Ode to Kelibagh Road

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 02 Aug 2018 09:47:49



Vijay Phanshikar,

Modernity is one condition human societies have often sought -- as an elevation, or departure, from the outdated or the outmoded to something current, something belonging to future. All cities around the world have continued to show a tendency to seek modernity in the sense of betterment. And as this pursuit goes on, another undesirable tendency does crop up. It shows an unnecessary disdain for the old in favour of the new.

And this is often supported by many as a matter of their faith that everything that is old has to be discarded, destroyed, demolished ...! And the people who belong to this school do not seem to realise the emotional angle that actually makes the human race stand apart from the rest of the living universe. There is never any doubt that the world often shows tendency to move away from the old toward the new. In that pursuit, a lot of things get done thoughtlessly. The story of the Kelibagh Road in Mahal seems to belong to that category -- of senseless and ruthless demolition of whatever is old in favour of whatever is new.

After years of legal battle and social resistance and political machinations, the Kelibagh Road saw itself under the ruthless heels of the so-called modernism. All the courts ruled, though through lots of oscillations and back-and-forth in administrative, legal and social activity, that the Kelibagh Road must be widened. And so, on the morning of Wednesday, that is August 1, 2018, the demolition squad of the civic authorities moved in those yellow monsters under whose booms nothing can remain intact.

In almost no time, countless shops and establishments on the Kelibagh Road were razed to the ground, on Day One of the campaign. On Thursday, August 2, 2018, more demolitions will take place. Perhaps by evening, the entire length of Kelibagh Road -- from the Badkas Chowk (Bachcharaj Vyas Chowk) to the Kotwali Police Station or Gokhale Kirana Store -- will be cleared of all the old structures. And all this will happen under the orders of the honourable Supreme Court.

Naturally, there should be no complaint since this point has arrived after years and years of complex activities. So, nobody can have anything more to say, anything more to complain about, anything to crib and cry about. The good, old Kelibagh Road, thus, took a major step towards modernity. Wow! Yet, as a die-hard Nagpurian whose love affair with the city has been going on for a lifetime, I have an issue. Of course, I cannot do a damn about it. I cannot reverse the change now. I do not wish to do anything like that as well. Yet I have an issue, and I have a right and an obligation to my beloved Nagpur to put across for the thought-process about future.

I have a simple question to ask, with due deference to the legal process, of course: Who was losing what if the Kelibagh Road was not to be widened to 24 meters? As a boy born and brought up in Nagpur, I remember Kelibagh Road as a crowded market that served the needs of the people very effectively and very affordably. And the place had its own charm so to say. There was certain warmth about the Kelibagh Road, certain sense of huddle, certain feel of a terrific social togetherness, a very fond sense of people’s own market. Everybody had made peace with Kelibagh Road’s crowds and its hustle and bustle throughout the day and well into the night.

True, the congestion on Kelibagh Road did hurt to an extent. So, that problem could have been dealt with differently, without having to go for a full-scale demolition of age-old shops and establishments. A little order, too, could have been injected into the place to make it better. Nothing, of course, can be done about it now. Yet, I do feel deeply and silently pained to see Kelibagh Road lose its presence almost overnight.

Old-timers will certainly remember the coziness, the charm of Kelibagh Road, I am sure. They will also remember those good, old days when they just sauntered along Kelibagh Road to make easy and cosy purchases. Despite my support to modernisation of a city, my heart aches silently within itself in a tribute to what the good, old Kelibagh Road represented.

Let us not miss one global reality -- that most cities do have such segments in which congestion does not obliterate the urban situation. Such roads and streets are almost everywhere, including in Mumbai and New Delhi and Kolkata and Chennai and Jaipur and Bhopal and London and New York and Istanbul and Tokyo ...! As the cities seek modernity, they do make adjustments with their own old
personae. In many cases, they demolish the old and seek the new. Yet, in most such cities, Kelibagh Roads do exist honourably, though with some modern touches, some cosmetic cover-ups so that the looks assume certain sense of being modern, certain smartness, certain elimination of crudeness.

In fact, Kelibagh Roads universally add a warm and cosy dimension to urban living. For, necessarily, such places keep the community’s connect with the past intact, maintain its link with its former self.
Of course, in Nagpur, an unfortunate tribe of some pseudo-modernists has grown big. This tribe believes in making tall and often frutiless claims to modernity. So, they announce projects that they pompously call London Street or Orange City Street. The people of this tribe also announce all of sudden in public meetings that they construct modern, multi-storey, air-conditioned markets to replace the good, old traditional market just because they do not like the very look of those wonderful, cosy tents under which a successful commerce has gone on for generations.

There is a reason to suspect that the demolitions along the Kelibagh Road represent the dreams of some modernists who have messed up ideas about their city. Perhaps, they are also the people who wish to convert Nagpur into a Shanghai or a Parish or a Copenhagen ...!
As a die-hard Nagpurian, all I can do is to grieve and grimace as Kelibagh Road loses all its old-world charm -- by Thursday evening.

But then, to those who have led to the demolition along the Kelibagh Road, I have one poser:
When are you going to pull down the fly-over in front of the Railway Station, the monster that has never had any business being there in the first place?