Tuesday, 10 May 2011

From Glory and Pomp to Broken Noses

The sovereigns in their robes. Thousands of diamonds dotted with sapphires, emeralds and rubies. This was no media filler at Westminster Abbey. Coronation Park was, for a brief moment in 1911, the center of the world. Maharajahs, Nizams, and their attendants from across the country piled into the elaborately decorated camp grounds. For those British gentry in the crowd, the feeling of a divine calling must have been palpable.

Coronation Memorial
The Delhi Durbar was the royal family’s first and last official visit to India. By the time George VI expressed his intentions to visit, “My Indian Empire,” the subcontinent was already simmering with whispers of independence.

Today Coronation Park is a bodiless graveyard on an isolated road in the northern reaches of Delhi. A lonely pillar stands dusty on a packed dirt field. On the day we visited we shared a metro car to GTB Nagar with a group of Sikh teenagers and their gym bags. They later showed up at the park, having made the trek out there not to admire the fragility of power but to play what looked like a semi organized game of cricket.
King George V

This is not the first British remnant to elicit a feeling of ghostly spirits. In fact most of the “leftovers” from this period have a similar eerie atmosphere very different from the typical romantic or mystical air at other ruins. Perhaps this is because the memories from this time are still very much alive. Although the British Empire may as well have been a different planet compared to modern life - the Coronation was the subject of the one of the world’s first feature length color films (kinemacolor)- the currents of colonialism, world war, and independence struggles continue to act on domestic and world affairs.

Bust in garden at Coronation Park

Adjoining the memorial is a symmetrical garden where King George V stands in his full greatness and flowing robe is attended by the nose-less busts of unnamed officials. (Actually I’m sure we could easily find their names, but I like it better this way.) The state of abandon is so thorough and recent that nose shards were actually lying complete at the base of one bust. I have heard rumors that the ASI or some municipal body wants to restore the grounds for yet another Delhi park, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. If that were to happen it would be interesting to see how the busts are dealt with. The current neglect of the park seems to me like an assault on the memories of colonial rule. So I wonder if a spruced up park would bring glory back to these pieces of history or attempt to erase them.

Overgrown garden in Coronation Park

As we made a round of the garden we were joined by three middle age men. One introduced himself and asked with obvious assurance, if I was British. I guess that makes sense as there is otherwise little obvious reason for a white girl to find anything of interest here. He in turn explained that he and his friends were history teachers. But if that wasn’t enough he went on to explain that he is an Anglo-Indian himself, so the site naturally held a special meaning to him. Then I was sure, whether or not there are bodies, this place holds a ghost.

King George V

New Author

Going forward, I will be sharing this blog with fellow Delhi wanderer, Rachel Leven. Rachel is a Fulbright scholar based out of New Delhi. She is currently researching 'Decentralized Waste Management' and as part of the research, travels around Delhi meeting people, NGOs, professors, and companies working in the sector. For more info check out her blog, www.wastelines.com.

She has already guest posted on this blog once and received good response. Looking forward to hearing about her experiences of wandering around Delhi.