Asti (day before yesterday) was an interesting day. An email from India first sent to Nepal, forwarded to a war-torn nation in Africa sent back to India made me go to Jantar Mantar, the protest venue in New Delhi. I was there at 3 pm take part in the protest against Bt Brinjal in India. I WILL write a separate entry on the protest as Genetically Modified Food cum biotech in agriculture are areas my interest. The protest programme where I looked more like a photographer and not someone with an opinion on GMOs did not turn out to be as exciting as I had anticipated. It might have turned that way after I left but that does not make the issue of Bt Brinjal any less important. For now, a more interesting observation I made in Jantar Mantar.
Jantar Mantar is an astronomical observatory of yesteryear built by Raja Jai Singh II of Jaipur in 1725. It’s near Connaught Place, a short walk, in Central Delhi. Indians and foreigners are charged Rs 5 and Rs 100 respectively to look at the same thing but it is worth the money and the time. By money, I don’t mean Rs 100 :P. The astronomical observatory lies amidst green trees and offers a nice view of the headquarters of the organising committee of 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games. Closer to the place you don’t need any astronomical instrument to conclude it is a dating venue for young Delhiites. Whether it is behind a tree or the window-like structures in Ram Yantras you can spot couples everywhere. But it was in one of the Yantras, a couple caught my attention for a different reason altogether.
The man went into one of the red u-shaped structures in the Yantra and came out of it in a minute. After a while the woman said something to the man, as if asking for a permission to do something. The man looked worried and it looked to me as though he was saying ‘make it quick’. Then the woman vanished into the same place the man had gone before her. And the first thing that came to my mind was “Did they urinate in there?” The woman came out arranging her clothes. I had to fight the temptation to go in there and confirm my doubts. I did not go in to verify but I think made the correct guess.
We were visiting the same monuments in the park so I had more time to observe the couple. The man wore a thin brown jacket and had a thin moustache while girl wore colourful bangles, purple nail-polish and her hands were visibly dark and wrinkled. If my Indian society observation is anything to go by they definitely did not belong to the middle or upper-middle class who are distinct by their outfits and language (read English). They displayed no signs of being a part of the ‘India’ which is supposedly shining so bright that is it nothing but the next super power. The girl could have been a maid which every household seems to have in Delhi.
Perhaps, they were illiterate. For the toilet is the first thing on the left after entering Jantar Mantar. Maybe they read the signs but were unsure about using it. Or they might not have noticed it at all and were unsure about enquiring about the loo with other visitors. Maybe being poor had something to do with it. It could be an outcome of the vulnerabilities and insecurities faced by the poor. Anything is possible but the irony of the event was how at a time when India as a nation and Delhi as the capital is doing its best to be a world-class city you could notice people peeing inside a protected monument. The Delhi Commonwealth Games 2010 headquarters in the background only made the entire act more incongruous.
The municipal corporation of Delhi can beautify the city by having more parks and the city government can ease travel with hi-tech metros and flyovers but it is eventually the people who will help the city stay that way. Unless the average person, not only Barista coffee drinker and Khan Market shopper, feels empowered to use the facilities made for their convenience it is useless. Yes, even stepping into a metro station or a multiplex or a comfort zone requires confidence. People first, infrastructures later might as well be the mantra to beautify Delhi. My two cents worth opinion on this particular incident.