“Hari Jhadiyan te Chitti Daadiyan!”
(Green bushes and white beards)
This is the popular Punjabi couplet often used to humorously describe the city of Chandigarh – very aptly capturing in these five words, the essence of the city and its people.
My paternal grandparents moved to Chandigarh in Punjab back in the 1950s when my father was barely four or five years of age. The work of French-Swiss architect Le Corbusier in planning and designing the layout of the city in 1947 (post- independence) is undoubtedly a unique and internationally acclaimed masterpiece – in tandem with the then prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. The ‘City Beautiful’ as it is so aptly called, with a population of approximately 2 million (covering the tri-city area that also include Mohali and Panchkula), the capital of both Haryana and Punjab post-partition, is mostly inhabited by working or retired government officials. It is also often called the ‘Pensioner’s Paradise’.
Chandigarh, unlike many other cities offers both the bustle of a busy city life and also a relaxed ‘weekend getaway’ experience all rolled into one. In today’s hectic ‘9 to 9’ work life, it is a luxury to be able to live in a city that is both modern, progressive and well on its way to rapid development, but also helps you to recharge your batteries peacefully without feeling the need to leave the city to do so. From the sprawling green golf course to the peaceful walk or cycle ride by the Sukhna lake with my friends, from the bustling shops , malls, parks and gardens to the many sports complexes, Chandigarh caters to every generation – from the retired ‘chitti daadiyan’ to the ‘millenials’ of today.
Nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas, the city is a backpacker’s hub for visitors that transit through here to visit the many popular hill stations located just a short drive away. The attraction for most of them is the same – ‘It’s like we can sleep more, rest more and still be very active in and around Chandigarh.’ I couldn’t agree more. Growing up in a joint family, most of our summer holidays were spent in our flat up in Shimla and even today, a weekend getaway to Kasauli – the quaint cantonment town in the state of Himachal Pradesh is quite a regular feat for the family. The many hill stations in close proximity to Chandigarh make it the ideal pit stop for mountain lovers.
And in which other city in India will you see a forest, a lake and the hills poised almost in a triangle so close together?
Chandigarh is also home to the late Mr. Nek Chand and his very unique and wonderful creation – The Rock Garden that eventually conferred him with the prestigious Padma Shree award. It was in my childhood that I last visited the Rock Garden but even today it stays with me as an extraordinary masterpiece- from a simple man with simple beginnings. It has been estimated that more than 2.5 lakh people flock to this garden each year. Today his work is internationally recognized and he is a revered artist, even posthumously.
As it is famously said, one can only truly appreciate the value of something or someone when one is distanced from it. It was when I moved to Delhi – the first time ever that I was going to be living away from home – that the true value of what I was missing began to creep up on me. Inevitably, a comparison starts to take shape and adjusting to life in a big, crowded, polluted and unstructured city was a tough pill to swallow initially for someone coming from a smaller, cleaner, greener and ‘orderly’ town. A city where getting from point A to B was a five or ten minute drive unlike the hours spent on a road in a big city like Delhi today.
It is no wonder then that the city was declared the cleanest in India in a 2010 government study, also being the first smoke-free city in India. It was here that I learnt to drive and even today it is a pleasure to drive on these wide and well maintained roads.
For me, the beautifully maintained roundabouts poised between sectors are another feature that make the city stand out. With impeccably designed landscaping, the roundabouts stand much like the guard at the helm of a parade, leading their team forward with pride and purpose.
Being an internationally acclaimed hub for quality education, an area where the city used to lag behind was in employment opportunities. After I graduated from school, there weren’t many specialized courses or private job opportunities which led me to the decision of venturing outside the city for further education. But since then, the city has seen a stark rise in education and employment opportunities – more so with the opening of the IT Park, and has forayed into the information technology sector creating thousands of jobs attracting the vast IT talent pool, leaving behind even the likes of Beijing in a 2014 survey for emerging outsourcing and IT services destinations worldwide.
As is the inevitable case with every developing city, the growing population, traffic and industrial progress must be met tooth and nail with infrastructural advancements too. The Chandigarh administration has proposed the building of the Chandigarh Metro which is likely to commence in 2018. While this is certainly a step in the right direction, my sincere hope is that this charming, unscathed city is able to retain its scenic beauty and charm in the face of this new development.
I have so much to be thankful for and owe the person I am today to my City Beautiful. The pages I can fill writing about it may not suffice. I have travelled far and wide but the thought of going back just for a few days makes my heart soar even today. As the saying goes – ‘Home is where the heart is’. I gave my heart to Chandigarh a long time ago and I am sure on your first visit, you will too.