The “Lodhi-era toilet” coming up at Defence Colony Market is much nearer completion now, and while we’ve been spared a Lodhi tomb replica, this is now turning out to be some kind of “modern design smashing through a representation of Delhi’s past” kind of thing. So it seems a bullet has been dodged (no Lodhi-era toilet!), but this throws up a whole new set of intriguing ideas!
The design concept for this structure seems to have been that a that modern, world-class (since that is such a catchphrase these days) Delhi, represented by the glass, steel and aluminum facade, is breaking through the old, staid stone edifice of a Delhi of the past. The technological advancement of today is (finally!) breaking through simple, low-tech yesterday. Worldliness is breaking through unrefined indigenousness.
However, to me, the stone edifice represents not just the Delhi of earlier centuries, but could also refer to the Delhi of earlier “government-sanctioned” modernism from the 1960s-80s, which used a lot of stonework of this kind. In this way, it represents the gleaming facade of today’s “public private partnership” (PPP) model breaking through the older facade of complete government project-control. Nehruvian modernism, which itself tried to break free of the past, is now pushed into and lumped with that past, with all it’s connotations of “failure” and the need to break free from it.
Of course this is reading a lot into a public toilet (with a cafe above it), and it might just be a much more jocular and playful interplay of old and new to attract tourists, but if there is at all an intention to represent a break, then I’m pretty sure it’s not just a break from the far away and thus benign era of Delhi as necropolis, but also a reference, even if just associatively, to a much more recent past as well.
I also have to add that for some reason, these toilets are nearly as well guarded as Rashtrapati Bhawan is – there are guards posted on all sides of the structure, and even a few thugs lounging about with the guards. It took all my photographing wiles to take these photos! Maybe it’s just the contractor’s men, maybe this is the usual modus operandi for commonwealth games construction and this one is just much more noticeable because it’s out in the public, or maybe the builders are so pleased with their design that they don’t want anyone copying it!
Whatever the answers are to all these issues, from the beginning, this take on public toilets has just been a weird and fascinating exercise! We also need a new name for these toilets, since “Lodhi-era toilet” is no longer applicable. “New Indian neoliberal public toilets”, perhaps? :)