Patiala, Chandigarh and Delhi are the three cities which I have experienced the most in India. I spent my childhood and went to school in Patiala as well as I got my medical degree there. After Patiala, I go to Chandigarh more often than any other city. I enjoy the natural scenery, particularly the lake and view of mountains in Chandigarh. I frequently go to Delhi because along with modern facilities, it provides a link with the history and I feel a sense of continuity with India’s past. Patiala, even though, not as historical as Delhi, yet it has some link with the history and traditional culture. While Chandigarh is about 50-60 years old, Patiala is about 300-400 years old.
Chandigarh was built as the most modern and organized city. In its quest for modernity, it has gained superficiality and artificiality. Neither Chandigarh’s planning nor its architecture show any deep connection with India or Punjab. I feel that if we take people out of pictures of Chandigarh and show these pictures to people outside India, they will have a hard time recognizing where these pictures were taken.
Chandigarh seems to be constantly striving for being more westernized than the west itself. The latest example is the Elante Mall. A few days ago, I was in the Mall and suddenly there was so much noise that I could not hear anything. Ten girls started dancing and they were joined by many noisy fans. I have been in many malls in North America, Europe and other parts of the world. However, I never saw something like this in any of those malls.
Chandigarh represents the polarization between India and Bharat, brought by the western capitalist model of development. Our limited resources are being used for the development which serves the top 5% of our population. This development brought by the corporate sector focuses on the service industry which caters to the service of top 5%. This includes exclusive malls, restaurants, hostels and gated cities. However, the lower 95% population does not get its proper share. The money which we are using for the service industry can go to develop the much needed infrastructure in the existing cities rather than developing new gated cities. As if Chandigarh has not done it job, we are building a New Chandigarh.
Modernization does not always mean losing your culture or heritage. In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the new city, which has more modern and advanced architecture and infrastructure than Chandigarh, has been able to preserve its culture and heritage.
Delhi has done a little better than Chandigarh in saving its links with the past. Delhi does not lack the modernization of Chandigarh. It has malls, restaurants, fast food chains, gated cities and other relics of the service industry. However, Delhi has been able to preserve the traditional along with the modern. Delhi has old restaurants and vendors who cater to the traditional cooking. These are still very popular. Similarly, along with the new malls, people still like to shop in the narrow streets of old Delhi like in the Chandni Chowk area. A large portion of Delhi’s very expensive land has been saved as historical monuments. People can use them as parks and open spaces in an otherwise very congested city.
Patiala, to some extent has succeeded in maintaining its link with the history, culture and heritage. Patiala has its share of the new development. However, Patiala has been able to preserve the traditional along with the new. There are new malls, yet the old bazaars are still doing fairly well. A very good example of the traditional and the modern existing besides each other can be seen on the Mall road. On one side we see the shoppers rushing to the Omax Mall while on the other side, we see devotees flocking the Kali Devi Temple. There is generally more awareness about history and tradition in Patiala. In the Baradari Garden, one can read signs that this tree or that tree is about 150 years old. Similarly, there are people who are very concerned about preserving the old and historical buildings. Patiala has gained a status of being the cultural hub of Punjab.
In spite of the differences between Chandigarh, Patiala and Delhi, the bitter truth is that the ill effects of the western capitalist model of development in India are neither limited to Chandigarh nor to Punjab. Chandigarh as a city and Punjab as a State are the worst victims of this new model of development. However, no part of India has been able to escape the ill effects of India choosing a wrong model of development. The western capitalist model of development will remain artificial and superficial and will never be able to develop deep roots in India. It can create show pieces and models of development like Chandigarh but they will always lack genuineness. For that India will have to choose an alternate model of development. It should not accept being a second rated capitalist country.
Dr. Sawraj Singh, MD F.I.C.S. is the Chairman of the Washington State Network for Human Rights and Chairman of the Central Washington Coalition for Social Justice. He can be reached at [email protected].