By Anmol Rana
While walking towards Lakdi ka pul it is difficult to ignore the odd wooden structure which supposedly replicates the real bridge that the name is derived from. There is no Lakdi ka pul; the name merely pays tribute to the legacy of the wooden bridge that once existed in its place. As you move forward along NH-9 you see yourself crossing the junction with busy traffic and ongoing commercial activities.
The one-way traffic that passes through, the huge building structures appear to have pushed the structures away; the noise of the traffic makes pedestrians stall while they’re walking. What is interesting is the contrast between the commercial activities reflected on either side of the road.
On the left side of the road, you can see parked vehicles, people walking in the limited space, while the traffic frantically passes through. The buildings on the left side facing the road present a picture of busy commercial activity. From hotels, furniture shops, travel agencies, khadi, you can find it all.
Contrary to this, the right side of the same road has empty shops with their shutters pulled down. As one moves a little further ahead, with no space between the road and structures, the abandoned building comes into view prominently, bearing ‘to-let signs’ on them. Older sign boards still hang on the facades of these buildings, indicating that these used to be hotels or furniture shops earlier, but their names have been blurred out by the dust that has settled on them.
This contrast between the two sides of the road raises many questions. The abandoned buildings seem old and gloomy and appear to have left a prosperous past behind them. But it is not just the old buildings that have been left abandoned; more recent ones lay unoccupied as well. An interesting fact about this location is that the road has been expanded over time and even transformed into a one way to accommodate the increasing traffic.
While the road on the left has been expanded thrice, the one on the right has been expanded only once. It makes one wonder why the left side of the road has parking space while the right side doesn’t. As one takes the NH-9 road, you realize that it goes uphill and then down, and after taking the turn through the triangle, you realize that the local railway station passes under the bridge (Lakdi ka pul). What this suggests is that the landscape of the place which is hilly has been changed or planned to appear as we see it today.
It questions the circumstance that allowed such imbalanced planning and equally raises suspicion on the existence of potential influence, which resulted in certain group’s interests being favoured over the other’s. This might be speculative, but it does urge one to ask such questions.
While having a conversation with a very old resident whose family has been running a hotel in the area since generations, it became very evident. As the proud owner of café Victory, he talked about how the area has changed over the ages. He said ‘Kuchh nahi tha yaha pehle‘ (nothing existed here before). What you see now were residential buildings, but due to the location of Lakdi ka pul “aab sab business chaltha hai yeha” (now all businesses run here). This is why the road you see now has expanded so many times, even the area of my shop has been reduced. We do not know when the expansion will happen again. There was uncertainty in the manner he spoke. He told us that even after the road had been expanded, no one thought of parking space or footpaths for the shops. It was only after the people made some attempts to talk to the municipality with the help of influential people that the parking space was allowed on the left side of the road. He said that those with power and affluence had the connections in deciding who gets parking. While questioning indignantly on the legitimacy of such action, he took a sigh of relief as his shop coincidentally inclined with the side that has parking. This is why the shops on the other side keep losing business and therefore lie abandoned now, he explained. He can’t even remember how many shops have come and gone during this period. I asked him if no one ever protested against this unfair treatment. Someone must have, he said, but “koi chara nahi hai,” (No other choice) he sighed.
The abandoned building in Lakdi ka Pul represents the ghost of planning that has failed to accommodate various stakeholders who are affected by those very decisions. This has led to ill-planned infrastructure development, resulting in disadvantageous conditions for commercial activities, thereby forcing business enterprises to change locations. The top-down approach often is so blindly goal-oriented that it fails to accommodate the landscape, people, business, or residents of the area into its planning design. If the aim is to expand the road to provide more space for traffic, then what about its impact on other activities in the area? The connections that could make a difference for some and not for others has at least allowed some voices to be heard. In this complex urban space, nobody knows where accountability lies and with whom. What lies ahead for the abandoned building is an undefined path, with no one to rent insight.