Tuesday, November 30, 2004
The first time I saw India Gate, I felt like a tourist.
All I needed was a pair of bermuda shorts, a camera around my neck, a bright Hawaiian shirt, dark glasses, a cloth cap and Japanese blood flowing through my veins to make the transformation complete.
I was in an auto rickshaw, and as the rick crossed Rajpath, I was jumping from one side of the rick to the other, anxious not to miss a glimpse of either the Gate on the left, or the imposing dome of Rashtrapati Bhavan as it reared its mighty head above the road on the right. Quite difficult, as I'm sure you can imagine. And of course, that provided my trusty rick driver all the ammunition he needed to classify me as Target No 1, to inflate the fare when I arrived at my destination.
I visited the Gate for a closer look much, much later - just a week or so before my stay in Delhi drew to its end. I went there with a friend, in the late afternoon, and we walked down Rajpath leisurely, sans any cloth caps but with surplus sun glasses (her branded Ralph Lauren and my Rs 100 Janpath specimen), and clicked pictures of that massive archway from practically every conceivable angle. I narrated to my friend how I always confused the Gate with that distant cousin, the Gateway of India in Bombay, and how I was sure I would never confuse the two therafter. O I knew its history well enough - the commemmoration of the Indian soldiers lost in Mesopotamia and Europe and Asia and God knows where else, and the tomb of the Unknown Soldier - but, no, it's more of a name thing, the confusion. It's more of a personal jinx.
I finally got a chance to examine the Gateway up close and personal, when I landed here in Bombay, about a month or so back. And of course, the very first thing my personal jinx compelled me to do was to search for differences between the Gate and the Gateway. There is the architectural style, first and foremost. What the history books call the Indo-Saracen style, and what I somehow identified in my demented head with the Char Minar (which is not at ALL Indo-Saracen from any angle, by the way!) ... The fact that it stood out against the ocean, the fact that it stood straight before that modern Taj Mahal, the fact that pigeons and doves and sparrows flutter unceasingly in a cliched cameo before its archway, the fact that it was built not to commemmorate the deaths of any hapless soldiers but as a paean to Imperialism (bless good King George!)... and many other things that fly in the face of personal jinxes.
For, despite my cool, quiet appreciation of architecture, and despite my artistic jotting down of distinctions and USPs, I have had to change 'Gate' to Gateway', and 'Gateway' to 'Gate', everywhere in this piece just now.
Moral of the story: never underestimate the power of a jinx. Or the mind of a romantic tourist.
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