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.