The Hall of Nations stood for the optimism, hope and dreams of our grandparents — a generation that came out of world wars, Partition and famine

I will not pretend that Pragati Maidan was my favourite place to hang out. It was not at present the beating heart of any great cultural movement. It was seldom used and poorly maintained. But it stood for something - a weird ancient dream, the last dreamers of which are now dying.

Perhaps, it was a foolish dream, that vision of progress under the stars. The world looked very different then. From those platforms, maybe one day, rockets would rise. Green revolutions, white revolutions, space travel, flying cars, undersea colonies.

Those dreamers also took, foolishly, as some kind of postulate, that in the future, there would be no more of the old medievalism - obviously, there would be the eradication of caste, secular amity amongst faiths, equality of women, a basic economic equality, the brotherhood of man. What children they must have been, that generation.

I wish I could be sure that we're going forward. But there's this dull and inevitable sense that the future has been cancelled. There are no Concordes in the air anymore. We don't have space elevators. We don't even have orbital stages around our own planet! Manned missions to anywhere have been pushed indefinitely.

Look back into the past at the world we were promised - Frank R. Paul illustrations, Buckminister Fuller domes. Arthur C Clarke promised us Moon Base Claudius (estd 1994) in 2001.


In the far distance, the coal conveyer belts and chimneys of the power plant by the Yamuna. At the heart of it - Pragati Maidan - the pink pyramids, and massive ramps and staircases, like a Mayan city made by humanists. All of this is the Delhi I recognise and love.

When those concrete triangles fell, it was just one more sign, not the first and not the last. I only saw the tail end of that vanishing dream of Modern India, whatever it was worth - Doordarshan, All India Radio, Ambassador cars.

God knows there was plenty wrong with it, and we're not likely to forget it, but they built some magnificent things. Perhaps, they were Potemkin Villages, intended to distract from terrible realities, but the realities haven't exactly been demolished with equal ease.

This country we live innow is new and disturbing, proud and arrogant, drunk on money and the methodology of transactional dealing, comforted by monolithic identities, lulled into compliance by dreams of luxury and ease.

Everything will have escalators, everything will be air conditioned. One can hope against hope that also means there will be mandatory disabled access and the provision of basic healthcare.

Last evening, standing at that locked gate, I could see the future shambling towards us. It will look like three malls in a row. It will be large, air-conditioned, private, anonymous, and basically, really boring.