Walking among the dead in Lodi Garden

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New Delhi’s Lodi Garden is a pocket of tranquillity. Early mornings see walkers, dogs, joggers and oglers emerge to do their thing, mostly without getting in each others’ hair — there is space enough for them all. I went there first in the mid-1980s with my parents, aunt and cousins, a child fresh off a 60-hour train ride.

Not much survives of that tattered memory but a shape of dark tombs in the gloaming, and a feeling of somnolent rocking in my head as if I were still on that train. I went again just after I was married and then the feeling was, inescapably, romantic. Most of all the birds drew me to Lodi Garden – hornbills, orioles, pied starlings, bank mynas, Alexandrine parakeets, brown-headed barbets, even the ragged cormorant in the pond.

A city we see and experience thrives on the humus of its past. Often, that past lives, fabled, but sometimes the snail of time on the crawl leaves material stains, in structures, which inhabit spaces that become cherished for the very memory of antiquity. In Delhi, always, I get the feeling of being in many cities, in many times all at once. It’s not a new feeling for those who have lived there, who have appropriated its structures with a casual insouciance.

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