When going back for my holidays this last summer I could imagine my hometown, quiet and simple. But things had changed, everything was not how I remembered it.
Gwalior for me is home, its family and memories. It’s also, in encyclopedic words a second tier city in Madhya Pradesh with a recorded history going back centuries where it has played small roles in important historical events across time.
As a child I have always been given immense freedom, with limitations of course, I was allowed to go anywhere as long as to put in my in my mothers words, “ghar se 100 feet se jyada nahi,” but again that was expendable because I claimed to never know how much 100 feet was. And every time I dared to cross that limit with my bicycle I would look back to make sure that mother was not there and make the fastest round with my cycle across the colony. Ah, the joy of breaking rules!
But things have changed now, Gwalior has changed. No more would you let your child out without making sure someone is keeping an eye on him/her. Kidnappings and people getting murdered are just a few of the things that have increased in the city. And among the biggest change is the drive for development.
Gwalior used to be the home of the Scindias and Gwalior Fort. Now it is home to the biggest mall in M.P. The family picnics in the park are replaced by window shopping in the mall. I’m not saying that a mall coming up is a bad thing; instead I was amazed to see people from all walks of life enjoying the novelty of it. But when I compare it with my own childhood it just pales in comparison. There can never really be a modern day building or a product to replace the outdoors.
So before the holidays, like everybody else I was busy looking at the CWG scam or some other going-ons in Delhi or Mumbai, but events as important as these were happening in Gwalior. Much of Gwalior was being pulled down by bulldozers and the Nagar Nigam (Municipal Corporation). Their claim was that the land these shops or houses were built on is owned by the government. And as proof they flayed around some document from 1924.
I had no idea about all this happening. So I was quite surprised to see the familiar roads did not exist anymore, there was rubble from the demolished houses and shops everywhere.
When did this happen? And how could the government just go ahead and clear out a whole market and areas and not just one, five to six of them. There was no more Chawla Chicken my favourite eating place, no more computer guy who I have known forever and would just have to call and he would provide personal service at home. Half of Gwalior was cut down and why? My only source of information was my mother and some online Hindi articles who and which told me that the houses and shops were on government land and after some 50 odd years when people were settled on it they finally realised it and wanted it back.
And as they went ahead with the demolition, they declared on a side note their purpose that Gwalior is turning over a new leaf under collector Akash Tripathi. And it was time to make the city beautiful. They wanted to make the roads wider, build parks, and convert the land to provide car-parking. In the process it didn’t matter what the human or emotional cost of the fiasco was, it should just look good, you know. And apparently even buildings more than a hundred years old didn’t qualify as beautiful, Sarafa Bazaar which is home to many such old buildings looked as if a tornado had passed through wrecking much havoc on its way.
My mother told me stories about how the merchants and shop owners ended up in hospitals with heart attacks not being able to deal with their sudden loss of livelihood. Did they get a chance to clear out? Every time a building or a house or shop is to be build it goes through clearance with the Nagar Nigam, why did municipality not object then? And while the rest of India is demanding compensation there can be no such talk here because what compensation can they expect as the land they have lived on for years was never theirs to begin with. People agitated and went out on the streets but had nobody to talk to.
While many people saw their life savings crash around them some made money out of it. A man on realising that his shop was going to be demolished put the land on the market for sale, land which apparently did not or never belong to him. He put it at a price much lower than the going rate and someone did pick it up thinking how lucky he was. And so the poor chap who probably spent all his life savings on it, realised the next day that the land was never his to be bought. He had just been conned. And all he could do was stand while they pulled the place apart.
Gwalior is not the only city where things are changing rapidly in the name of ‘development for the better’, but development for whom, some people living 500 km away? I have never really been up for encroachment by hawkers or small shops or even bigger ones for that matter, but is it encroachment when they have been there for over half a century and build their lives around that little piece of land that they have always known as home?