Welcome to Haryana

… now fuck off.

That the north is full of violence is something we all know. I don’t usually talk about it because linking to another bit of violence achieves nothing. In fact as Jammie says, we deserve credit for the art and culture and creativity that manages to flourish in the midst of it all. But last night something happened that really bothered me.

My parents are in town and we were out for dinner along with my aunt and her kids, Cousin J and K. People have often warned us not to do late nights in Gurgaon but I take it with a pinch of salt as the fears of paranoid people. It was midnight and we were all well-fed, content and very sleepily heading home. There was a traffic jam up ahead and we stopped. No one really paid attention. The OA who was driving finally got off to see what the hold up was and my mum was about to join him when I told her not to get off in Gurgaon in the middle of the night. The Bean was curled into my lap and the Brat in my dad’s arms.

The OA went by himself and didn’t come back for a while. I began to panic. Cousin K offered to get down but we were all jammed into the back of the car and seats needed to be folded for him to get out. While we were still discussing it the OA came back and got in, traffic began to move and we drove on. Up ahead a cop waited for everyone to pass and then dragged the road barrier in front of us. I don’t think we realised what was happening. It struck us all together. He was blocking us off!

And then in the headlights of the car he glared menacingly at the OA and said – “Ab tu aa ja. Utar ke  baat karte hain. Side mein laga, tere ko batata hoon.”  He had been stopping truckers in the middle of the road and taking bribes. The jam was because he was bargaining with them. The OA had coldly asked him to conduct his dirty business somewhere else instead of holding up traffic. I don’t know what prompted the man to do that because it was just such a dangerous thing to do. Taking on Haryanvi cops at midnight.

And then while we all watched him framed in the headlights,  a couple of other louts walked out from the dark. Not uniformed cops. Just louts who hang around there helping him enforce law. Probably support from some local thugs or politicians. The OA and I were horrified. This was the road to our house. One we took all the time. Thankfully it was a cold night and so the windows were up and the doors locked. They surrounded our car and looked in – surveyed the scene – only one adult man worth the fight – three older people, two women and a young boy.  Then they began to hammer on the car and on the windows. Bang, bang, bang – terrifying the kids who clung to us. The OA took a moment to consider. It was his father in law’s SUV and his entire family in there.

And then we all began to murmur, absolutely terrified, Move, move, move. My father, an older man frustrated and hampered by grandson in arms and family in the back seat said – ‘He’s bluffing, rush him.’ The OA knew that of course but he was just torn by the family sitting in the car, the risks he’d be taking with them as well as a vehicle that was not his own. Once he had their blessing he stepped on the pedal and gunned for the cop who just shot out of the way realising that we were not scared. We wove through the barriers he had dragged to stop us and we were out with barely an inch to spare, my father’s precious car safe. And then we needed to take a U-turn and these guys jumped the divider and gave chase. We were in a car so naturally we were faster, but they chased us down the road for quite a while. Not until we’d turned into our gated community and parked did my heart beat return to normal. I would have frozen in terror but the OA has very cool nerves that get us out of bad situations often.

I have in my teens jumped red lights or skipped checking for registration with my brother and other male friends. The method when you escaped was simple. The pillion rider dropped low and covered the registration plate with their hands or a register. Since I was the pillion rider I was usually at risk in case the cops whacked us with a stick. Anyhow, they were cheap college thrills.

But sitting  there in the car with my slowly ageing parents, my children in my arms, my loved ones around me and the OA at the receiving end of their ire, nothing was funny. It has left everyone rather upset and my father spent the morning planning a letter to the news  channels about people being harassed by cops instead of being protected. I tried to tell him this is common in Haryana but he was too upset to listen. It’s been 24 hours and I am still worrying about it. I am so glad the OA was driving because he is definitely the best driver in our family. Often Cousin K drives us back on late nights because he enjoys driving and has recently learnt and got his licence. The roads are empty and we are in no rush to get home so its good practice for him. I was so glad for the way things worked out and I am so grateful that we didn’t get off and get dragged to some local thana for having the audacity to comment on their bribe taking.

Thankfully my parents will take their car and leave in a couple of days so noting the registration won’t matter. I just hope that cop is not put on duty in this area because I don’t want the OA driving past him ever again. I know this is nothing unusual and people have experienced worse in Haryana. But I miss Delhi all the more after this and wish we had never moved here. The roads are often deserted in stretches and the cops are terrible. For now, I’m getting into bed with my little family and hugging them close, glad that nothing worse happened.

On why I’m still not really settled

So we’re at a party and we meet this man who has lived in Gurgaon for some years. “How do you like living here?” he asks. The OA makes non-committal sounds and I shrug. We could politely lie or we could shut up. We shut up. He digs. “Isn’t it great?” And then goes on to wax eloquent on the gated communities, the air conditioning and the malls.

When he finds out we moved from Delhi barely a few months ago, he wants to know what I miss. I smile and reminisce – Shopping at Sarojini, Dilli Haat, the deer park, fresh vegetables and fruit…  He pronounces “Oh! you’re a South Delhi snob. Then goes on to say  - I could never shop in a Lajpat Nagar or Malviya Nagar. So dusty and dirty. (oh! And I’m a snob?!)

I think that is when I contemplated flinging my drink in his face, I try to stammer something about how I’m not a South Delhi snob, but a small town girl (yeah, who is counting the references?). But I was a guest too and so I held my peace. And from there on the conversation just headed downhill. He wanted to know where I was from. And then went on to say that even Lucknow had no culture, while Calcutta, had a great culture. I didn’t know whether to educate him or laugh in his face at his ignorance. So I politely said – Well there is Lakhnavi culture and Bengal has its own culture, can’t really deny either.

I don’t know why I bothered because then he went on to say – And what does Allahabad have to show? To which I grinned and said – Amitabh Bachchan? Three or four prime ministers?

And he starts to criticise Amitabh Bachchan. At this point I must make a disclaimer. I am no Big B fan, but I can tell you he’s not someone to just dismiss. I also realise that this rude SOB is just going out of his way to be rude to me and this is not the gentle ribbing of a friend. It’s deliberate nastiness. I slide off the arm of the chair, smile coldly and say – “You like the cold artificiality of Gurgaon and you can only crib about Amitabh and are unaware of Lakhnavi culture inspite of having lived there.  Clearly there is no accounting for taste, is there?”

The OA looked horrified, but I was just so done with the man. After I left he said to the OA – Is she in media? The OA nodded. And then the idiot went on to say that he loved to provoke people and see them get annoyed. I know that most people would say “Don’t give others the pleasure of provoking you.. ” But my theory is, why let some idiot sit there imagining that you’re nothing more than a pretty face (right now, with my pimples, I don’t even fit that description!) without an opinion or a thought? And for those of you who know me, how long do you imagine I’d sit there just listening to him being nasty? Once the OA (who always gives people the benefit of doubt) realised that the idiot was deliberately provoking me, he figured it was fair enough that I let him have the rough edge of my tongue.

Anyhow, this sort of yuppie is the worst exemplification of the Gurgaon I’ve come to know in the last few months. On the plus side, it’s good to have your vegetables home delivered and some buildings like ours have 100% power backup. On the minus, we have manicured lawns, that lead out to roads riddled with potholes. We live in air conditioned buildings while the drivers are not allowed to sit out even in the lawns or have a provision for drinking water. The house help is erratic and pricey even though they aren’t half as good at their work or well trained as the help in Delhi. They’re just village women who can’t cook properly, don’t know how to dust or sweep – but are well aware of the dire need for help. The irony is not lost on me. We’re living this almost Western suburban life without half the amenities or facilities. We do the same 2 hour commute, but our roads are shit. We’re expected to pay insane rates for the house help, but all we’re getting is unhygienic labour straight off the fields with an inflated sense of entitlement and no sense of responsibility. They get up and walk out without a word of warning if someone has a baby in the village. I don’t mean to sound like the poor little rich girl, but I honestly don’t know what the solution to this is. The driver smashed the door while roughly pulling the Bean’s car seat out. He has a driving licence and that is all he seems to think is required. He refuses to acknowledge that putting in or taking out a car seat carefully is part of the job or that he has made a mistake by smashing a door because of his carelessness. The lady who cleans yanked a glass door of the medicine cabinet in the toilet and smashed it across the loo – don’t ask me what the hell she was up to. All I know is that my landlord is going to have my guts for garters.

We’ve been advertising for a better driver, but nothing better comes up. The same few guys hang around and keep quitting to move from one tower to the next. You wake up to find your driver driving your neighbour around because he is paying him Rs 200 extra. I understand that Rs 200 is a lot, but the problem is quality. For all that is available in Gurgaon, I can’t say anything of any quality is available. The houses have seepage, the walls shake if you hammer anything in, the parking in most buildings has flooded, the doors warp in the monsoons, the so called wooden flooring is like a rollercoaster during the rains…

The OA and I needed to buy the kids winter woollies and so we took them to a mall for the first time in 5 months. Yes! Five months and they hadn’t seen a mall. We walked in and I was reminded in graphic detail, of why I hate them with a vengeance. It’s a suburb whose time really hasn’t arrived yet. On the one hand are old ladies in 9 yards limping painfully along and holding up the escalator because they are too scared to get on. On the other is a girl in a tube top and skinny jeans, shivering in the early autumn, and proclaiming in a thick Haryanvi accent that her mother will kill her if she gets home late. What is this? Where are we? Whats going on?

On the other hand, the children’s book festival will soon be here, as will the winter, when I will head back to Delhi and the warmth of Lodhi gardens. Where I’ll lay my eyes on buildings that are older than me and far more gracious… and greenery meets the eye everywhere you look.

Kalmadi be damned, my city sure cleans up well. The roads are wider. There are cycling paths everywhere. Hastily planted shrubs wilt but will hopefully live to see the next year. I miss the bustle. I miss the warmth. I miss the markets of fresh green vegetables. I miss driving down roads and drinking up the sights of beautiful homes, each one unique. I miss the music and the film and theatre. I know it’s all available in spots in Gurgaon and I shouldn’t be ungrateful. But hey, that was my home for years. Loving or even liking Gurgaon, will have to wait a while.

Edited to add: The maid was just diagnosed with TB and has left. The OA and I are cooking, cleaning, working, child raising and seriously contemplating moving to the West where life is geared for such stuff.

Dum ghut raha hai

Dear God,

Knee pain and pain of being absolutely lost in a soul-less suburb – is there more to come?

Beam me up. I’m done.

Love,

Little old painful me

PS: Today – no phone or internet all day. My cup overfloweth. Gentle readers, this is where you remind me that there are children starving in, oh.. Africa?

Rain

I’m standing at an open window, the wind in my hair, the rain on my face, looking down at the open expanse on one side and construction going on in the distance. The homes being built will be sold for multiples of crores and the shanties near by belong to the construction workers building them. That single moment is such a leveller. Regardless of our dwellings, humble or exalted, we all turn our faces up to the heavens in gratitude, as our prayer for rain is answered

What happened next

One child starting big school (needing all sorts of things everyday – labelled clothes, art materials, show and tell stuff, needs someone to ride the bus with him to school while the driver learns where he is to be dropped etc)

One house where none of the stuff from our old house fits. Curtains, furniture, everything the wrong size, hence nothing feels like home

One messed up iPhone

AND

One robbed BlackBerry that didn’t belong to me – means no contacts – friends, family, work

One maid going home since her duty is done

One new maid who can’t speak or understand a word of English including things like ‘bed’

One absent driver who went home to get married and apparently can’t get enough of his new wife, professional duties abandoned. Which means taking a mix of lifts, autos, buses and metro rides that take the commute up to 3 hours of exhaustion one way and a very tired person with aching fever-in-the-bones-knees

One long commute that is 2 hours one way. Unless it rains in which case it goes up to 3 hours

One little girl to be admitted to a new school

One cook who is willing to cook for the maids but cooks absolute crap leaving takeaway as the only option

One flooding house and ruined furniture and carpets. Wooden flooring swollen and uneven and coming apart

One set of facilities to be shifted including gas, phone lines, billing address, bank work, locker…

One set of knees unable to move. Pain on a scale of 1 – 10? About 15.

One case of PCOS acting up and taking the body’s cycle haywire, so that I am now weak and anaemic with the blood loss (apologies Arun, Anand, Devakishor, Alok and the other men, I did try to keep this as polite as possible) resulting in black out and fainting spells. To say nothing of a pimply, oily face that would scare the life out of you if you encountered it in a dark alley at night

One travelling husband

All equals a complete breakdown and a few more blackouts where strangers took me home. So yes, I’m on a week’s leave. My doctor says my knees are degenerating really fast and there is no cure. Which means I will soon be chopped off at the knee and walking around on stumps. Not funny. I’m lying in bed, keeping me knees rested and just moving from room to room and instructing maids in the purest of Bengali on how to order and settle things. I have dug out my old laptop and typing on a tiny little keyboard is no fun so don’t expect to see too much of me.

The only bright side is that the kids are thrilled. They don’t realise I am sick and are thrilled to be able to get into bed with me, cuddle while it rains outside and play games and be read to. The only silver lining to this cloud. Frankly the more I think about it I realise that God sometimes does what is best for you in His wisdom. The only way to take me off my feet and make me rest, was to literally take my legs away from me. Maybe this is time to take stock of my life and slow down.

Stay  well you all.

Just. Because I am exhausted

  • You know that you’re overworked when you type in a colleague’s name instead of your own username while trying to log into your email account.
  • You know what Indians abroad feel like when you move to the suburbs and the real estate agent shows you blueprints of properties and you realise there are spaces marked out for temples and gurudwaras in many complexes whereas the only excuse of a church close by is a service held in a local club.
  • You smile in surprise when you move to the infamously chauvinistic Haryana and see hordes of women cycling  around to work, their pallus neatly tucked into their waists. Until you look closer and see the distinctive red and white (pola-shankha) bangles on their wrists.
  • You understand how stereotypes work when your daughter says “I won’t kiss you because you’re not pretty” and your son whom you have just snapped at, comes back to you with a piece of chocolate.
  • You realise the power of undisguised want and raw honesty when your children shout out Mamma, and you yell back, “What do you want?”, to have them reply with a simple, “Nothing, I just want you.”
  • You realise you are bone tired when your head pounds no matter how what you do, your face stays oily and pimply and your back and feet ache until you want to die simply to shed your body and see what weightlessness feels like.
  • You learn that no matter how many times you hear people say women are women’s worst enemies, it doesn’t hit home until you experience it for yourself.

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