March 30, 2020
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Capital Sins

Capital Sins
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Unlike other towns and cities that grow organically from the earth around them, Chandigarh is the only city in India that has a beginning, middle and an end. When the Shatabdi steams into the station, you get no idea of Corbusier's distinctive architecture, for the station is miles from the city. Outside it, remarkably free of the signature odour of the Indian Railways (human excreta and phenyl), one gets a whiff of the city's power structure: the car parks are neatly segregated into sarkari and non-sarkari lots. Chandigarh continues to accommodate three governments—Punjab, Haryana and the Union Territory of Chandigarh—and the Shatabdi revenues flow largely from the official to-ing and fro-ing between Delhi and the city.

Chandigarh's population is overwhelmingly composed of serving and retired bureaucrats, lawyers and judges. Its papers are full of sarkari gossip—and who can deny that its bureaucrats routinely provide exciting copy! The morning we arrived, the local Indian Express carried an interview with a bureaucrat who had been recently arrested, presumably for thinly disguised political reasons. The venerable Tribune has changed little from the time it was first published over a century ago, and it is possible to still see local girls' collegians doing a gidda at their annual day as the lead picture. The inside pages are delightfully mofussil—transfers and postings, chauthas and uthalas, news snippets of local personages and sarkari tender notices. It is as if the world outside the golden triangle of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh does not exist. Such an ingrown society naturally has some interesting traits. Thus, Chandigarh's obsession with its beauty is almost narcissistic and visible at many levels—its manicured gardens, its clean bungalows and its tamed landscape. Also in its beautifully dressed matrons and young girls and boys and its markets that have more clothes and shoe shops than any other city I know. Events such as weddings are occasions for serious dressing up and the flowers and food offer a breathtaking choice.

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