Wednesday, June 15, 2005

So once, on a Delhi road...

I saw a sign. It was writ large across an expanse of concrete, such as I knew to be a flyover. However, the sign informed me that I was driving under what was, as such, an Upargami Setu. Not, as my autowala (considerably more sensibly than the namers-that-be, it would seem) would have it, a 'pul' (a pul, you see, is a bridge). As in the eternal autowala question in post-Shiela-aunty's flyover-building-spree Dilli, 'Bhaisaab, pul ke upar se ya neeche se'?

No, those in charge of translating the fairly pedestrian (sic) word flyover were not satisfied with something as prosaic as pul. After all, there were already 'bridges' over the river. That, perhaps, is what they were thinking. But whatever their train of thought, it led inexorably (at least I prefer to imagine a certain unshakable certitude about the process) to an Upargami Setu. Come to think of it, the term has a certain something about it. A grandeur. No, a hauteur.

Certainly, it seems to strive for upward mobility in a way that plain-ol' 'pul' could never do. And that is perhaps quite in tune with the mood of a city striving by the day to escape the dusty plain where it finds itself parked. What else, after all, is one to make of the mushrooming - in a place which, if one were to reverse-translate, is called 'Sugar Village' - of apartment blocks with names such as 'Beverly Place' or 'Richmond Square'? Or 'Hamilton Heights'? My favourite ad for one of these tony new escapes from relative chaos into pristine verdure (only barely, for one must negotiate quite a lot of classic desi chaos on the way to one's little piece of West LA) referred repeatedly, in tones of ever-increasing astonishment, to 'Floors from Italy! Kitchens from Germany!! Bathrooms from LA!!!' and so on. As my father put it somewhat pithily, pity the neighbours will still be from Lajpat Nagar Phase III.

So, what's in a name? Try this next time you're in an auto: 'Bhaisaab, Upargami setu ke neeche se left'. Meanwhile, I am off to negotiate the honking and the fumes, for some Evergreen ka chaat. On the way, I will pass under some U.Setus, and drive over some of them. I'll ignore the kids begging at the lights; consider buying a gajra from one of them; wonder where the lady who sold agarbattis at the Sheikh Sarai flyover has disappeared, and so on and so forth. More tales of the city will follow: tales of this and other cities. Lots of pointless discussion of my pet peeves, rants about the latest media report to get my goat, and possibly lots of other random things I feel the need to vent about. In the meanwhile, the bus conductors continue to yell out their chant of 'South Aaax, Safdarjang, Maaadical!'. Welcome aboard.


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