Millennium Post


A wounded Bhishma Pitamah lay in pain on his bed of arrows though he was protected with ikchamrityu, the blessing to choose one’s hour of death. The Mahabharata tells us that Pitamah waited for Uttarayan Muhurat, which falls on the day when the sun starts moving towards north after completing a six month period of Dakshiyana Muhurat (south), to leave his body. This account of Pitamah’s death tells us how north is considered auspicious while south quite the opposite in Hindu mythology.
The ‘inauspiciousness’ of south is not just a work of mythology, but in rural India, very much a part of everyday living. The south parts of most villages in the country are areas generally inhabited by the lower castes. ‘The untouchables or Dalits were made to stay in the southern parts of villages. The belief was that whether it was the easterlies or the westerlies which blew in the village, it would not pass through south and hence will not be polluted,’ Prof Vivek Kumar of JNU explains.
In the context of the US and Italy, S M Lipset said, ‘Every country has a south. Every country has a backward area.’
But when you were shopping in South Extension or sipping warm cups of coffee in Colaba that was perhaps not even the last thought on your mind. South for most cities, especially the metropolitans, has come to be the posh area. Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata and Bangalore all these cities have one thing in common. No matter what happens in the other parts, the hip and the happening are crowding the south. Property prices, needless to say are heading north in all the aforementioned cities. Sociologist MP Singh says though Lipset doesn’t explain the reason for the phenomenon but says that the ‘posh south’ in India could be both incidental and accidental.
The fact is interestingly surprising because India is such a vast and composite country. All these cities have developed independently of each other. No one model has been even referred to, forget being replicated, which makes the coincidence all the more intriguing. Town planner Prof PK Sarkar from Institute of Planning and Architecture, Delhi, says, ‘When you start planning a city, town planners start from the north. At this stage very little planning actually happens and people start settling in. The city then grows towards south. By the time you reach south, north is crowded and in a mess, the planners can learn from all their mistakes and implemented the new-found understanding better. That is why south gets to look better.’
Though this explanation may partially hold true for Delhi, it doesn’t explain the phenomenon in other cities such as Kolkata where the south has always been the abode of the educated middle classes and favourite hangout zone for the young aspiring rich.
Prof Kumar says, historically Britishers gave importance to south. Though explanations of the why aspect will differ from city to city. ‘South was the main power centre for British as it happened in Bombay (now Mumbai). South is a planned part. Surprisingly, in a lot of cities the cantonments exit in southern parts. Existence of cantonments decreases the population pressure from those areas,’ he adds.
‘Rivers give you a historical perspective to city development. Settlements start alongside rivers, but the elite love exclusivity so they look for areas that give them a break from crowded spaces. Since in Delhi, east was crowded, the rich found space in the southern parts,’ says Kumar.

Delhi: The ‘Game’ changer
Ssettlement in Delhi began along the river Yamuna. ‘About a century ago when the British were looking for a new capital they chose an area across the river Yamuna. But architects faced a problem when it came to building the place as a capital city. The soil around the river was soft so heavy, big structures could not be built on it. Raisina Hills, part of the Delhi-Rajasthan Aravalli Range was chosen,’ MP Singh says. But what triggered development of the south part of Delhi was the 1982 Asian Games. It was the second time that Delhi hosted the Games, 31 years after India’s capital gave birth to the quadrennial multi-discipline event. The world had changed since the first Asian Games that were held in 1951. Compared to the scale at which the 1982 Games were organised, the inaugural event was a garden party, momentous though the occasion no doubt was. In the 1982 show, a total of 3,411 athletes from 33 National Olympic Committees participated in these games, competing in 147 events in 21 sports and 22 disciplines. Impressive new facilities were built for the Games. The Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium and the auditorium at Siri Fort were important additions to south Delhi.
Till 1982, the historic Siri Fort area was then existing in the wilderness of oblivion and the place where the imposing Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium now stands would be rendered a swampy waste during the rainy months. The biggest benefactor of the Games was the road infrastructure of the city. New flyovers were added and roads were widened keeping in mind the expected increase in traffic load during the Games.
Since then there has been no looking back for south Delhi as the rich flocked to the area to build houses and commercial centres.

Bombay: British intent

South Mumbai, the southernmost precinct of the city of Mumbai, comprises the city’s main business localities and its adjoining areas. It is the richest urban precinct in India. Geographically, South Mumbai lies at the southern corner of Salsette Island.
South Mumbai hosts the Reserve Bank of India and the Bombay Stock Exchange. Its primary business districts are the Fort, Nariman Point, Ballard Estate and more recently Lower Parel. Many leading Indian and multi-national companies are headquartered here. Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (erstwhile Victoria Terminus) and Churchgate serve as headquarters and starting point for country’s Central and Western Railway lines respectively. The area houses a significant proportion of prime upmarket residential neighbourhoods of Mumbai which include Peddar Road, Napean Sea Road, Breach Candy and Walkeshwar Road, forming a sort of golden quadrilateral.
Gyan Prakash, author of the well researched book Mumbai Fables says, ‘A few decades after the East India Company shifted its headquarters from Surat to Bombay in 1686..., the Fort became a well-defended walled town... The British nurtured the fortified town as a commercial center by encouraging merchants from Gujarat to migrate to their settlement.’
‘The merchants settled in separate enclaves in the Bazar Gate area of the northern end of the Fort, which developed as the native town, a mix of houses and bazaars. The British lived in the south,’ Prakash adds.

Kolkata: migrant influx

South Kolkata is one of the prime locations of Kolkata. It is known for its lush green parks, the Royal Calcutta Golf Club which is the oldest golf club in India set up in 1829, ancient temples such as the famous Kali temple, gardens and hospitals.
South Kolkata is also a happening destination for shopaholics. The area is visited by many for sumptuous meals at excellent restaurants such as Oh Calcutta, Raj Restaurant, China Town that offer mouth-watering delicacies. South, despite its posher locales easily the North’s envy, however has been distinctly marked by waves of immigrant influx from pre-1971 Bangladesh, or East Bengal.  
Soma Mukopadhyay, a retired professor of Bengali at South Calcutta Girls College, says, ‘Kolkata was founded by the British. They settled in the Chowringhee area of central Kolkata. However, the south parts of Kolkata from Bhowanipore to Darya Ghat was inhabited by the natives from the educated middles classes. They had a fairly good educational and economic background. Those living in this area were well to do.  Historically, this area has been has been better off. Women in this region dress differently, they wear what you can call modern western outfits.’
With the country’s partition in 1947 a large number of refugees came in and started staying in south Kolkata. ‘But that did not change the fabric of the area from Bhowanipore to Darya Ghat since the refuges did not enter these areas,’ she adds. 

Chennai: blame geography
Chennai South features many popular tourist attractions including some very famous pilgrim sites in the city. St. Thomas Mount Church on top of the hill namely the Church of Our Lady of Expectation, Little Mount Church built by the Portguese in 1551, Temple at Vadapalani for Lord Muruga, Lord Marudndeeswara Temple at Tiruvanmiyur, Ashtalakshmi Temple and Church at Besant Nagar Beach, Raj Bhavan, Indian Institute of Technology, Anna University, the Golden Beach near Injambakkam, all are part of south Chennai.
‘Much of Chennai’s recent urban expansion has been southwards. What seems to have triggered this trend is geographical constraints. Chennai is bound on the east by the Bay of Bengal and on the north the city touches the boundary of Andhra Pradesh. Thus, it is predominantly the south that provides space for the city to grow. In this context, the Old Mahabalipuram Road has been the seat of urban expansion, expanding the frontiers of the city towards the World Heritage site and tourist attraction of Mahabalipuram. Parallel to this is the East-Coast Road, which has also witnessed some development over recent years,’ says Dr. Poulomi Banerjee, senior fellow in South Asia Consortium for Interdisciplinary Water Resources Studies, Hyderabad SaciWATERs. South Chennai has since been growing as an IT corridor; in this process of expansion, the city has engulfed several fishing and agricultural villages and hamlets – of which Chennai has traditionally been an agglomeration.
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