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When I came here at the age of five, there was no New Delhi. After the first World War, New Delhi began to take shape. In my early childhood, I saw the roads being laid out and the construction of North Block and South Block along with the Viceregal Lodge taking place in full swing. The material for the construction was brought all the way from Badarpur on the Imperial Delhi Railway, which carried no passengers those days. My father Sir Sobha Singh was entrusted with the task of bringing stones from Kingsway Camp to Raisina Hill. He would load the stones in a guddha and transport them to Raisina Hill after sunset.

I saw a huge nursery go up in the heart of the city - a large number of trees were planted alongside the roads. The mother of all banyan trees still stands in front of the Reserve Bank of India. Over 10,000 saplings were planted all over Delhi. Other trees like the Arjun and Jamun were also planted. Trees were even imported from East Africa. Edwin Lutyens (the English architect who was hired to plan New Delhi) wanted to build two roads -- one running directly from the Viceregal Lodge to Purana Quila without any obstruction except for the war memorial, now known as India Gate, but Lady Willingdon (the viceroy's wife) spoilt his plan by putting up a stadium, now known as the National Stadium, in between the two sites.

By the time the roads became operational, the trees had grown to provide shelter from the scorching summer sun. The new buildings were inaugurated by Lord Irwin in 1931. As he was going to the inauguration a bomb went off near Minto Bridge. Irwin escaped the explosion, but the buggy behind him was caught in the blast. The buildings were, however, inaugurated on schedule.

New Delhi, after it was completed, was deserted for many, many years. People were apprehensive about shifting to the new city. All social activity was limited to the old city. Kashmiri Gate and Chandni Chowk were the centres of social life. Young men who wanted to have a good time preferred to spend their evenings in Chawari Bazar, which was then full of prostitutes.
A drive to the Qutub Minar those days used to be delightful; you saw vast open spaces punctuated by monuments. With the rapid growth of New Delhi and skyscrapers coming up all around us, I feel the Delhi which I knew and grew up with has been lost. One does not know where all the monuments have disappeared.

Khushwant Singh, India's best-known columnist, has lived in Delhi for more than half-a-century.

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