The sultry summer weather suddenly disappeared and I found myself under the contour of dark clouds. I was walking by the same fateful Maurice Nagar intersection in North Delhi as Amitav Ghosh recollects in his book “The Great Derangement”. Describing a “grey, tube like extrusion” that came down whiplashing on 17th March 1978, Ghosh in his book claims it to be one of the most disastrous storms to hit Delhi. He further quotes the 18th March edition of Times of India that says –“At least 30 people were killed and 700 injured, many of them seriously”. Thus my fear of another such a whirlwind that afternoon wasn’t perhaps an overstatement rather an uncertain reality that would haunt us soon. The global climatic changes further reinforced my mortal trepidation. Climate change is a blunt truth on the face of humanity; however we are yet to realize our level of vulnerability.
Soon after few metres of walk it started to drizzle and I promptly took shelter in one of the many photocopy shops that have clustered around ‘Patel Chest’ – a place situated on the banks of Najafgarh drain that owes its name to the Vallabhbhai Patel chest institute. ‘Patel Chest’ has sold its soul to the cacophony of urbanization and earthly desires; yet it remains the heart of Delhi University’s academic inventory. From liberal thoughts of John Locke to classical economics of Adam Smith or mathematical complexities of Riemann to contemporary ideas of young researchers, all photocopied on the white sheets of these shops. However houses and buildings in ‘Patel Chest’ stand like a stack of dominoes ready to crumble at the mercy of nature. Unguarded from seismic threats, these buildings house students and immigrants searching for cheap accommodation. Unhygienic sanitation and filthy narrow lanes are its defining characteristics. Summers transmute it to an oven, while rains are marked by muddy and flooded lanes. That afternoon too I had found myself stuck in one of those rains. As a spectator, life here seems difficult yet the crowd at ‘Patel Chest’, oblivious of nature’s climatic and geological threats, seem to be happy. But are they?
Within this hurly-burly, silently flows the Najafgarh nallah (drain) – an epitome of pollution, whose black filthy water reflects the dark exploitative human sins. As a surprise, the “drain” is actually the river Sahibi, flowing through Delhi before finally falling into the Yamuna. Due to its channelization for flood control purposes, it has fallen victim to inflow of untreated sewage. The odour of its dirt is the cologne of ‘Patel Chest’. Despite its huge size, it is the foul smell of the nallah that actually highlights it’s otherwise grim silent existence. However my concern is the uncanny sight of tea shops by the side of the drain, where young lads munch on bun-butter while sipping their tea, unmindful of the health repercussions. To be honest, I admit that at times I have been part of this tea sipping “ritual” too.
The rain finally stopped, providing a small time window for me to catch a rickshaw back home. ‘Patel Chest’ was back again into its organized chaos. The whirlwind today was merely within my mind; it was internal. Nature had spared ‘Patel Chest’ until the next time.