Thursday, December 29, 2011

Dateline Allahabad: my city dusty, pot-holed...bone- and axle-breaker

Belatedly the UP Government seemed to realize it needed to spend some its Central Government outlay, hence the construction of the city-wide sewage system. For those of who might go gasp, argh, what? No city sewage system? Well, none. For a city (the modern version was laid out in British times) of this size the lack of one is surprising; but…ah well! Since April 2010 or perhaps even earlier the various parts of the city have seen roads being dug up and then re-laid, not completely, of course. At one time the Allahabad High Court had to get into the act not that much came out of it. The PW Department and the body that is in charge of the sewage line construction are too weighty in their own might to pay heed to the High Court. The city is covered in dust; trees, plants are layered and while one might wish for rains as that would help the flora get clean one shudders since that same rain may just wash away whole sections of hastily filled road.

One day while this construction juggernaut edged its way into my area of town I saw that majestic ship of the desert and right royally at home it seemed to be.

And why not, cars are bogged down in the dust; commuting time in Allahabad has suddenly tripled and quadrupled. One is never certain if the road one has taken will reach to one’s destination. For more often than not, one has to brake suddenly, reverse and then try to figure out a new way. Of course, the fact that the main city roads are parallel to one another and the radials perpendicular helps.

Dust is not the only outcome of all this digging and construction. Even as I write, about 4 telephone exchanges have been rendered “dead”, my home BSNL phone is deader than a dodo and consequently, the poor DSL/broadband is left high and dry. The digging on the city’s main thoroughfare, the MG Road is responsible for this. Banks, ATMs, institutions, medical colleges, hospitals, and residences, common internet users are all hung out to dry. And what lament does one raise for that famed MG Road or the Civil Lines area that it services: a dusty, pot-holey, shock absorber-breaking lament.

And if this state of affairs weren’t enough, preparations are being made for next year’s Maha Kumbh (Dec’12-Jan’13). Heavy trucks meander their way in and out near the Sangam area and the approach to the new Naini Bridge…ah well; it can’t be called an approach any more. The road, oh I am sorry, there is no road, it is what we know as an ‘ubhar-khabhar’ track, no two 6” across are on the same level. Vehicles traversing that section cant dangerously to one side or the other, overloaded lorries balance their way precariously; I am surprised they haven’t tumbled as yet. I had the unique joy of witnessing, indeed experiencing this section personally. Since my cousin, his wife and kids were down, we brave (maybe foolhardy) souls ventured to visit another cousin based in Naini. Dust enveloped everything, it was not yet dusk, but that heavy cloud of dust made it seem so. And as my cousin navigated the multi-leveled, pot-holed stretch, my sister-in-law’s comment was apt: “had we known it was this bad, we would have never made this plan.”

Walking is an exercise best left alone, for bones are verily in danger of being broken; nicely tarred roads have been replaced by dust-filled, wet-mud pressed tracks. The High Court's injunctions of digging a 100 mt, filling and repairing it have fallen on deaf ears. Once can only wish and hope that sanity returns to this city soon, that this pipe-laying madness will end soon.

But Allahabad is a city in transition and that is not going to end anytime soon. A city known for its bungalows, kothis, wide roads and open spaces today is cluttered, unplanned and chaotic. Most of the bungalows and kothis are either bedeviled by non-occupation or caught up in litigation on possession rights; those that are free have seen their frontages, sides and backs crowded by new construction, multi-storied apartment blocks with more coming up.

Do I sing a dirge for Allahabad as I knew it (I don't seem to be the only one dismayed by the changes, friends, cousins agree: we can't recognize this city any more) or do I hold my breath in the hope that new Allahabad with its constructions, new buildings (albeit, ones built on stilts and absolutely senior citizen unfriendly, let's leave the differently-abled out of this) will rise like a phoenix from the ashes (read: foundations) of the old one. And that somewhere, the unique character of this city will be retained in the rush to have similar looking glass-fronted structures. They do say, "the old order changeth, yielding place to new" and so it is for "change is the only constant", but they never said a word for those that undergo or experience the change. Ah, but human kind rests on hope and so will we....hope of a brighter, cleaner, better developed city that retains its cultural heritage (some buildings too) and character even as it proudly gathers itself up for the march into the 22nd Century.