01 January 1970

Poem: Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg

In 2016, India’s media and publishing industry employed 1.03 million people. By 2021, the number had fallen to 230,000. By 2022, India’s rank of the World Press Freedom Index fell from 133 to 150.

Passport to travel time.
Passport to travel time. Getty Images

Dusk-light retreats from the faces
of discoloured buildings, once home
to truthtellers, hacks. They now roam
elsewhere—scribes, editors. No trace
remains of their scurried labour,
heartbreaks, struggles of deadline hour.
They’ve been swiftly made redundant—
perhaps they are partly to blame:
too deep, too soon, in this game,
too sure of self-righteous rants,
the news people missed the memo:
a new game was afoot, a new show.
Further up: the old Mughal gate
(its roof dripping blood), Tughlaq fort,
cricket stadium, the passport
office, Parsi inn where we ate
fish and buns—on both sides
of the arrow-straight road that divides
the bureaucratic symmetry
of Lutyens’ concentric circles
from chaotic rumble-tumble:
mosque, bazaar, temple—filigree
dreams of a metropolis, capital—
a story on a scroll in a bottle.
First or second drafts of history,
erased by quick propaganda,
bribes, or threats, or random slander—
reason gutted by sophistry.
The crows and pigeons of free speech
circle these ruins, beyond our reach.

Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg is a 1.5-km-long thoroughfare connecting New Delhi, which was designed by British architect Edward Lutyens, and the older Mughal city of Shahjahanabad, known popularly as Old Delhi. It was the home of major Indian newspapers and known as India’s Fleet Street.

(Uttaran Das Gupta is a New Delhi-based writer and journalist. He has published a book of poems (Visceral Metropolis, 2017) and a novel (Ritual, 2020). He teaches journalism at O P Jindal Global University, Sonipat.)