By Shefali Parashar:
I was 7 when I first visited Pragati Maidan in Delhi and was mesmerised by its open spaces. To be fair, at that age you could be mesmerised by pretty much anything. Like a typical 90s kid, I did not have access to air conditioned malls and high ceilings. From the perspective of a child living in the middle class neighbourhoods of Delhi, open spaces with wide roads to run on, meant a lot. Fond memories of going to picnic at Trade Fair with family still tingle my nostalgic senses and I am reminded of that perfect world.
Years have passed, and our family trips to IITF and book fairs have reduced in frequency. I see Pragati Maidan from the metro and still manage an absent minded smile. I still reminisce about the Zoo, Pragati Maidan and Appu Ghar as our traditional Sunday outings.
But now, with the proposal by India Trade Promotion Organization for a makeover, Pragati Maidan might face the demolition of an iconic structure – Hall of Nations – along with many other pavilions. To provide context, the Pragati Maidan complex was built in 1972 to commemorate 25 years of India’s independence. It was supposed to “reflect symbolically and technologically, India’s intermediate technology in the 25th year of its independence.” Exhibitions were held, stamps were printed; it was all a grand affair. It meant a lot in that particular decade – the 70s, to show the world that India was embracing modernism- that India could create marvels with its limited resources. For a country that had been proud of its historic architecture, it was time to create a new heritage. Architect Raj Rewal had created a masterpiece.
I have grown up in this city with a constant sense of nostalgia, drooling over its aesthetic aspects. Agreed that memories are relative, but the development authorities seem to take none of these emotions in account while planning out expansions. Yes, we are a growing city, we need space, and we need change. But what about my childhood memories? I am in love with my city’s heritage. Surprisingly, this heritage is not just limited to the ancient monuments like Qutab Minar or Red Fort. When I go out of town, I miss my city in the small things that are not ‘old enough’ to be considered heritage. I find my city in the Metro Stations, the yellow and green autos, the DTC buses and what not. Just because these were not built by an emperor, they don’t deserve to be called ‘heritage’?
Change is inevitable. But imagine returning years later only to see your city’s landmarks changed into something else.
I understand that previous generations saw forest land being cleared for development. We are seeing buildings being demolished for new buildings. The need is growing; land is limited. May be I am getting too emotional over just a building. It’s only a building for crying out loud! So what if I spent my childhood years visiting it? So what if it’s going to be torn down for an even better version? I might or might not just start loving that one as much as I loved this. It was a building that wasn’t even open for the public for most part of the year. Then why am I so sentimental?
Maybe 40 years are not enough for a building to be referred to as heritage. But are we letting it live long enough for that to happen? History, even 40-year-old history, reminds us what our past was like. Long-standing structures give a sense of stability and continuity. My outrage perhaps is because by losing that structure, I might be losing a part of my past in Delhi. I might be losing a part of my childhood. Yesterday, it was Appu Ghar. Today, it’s Pragati Maidan. Tomorrow, who knows, it might be any place- someone else’s childhood being torn down for ‘a better version’.
Creating new, without harming the old. Is it really possible?
I urge you not to let Hall of Nations die a silent death, and to join this efforts in protecting Delhi’s modern heritage and identity, and ensuring that it is put to use for general public by signing the petition here.