The Spirit of Delhi: Tales Untold

Posted on January 15, 2012

By Sushmitha Krishnamoorthy:

Traffic intersections in Delhi, especially those with free left turns have peculiar triangular, raised platforms, which divide the crossroads. (I am trying my best to describe them, but that’s the best picture I could find.)

They have been here for as long as I can remember. And only here; I haven’t noticed them in any other Indian city. For all the years they’ve been around, I had never wondered why these divisions were so elaborate and capacious.

What is peculiar about this platform is that it seems to have no real function. They only seem to occupy space in India’s city of migrants. Space, which if put together, could have accommodated another mall with all kinds of heard and unheard of brands, multiplexes, fast food chains and clubs. Even if not put to such glamorous, economically rewarding use, real estate companies could utilize every inch of land in, around and even far away from the city in constructing everyone’s “dream apartment home”. But no, any purpose these platforms ever serve is as feeding ground for the city’s innumerable pigeon. We let the pigeon peck away this valuable space along with the grain strewn on it.

So I thought, till one enlightening day. On an early summer morning, I set out of my home, in search of an auto. I found one instantly, to my relief. Though the driver of the auto, requested me to wait for a few minutes before he would drive me to my destination. I waited and watched, puzzled. He pulled out a large bottle of water and a plastic container which made a shuffling sound as he carried it. Adding onto my bewilderment, he walked towards one of the concrete platforms in the middle of the road. The pigeon frivolling there, probably as alarmed as I was, flew up into the sky, in circles. The man reached to a generous earthen vessel on the platform and emptied the bottle of water into it. Then he opened the plastic container, grabbed a handful of its contents and strew it across the platform. It was grain: bird feed. When he had strewn all the grain, he walked to the auto and signaled me that we’d get going. The birds, now spiralled back to their platform and once again, pecked away.

It struck me like a light bulb does when a cartoon character gets an idea. Every day, somebody had to be feeding the pigeon their grain! It obviously wasn’t appearing magically. One would assume that the person, who spares the food from his own plate for mute creatures, lived a life of enough comfort. But no, this auto-driver, perhaps a migrant himself, might make only enough money to make ends meet. This concrete platform didn’t only “occupy space”. It symbolizes the very spirit of Delhi. It promises striving men and women life, and a better standard of it. Its migrants, in their own subtle ways, repay the city for its generosity. This maybe true of most large cities of the world. What is special about Delhi is its expression of this diversity. Really, where else does a banal concrete platform embody something so deep?

Now every time I across one such platform, I realize more and more of its significance. Not only pigeon, but even dogs feed off the left over rotis there. Even more remarkable is that the pigeon and dogs sometimes share this food! Now this platform also reminds me of harmony at the most primitive level. Another evening, I observed that some of the more spacious platforms under flyovers function as night shelters for the homeless of our city. The platform is some solace for the needy, however minuscule. I am not sure if this something to be proud of. However, it sure proves that the platforms, which were only meant to be medians of the roads, tell us several exclusive, untold tales of this city like no mall ever can.

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