Think Delhi and one immediately conjures the images of the regality of the Old Delhi and the Grandeur of the Lutyen's Delhi. But there lies another Delhi, a less romantic Delhi. This Delhi has been largely ignored by those who write about Delhi and those who tour Delhi. This Delhi does not have grand buildings but almost mass produced, identical, dull yellow colored houses, the people who live here are not royals but the proverbial Nine to Fivers. This is the “Government Delhi”, the government colonies, the likes of Sarojini Nagar, RK Purum, and Lodhi Road etc.
I was born in the year 1979 in the Government Colony of Sarojini Nagar (or SN as it is called now) and lived there till 2000. Sarojini Nagar is a colony for Junior Officers of Government of India in South Delhi and in this post and few others to follow I have tried to relive my childhood and also give you the first hand account of how the life used to be in “Government Delhi” around fifteen to twenty years back.
Like most of the government colonies built immediately post Independence, Sarojini Nagar is well laid out colony with houses on the either side of a lawn. Life in Sarojini Nagar revolved around this lawn which was called “Ground” by the younger generation and sker (Punjabi Pronunciation for square) by the old timer’s .During my growing up days; this square was used of variety of purposes. The most common was of course as a playground for Cricket, Football, Badminton, Hockey and also Indian homegrown games like Pittho , Pala, Unch Neech ka Papada( more on these later) among others. The other uses were that during the summer, the residents used to put out folding beds or Charpies in the night so that the families could sleep out in the open. With one bedroom flats ( I am tempted to call them apartments but somehow apartment and Sarojini Nagar does not go hand in hand. Quarters is what we used to call them and I think I will upgrade them to flats in my post), Coolers being a luxury and air conditioners unheard of, this was a perfect solution for a good night sleep. This also gave the kids opportunity to play out as late in the night as we wanted to. However, this concept of sleeping outside was pretty much over after the 1984 Riots of Delhi. Another very important use was in case of any big party (the only big party that people threw in those days was marriage) one used to put a tent or a shamina and voila you had a perfect setting for a marriage. No need to book expensive banquet halls and hotels. Although, 2 Banquet halls were available within half a km radius at a much discounted rates for Government employees. There were other ancillary usage as well, you could put all your furniture out in the open in case you were painting your house rather than keep re arranging and moving them inside the house, during Karva Chauth( Hindu festival observed by the wives for the long life of their husbands) the women folks could sit comfortable in the circular row and rotate plates or Thalis. Of course this was also the place where Aunties could gather and walk from one end of the square to another in their nighties till it was time to cook Dinner or till their husbands or kids shouted for them. You see, this square was just an extension of the house, where the aunties could stroll in their nighties; the uncles could come out and chat in their lungies and vests, where the small kids just came out running, full monty!
These days of course the square is used for car parking purposes with each house having at least one car each. In those days, parking was not such a big problem. Only Mr Badhwar had a car ( a fiat) .Most of the folks had Bajaj Chetak scooters, with the exception of my father who had a scooter named “Girnar”. Till date I have not seen the second scooter of the same brand.
The houses in Sarojini Nagar had a small courtyard in the front, a small drawing room, a verandah, a toilet with Indian seat and a huge bathroom (trust me the size of bathroom can give complex to some of the penthouse in Gurgoan), one bedroom and a backyard. The one on the first floor also had the same specification, but instead of Courtyard they had a balcony and instead of backyard they had a terrace. Pretty much everything you needed was available within a kilometer radius-Schools, Clinic, Markets, Bus Stop, Theater, Hospital and really you need not move out within that Km radius for the rest of your lives if you didn’t want to and still you would still have everything you need.
The concept of “private space” and “privacy” was largely unheard of. Your Neighborhood Aunty had all the right to lecture you if one did not perform in the exams, the uncle could slap you on the middle of the road if he saw you smoking. The Somaiya Aunty always sent fresh Idli’s on Sunday Morning and filter coffee in the evening whenever she saw me studying in backyard. Mahajan Uncle who stayed opposite us was always a door bell away in case of any math or a science problem being a University Gold Medalist. If you were getting bored, you could just walk into the neighbor’s house for a chat not really caring that they could be doing something else and not really looking forward to your company. Privacy was really an unheard concept, after all what’s private between neighbors.
Now you could assume that such close proximity is a perfect setting for a budding romance, but in reality it was quiet different. The immediate neighbors, whether you like it or not were brothers and sisters by default much to the disappointment of the guys of the colony at least! But of course the option was open to try your luck at the residents of neighboring square. However most of the romance I witnessed was one sided, with the guy watching every move of girl eyes and the girl having no inclination of the intentions of “Manu Bhaiya”( Brother Manu). Invariably, the “Manu Bhaiya” ended up setting the chairs up in the Shamiyana( Tents put up for marriage ceremony) of the marriage of the girl!
Another very common concept in the middles class colonies of Sarojini Nagar and other government colonies was the concept of Pet Name. Invariably every kid had a pet name and most of the times his real name was not known to most of the people in the colony. Sonu, Monu, Manu, Golu, Mintu were probably the most common pet name in Sarojini Nagar and in case you went and shouted Sonu outside any of the squares rest assured at lest 3 kids will walk out. So there were always “Bada” Sonu( Elder Sonu) and “Chota” Sonu ( Younger Sonu)or “615 wala” sonu( Sonu staying in house number 615) and “720” wala sonu( Sonu staying in hopuse number 720). We even had Ganja( Bald Guy) and Takli( Bald Girl) in our Colony, named so because their mother was half bald. Before you criticize us for being in- sensitive I want to let you know that even their parents called them with the same names!