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Chandigarh Sector 22: Changing yet changeless

The 18th century poet William Cowper famously wrote, “Variety is the very spice of life, that gives it all its flavour.” Indeed the essence of Sector 22 is to be found in its versatility. While many will argue that its neighbour Sector 17 is the heartbeat of the city, Sector 22 also has a strong claim to fame.

Its Shastri Market and computer market are veritably the busiest places in Chandigarh and receive an enviable footfall. Bargain hunters and those fond of desi pret-a-porter and street food are drawn to the sector as moths to flame. However, the sector also doesn’t disappoint those who have a taste for the finer things in life with its high-end restaurants and boutiques. The collection of vintage cars outside Hotel Aroma gives an old school charm to the sector as do the numerous cycle-rickshaws plying around sector. The sector was designed la Corbusier and is one of the oldest sectors in Chandigarh that embraced the transition from rural to urban life with quiet dignity and panache.

On sepia pages

The transformation of the sector occurred back in the 1950s. But before that, in the colonial era, the sector was covered with lush mango trees. Pendu Sangharsh Committee president Joginder Singh says, “Sector 22, 23, 36 and parts of 35 were in the earlier days a part of the famous villages of Bijwara and Rurki Padav. Many of the original residents of Sector 22 moved to Raipur Kalan after their land was acquired by the UT.”

Singh added that in the olden days, before Chandigarh was born, people from all over came to the Sector 22 bus junction to catch buses to Kalka, Shimla and Ropar.

Santosh Khosla, 88, who lived here I n the early 1960s, recalls, “Back in the day there were many mango groves in the sector. There are concrete structures everywhere now. I used to live near the Kiran Theatre. I remember a mandi used to be set up near our house where everything from fried food to everyday vegetables were sold. There was a shop where we could take raw corn and they would make popcorn for us on a tandoor using hot sand. The markets were not lighted by electric lamps but rather with kerosene lamps which gave the place a unique aura at night.”

Her son, Anil Khosla, professor of economics at Leiden University, Holland, says, “My most vivid memories of the Sector are of the 1965 war. I remember the sky turning crimson because of the war up north. I also remember being chased by the gardener of the mango grove when my friends and I tried to pluck the fruit.” The sector had a huge mango tree right next to the Nikkamal store.

Sarup Singh, 91, who has remained the general secretary of the gurudwara in Sector 22 for the past 15 years moved here in the late 50s. “Most of the gurudwara staff were from Shimla. The idea of a gurudwara was conceived in Shimla, where the government officers who were going to get shifted to Chandigarh started pooling in money to purchase the property to establish it. It started as a one-room affair in the 50s with a room on top to keep the Guru Granth Sahib, and two-three other rooms for the staff.”

Talking about the sector in general he said that most houses were government houses, so the old-timers left after retirement. Only shopkeepers who owned the shop-cum-flats (SCF) plots in the sector remain. “The Bijwara market was the main attraction here, but Aroma also was a hit. The food there in the beginning used to be simple. Many weddings were also held here, “ recounts Sarup Singh.

The sector was famous for its sweetmeat shops that sold three samosas for one rupee, and a kilo of mithai for two rupees.

The first cinema of Chandigarh, Kiran Cinema, was set up here in the 1950s, and it soon became a favorite hangout for most of the city, frequented by homemakers during the day, and by men in the evening.

Shop talk

Sector 22 is the ideal place for students in search of unique technical books. Set up in 1952, The Punjab Book Centre used to import books from Soviet Russia which encouraged a scientific temperament among children.

Avtar Singh, its proprietor, says, “The best physics and chemistry books used to come from Soviet Russia and they were inexpensive and pragmatic.” Talking about how e-commerce has rendered bookstores empty, he says, “These days students mostly come in to purchase reference books. E-sites promise a lower rate but some books are cheaper here.”

The sector also has wholesale distributors of paper and stationary. Kuldip Shera, a shop owner, says they came up in 1974.

Animal lovers have a special reason to visit the sector as it’s home to the first pet shop in the city with dog grooming services. Rajat Guglani, the owner, says, “Earlier people preferred large breeds like German shepherds but toy breeds like pugs are in vogue now.”

Adapting to the changing trends, the sector has a shop of gluten-free items. The owner, Deepak Mittal, says the store was a flour mill in his father’s time.

The cooler men

Sarjiwan Kumar grew up watching his father Sham Lal supply the city with cooler mats. Setting up business back in 1958, they were the first cooler people in the city. The bamboo and straw for the mats, which sell for Rs 200 a pair, are brought from Dharampur, Himachal Pradesh. During the winter, Sarjiwan says they make blinds and window coverings from bamboo.

His father Sham Lal is happy with what he does but takes time to proudly talk about his brother, an MPhil in music, who used to perform with legends like Punjabi poet Shiv Kumar Batalwi.

Jungle of markets

Charanjit Singh, chairman of the Chandigarh Beopar Mandal, says it’s the only sector which is surrounded by shops on three sides.

“The first shops to come up in the sector were in the middle–the big showrooms of jewelers like the Talwars and Nikkamal Baburam. The unique thing here is that the rows of shops are shaped like a pigeon coop, perpendicular to each other. This sector has the largest commercial area in the city.”

First Published: Sep 13, 2018 13:30 IST

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