Monday, March 23, 2009

The town of Chandigarh

I have always maintained this. Unfortunately my wife is from Chandigarh and she does not like me saying so. I was therefore delighted when I first read the following in the book Himalaya by Michael Palin (Check out my review of Himalaya).

Chandigarh seems to consist mainly of roundabouts. Beautiful, well-kept, florally abundant roundabouts, sending the traffic spinning from one to another like some endless Scottish reel.

Verdant avenues of peepul, ashoka and mango trees connect this gently swirling system, leading, presumably, to a city of substance, for Chandigarh is the capital of two states, Punjab and Haryana. I say presumably, because in our short stay here it is difficult to see much beyond the roundabouts and dead-straight, repetitive avenues.

What I do see reminds me of Islamabad. Both are post-Independence cities, built in a self-consciously modern style to replace the architecture of the Raj with something new and fresh, and more in keeping with what Nehru called 'the nation's faith in the future'. Both are discrete, tidy and a little cheerless.

At least Chandigarh secured the services of the top man. Swiss architect Le Conbusier designed the grid-plan layout and the boxy, modular buildings in concrete and red brick that can be glimpsed every now and then between the trees.

When I enquire what sort of person lives in this mecca of modernism I'm told that it's mostly wealthy Punjabi farmers approaching retirement.

My local informant summed up Chandigarh as 'a town of white beard and green hedges'. And sadly I'm not here long enough to disprove it.

"Rubbish!" Did I hear someone say 'rubbish'? Come on! Defend your town!

Meanwhile, I brace myself to face my wife tonight.

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