Film Society, then very actively producing quality films would screen to packed houses here. With 25 paisa ticket parents dropped their kids or some even accompanied them for simple stories that were mostly produced by veteran Kedar Sharma. Haria, Gulab ka Phool, Jaldeep, Char Dost are the films one recalls that became part of school essays. Dilli ki Kahani was another popular film which had Jawaharlal Nehru surrounded by children narrated the history of Delhi … These films would also be screened in schools on demand. The Queensway was dotted with wooden and prefabricated board structures. These were the military hutments or camps that continued even after the World War II and these remnants were spread all over the Connaught Place and lanes that connected the major roads. It was a vast build up on the Queensway where Tel Bhawan or the much frequented DePaul's Coffee outlet now exists, there used to be the Films Division Auditorium ... This place infact was used by the Allied forces till 1945 for their communication activities got converted into a Film auditorium after independence. Here too, we were part of many excited youngsters who paid 25 paisa for 'half-ticket' every week to see documentaries made on Bhakhra Nangal, Hirakud, Irrigation, Good society and the popular Indian News Review. These documentaries mapping Five Year plans and a growing society were visual treat and infused hope for better future. People waited for INRs that added cinematic charms to the news read the entire week in print. Visits by foreign dignitaries and sports round up interested most since there was no television then. It amazes now how audience applauded documentaries that detailed efforts in agriculture, industrialization and Nehru's ideology of Panchsheel. During the Chinese invasion in 1962, Films Division produced two patriotic songs Hum ek hain andWatan ki aabroo that were used by the Government to mobilize funds for National Defense were first screened here before the leaders. They were later screened at every cinema theatre and open grounds by mobile vans to instill patriotic fervor. Both songs sung by Mohd Rafi and enacted by top film personalities became instant hits. ... This was the phase Nehruvian policies were getting shaped and nation sewed up with hope. The vast open space where red stoned Air India building stands now was nothing but another capacious open muddy ground used by Harley Davidson phut phuts and Auto rickshaws parked whole day. One could even count heads on the Parliament Street from Scindia House picture the unhindered openness of area ! Right across the road were intricate structures of war camps that for long were called Theatre Communication Building as American army had converted that into a Centre during the war. These single storey blocks were now taken over by NGOs, Progressive Writers units, Editors Guild, Communist Party office with hammer and sickle hanging at the entrance. There were many State Governments selling their products. Easily recall Orissa, Tripura, West Bengal and Punjab outlets with Phulkari covering every window. A Post Office nearby gave picture-card look made it a romantic halt with the adjoining tea vendor adding charm to a sunless wintry afternoon. This was demolished to make way for Palika Bazar during the 'emergency'. Sapru House soon assumed the mantle for promoting dramas and musical presentations besides its usual functions. It even held the National Film Awards before Vigyan Bhawan came into being. Seeing cultural cavalcade getting frequent DTS augmented its bus services for routes no. 8A, 9, 9A, 4, 21 and 10 that touched Sapru House. A Tonga Stand was permitted on the Bazar Road now called Tansen Marg to facilitate commuters. One remembers a Cycle stand that made appearance. The late fifties also saw new construction around Barakhamba circle. The move to allot all available space to culture and theatre related activities gave impetus to arts.

There was Three Arts Club where Romesh Mehta produced plays that were both classics and popular. It set the tone of theatre that was pursued since 1943. Amongst his many productions Under Secretary, Dhong, Hamara Gaon is the ones that are still staged. All India Radio once requested Ramesh Mehta to stage his play 'Hamara Gaon' in their open premises and relayed it simultaneously from all of its transmitters. Doordarshan too while experimenting transmission at the Exhibition Ground in 1956 requested Ramesh Mehta to stage his play 'Dhong' which was telecast live on the Television sets installed on all sides of the ground. That could perhaps be termed the first Live telecast ever made … Post independent Delhi added Punjabi flavor in entertainment that was loud and entendred. Sapru House as venue brought Halwa Sooji da, Chaska Dooji da and Budhi Ghori Laal Lagaam a typical Dada Konkane styled theatre that catered to the new milieu of refugee Punjabis but it did help in creating awareness for good theatre also. It nevertheless gave support to many serious supporters in business and Delhi knocking hard for cultural emancipation got reshaped encompassing whole range of arts and dramatics. New Delhi that got opened on February 15, 1931 was competed with setting up of art centers making it cosmopolis and ecumenical.

–Vinod Kapoor
All copyrights with Author
Writer earlier with Doordarshan & AIR
Email: vinodkapoor555@yahoo.com

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