As Pragati Maidan gets ready for redevelopment, let’s revisit the iconic buildings that once defined modern India ( Ziya Us Salam)
Time. How it flies. Seems like yesterday that we, as students of Delhi University, would gather here post our classes on cool winter afternoons. There were no mobiles then, so the students would assemble near Hamsadhwani. Somehow, the girls were more comfortable waiting for the guys here than hear Shakuntalam, our ultimate destination. Even as the group waited for the habitual late-comers, two girls would be assigned the task of procuring tickets for the group. Somehow, it was understood that men who frequented Shakuntalam were all gentlemen who won’t mind a young lady or two buying the ticket out of turn! The fact that the tickets would be cheaper than at single screen halls of Connaught Place and the movies would often by arty added to the joy!
Once the entire bunch of 10-15 students would gather, we would “own” the 306-seater Shakuntalam. Popcorns and moongfali would miraculously appear from inside the bags and would be passed on, taking care to avoid the torch of the usher.
There were of course other reasons to love Pragati Maidan then. The venue in fact comes with a dash of nostalgia and a rich slice of history. Back in 1972, when Pragati Maidan was designed by noted architect Raj Rewal, nobody doubted the ability of the grounds spread across 150 acres to cater to the needs of burgeoning trade and business, not to forget its role as an entertainment centre and a hangout zone.
Besides Hamsadhwani and Shakuntalam, there used to be Hall of Nations, Rewal’s labour of love, a marvel of India’s contemporary architectural style. Then there was Nehru Museum. The building, unfortunately, are likely to be consigned to the pages of the past as Pragati Maidan is scheduled to get a facelift. The need, however, is to recognise these buildings as heritage of postmodern Indian architecture.
The Hall of Nations complex constitutes one of the largest space frames in concrete and has been internationally acclaimed as one of the most important buildings of the last century. It has also been exhibited in the permanent collection of Pompidou museum, Paris and exhibited in the National gallery of Modern Art, India. The government of India had issued stamps to commemorate this building. Nehru Museum, on the other hand, is a sensitive grass mound which exhibits events on the life of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru with reference to India’s freedom struggle. Originally conceived by famous industrial designers Ray and Charles Eames and implemented through Design Institute, Ahmedabad, today, its days too seem numbered unless the government has a rethink.
Shakuntalam closed down some four years ago. Now, Hall of Nations and Nehru Museum face an uncertain future.
Some of us long for the joy of old, of going to take in a movie at Pragati Maidan, others won’t mind a date with history. Is it too much to ask?