We’ve been in Gurgaon a year and more now. The first thing that comes to mind when I realise I’ve completed one year is – okay, we can finally get all our passports renewed!!! And the next thought is – phew… I survived it. I’m an unhappy mover. I hate people moving my cheese. Additionally, I hate high rises. I hate concrete. I was born in the middle of the jungles, greenery and hills and in my darkest moments I just want to flee the big city and head back there. Living in a concrete jungle is harder on me than most people.
But I try not to bitch about it in real terms (please note, I only threatened to write posts but didn’t deliver until now) because I don’t believe in bitching about a place you’ve chosen to make your home and one that puts food on your table. If you don’t like it, do something more than merely bitch. For instance, I was unhappy in Madras and I did something about it – I made the OA move rather than just sit there and whine about it. This, unfortunately, is a place I have no choice about because I want to live in Delhi (or as close to it as possible as the title of this post demonstrates) and so I am learning to make the best of it, everyday.
I also realised that for all that I might whine to friends about how much I miss Delhi, I haven’t actively criticised Gurgaon to anyone or lumped the people in one homogeneous mass. Not in a long time!
And then I was sent this piece by Nirupama Subramanian and I was quite affronted. It made me realise that I had actually begun to feel some sense of loyalty for this place that I am forced to call home. I suppose I’m growing up and one year down, am making my peace with this decision.
Getting back to the piece, I suppose we’re all aware that authors are encouraged to write pieces for every publication the moment they launch a book; to drum up the publicity and stay in the public eye. Most often they choose to be witty and sarcastic and self-deprecating, but this piece was just so… silly and forced. I was mostly saddened because she lives in Gurgaon and I wish people would sometimes see the good around them and spread the joy. She wrote what she thought was a light hearted piece. But sadly, this piece will just confuse a lot of people who have never been here, who imagine that Gurgaon is Delhi or Delhi is the NCR or that this is the truth, when all it is, is a big, fat, poor joke. Who will judge all of us by this one damaging, silly, trying-hard-to-be-funny piece.
In the years I lived in Delhi, I knew there was a lot of crime, but I did try my best to see the best in the place and soon I loved it as my own. So much of what we think of a place, is shaped by media. Maybe it is time people like her and I who have a public space to air our views, actually showed people the best of Gurgaon. It has after all, taken us nomads in and given us a place to call home.
I’m going to deal with her article and its lack of nuance first.
The first point – Pinky and Bunty? Gurgaon has more diversity and expat population than most other suburbs. This is no Bunty-Babli town. And yes, we do need cars; simply because the government hasn’t given us much of an option on the public transport front. Much like the US. Not really the kind of thing you can turn into criticism. If you must, do start with the Big Brother.
Complaints about traffic and parking space. Excuse me while I laugh my guts out. That could be Bombay, Madras, Calcutta or any other city these days. Most days I call my parents in their one horse town and they’re driving round and round the local market place trying to find a place to
tether their horse park their car.
Househelp. Yes, Gurgaon is mostly nuclear families – working couples with young children. Working couples with LONG hours. Sadly here, unlike the US, there aren’t too many good daycares and neither do we have the luxury of nannies. Andyou do need house help unless you want to cook large batches of dal, freeze, microwave and eat food devoid of all nutrition. And if your kids have to be ferried from school to daycare, you will need a driver. Yes, okay, if you want to take a point and drag it to the extent where it loses all semblance of its original state like bubblegum, you can exaggerate – haa haa… Oh 8 helpers per household. Ha ha!
You complain about good househelp. I’m guilty of this one – but it’s true. India doesn’t have half the facilities that the West has, to make families self sufficient. We’ve largely depended on the kindness of family and social support. Moving to a nascent city where no one has family means we’re all the more dependent on hired help. The suburb sprang up about 20 years ago and many parts are still but a year or so old. Villages were bought over and space was made for this ever expanding financial centre. The help we have here are primarily farmers who have never worked in this capacity before. I had a driver I let go because he’d watch me struggle with bags and bags of groceries, neither offer to help me out of sheer decency, nor open the damn car door as I stood there juggling them. When I asked him to open the door and be useful, he said he’d drive, but not open a door for me even if I paid him fifty thousand bucks. Why? Because he was from a high caste family and while it was okay to drive, it would be too servile to do the decent thing and open the damn door. A maid who came in couldn’t understand why I didn’t want the food served straight from the pressure cooker and insisted on glassware. All very well for people to laugh it up, but professional cooks and helpers in most cities will do the job they’re paid for without questioning your reasons and your sanity!
Walking – True. No one walks because there is nowhere to walk. The city is built across an intersection of state highways, national highways, expressways and what not. Where exactly is one to walk to? There are no local markets, barely any neighbourhood parks, no sidewalks and roads constantly dug up to make way for pipes and wires. Again – this has nothing to do with the people and more to do with a neglectful government. If you really cared you’d ask around and join a walking group. Yes, really – get to know the place, you know.
You only drive to malls. Sigh. My biggest grouse. And yet, show me any city coming up in the last 20 years and I’ll show you Mall City. These are places pushed into maturity by a space crunch. They haven’t had the luxury to develop slowly over decades with handmade goods and local markets. Developers are making space for the thousands of people pouring in each day (yes, each one of you knows someone working in Gurgaon’s business district) and they need to quickly set up shops to feed these thousands of consumers.
Gym. Really? Are you serious? You picked Gurgaon of all places to make fun of people not using a gym membership?! Most couples here take health rather seriously and work out seriously and frantically. If anything I mostly smirk at the people pounding away on the treadmill when they could take a swim, play a game or walk – all of which by the way, plenty of them do. If I had to pick one fit city, I’d pick Gurgaon with its hundreds of fitness and health conscious young couples and busy apartment complex gyms.
Actually most Gurgaon waasis don’t have four apartments – some are struggling to pay the EMI on the one and only. It’s mostly the NRIs who own four apartments. I guess its easier to earn in dollars and euros and spend in rupees. My landlord is in the US too. Also, you’re telling me no one in Madras or Bangalore or Bombay owns more than one home? And oh – I have about eight brokers on my phone even if not on speed dial. I needed them when I moved last year. What is your point again?
I do actually complain about the lack of greenery and we do often drive to Delhi for fun things to do. But we also car pool, take the metro, hitch a ride with someone from the complex headed that way and so on.
And this is where my list of grouses starts.
I miss greenery. Earmarking areas and greening the city is the goverment’s job. With DLF developing half the city we’re stuck with some narrow roads, tiny apartments and not enough parks. No reason to make fun of the citizens for that, is there? The average Gurgaonwaasi cannot build parks out of thin air. We do the best we can in our own gardens and plots and there is an initiative on – Million Trees Gurgaon. Even yesterday I saw a group of young people planting trees along the roads and dividers. The complexes are green and well maintained by the RWAs. Many have even taken up the onus of the stretch of the road outside their complexes. And this is saying a lot for young busy working couples who come home after 8 at night to homework, household chores and maybe a little unwinding. These are not old retired do-gooders with time on their hands
I feel terrible that Leisure Valley in the morning and Galleria Market in the evening are the only places for people to congregate if they want to skip the air conditioning. I feel bad that there is no public transport. It ties down a free spirit like me. Yes, don’t get started on me driving. I hate being pushed/ pressured into things. I’ll do it when I’m good and ready – which might be never. Which really is, sort of my point. I hate that it doesn’t give me the option of using public transport and not putting another car on the streets. I loved living in Delhi and jumping on to a bus and reading all the way to my destination.
I hate the sameness of the buildings and I hate how ugly some of them are with endless chrome, glass and turrets and domes. It’s like a stoned architect’s vision of what the millennium city must look like. I hate that we’re all allotted a certain amount of space and you walk into your neighbour’s house knowing exactly where the toilet is located; barring a few well done houses, there are no surprises. I hate that people have to call and ask for my house number when they reach the complex. That they can’t just remember what it looks like, as they did when I lived in Delhi. That it has no personality or individuality. The kids still look wistful when we pass the old Delhi house.
I hate shopping in malls. I miss organic markets, I miss haggling, I miss strolling down the road and chatting with store keepers as I pick my produce. On another note, it’s funny how most travellers are happy to do that in Turkey and Cairo but not in their own hometowns!
I hate that there is no history. That the landmark around there is Signature Towers or the Ship building. That there is no Siri Fort or Old Fort to just drive by and suddenly be smacked in the face with a slice of history pie.
On the other hand, because I promised to be fair, I love that we have water and electricity without having to fill buckets, check on inverters and buy generators. That I don’t have to lug groceries up to the third floor and can use the lift and spare my knees.
I love that my kids are playing safely within a complex without having to trek to the nearest park. That they are building lasting relationships with kids they meet everyday instead of merely depending on us to introduce them to our friends’ kids.
I love that the OA gets to swim, work out and play a game of tennis when the mood catches him and he has time.
I love that I can walk for an hour every night, without worrying about being run over or having to hunt for a park with a jogging track.
I love that there is such diversity in the few acres that my complex is spread over. Bengalis, Tamilians, Maharashtrians, Gujaratis – you name it, they’re here. This is the one city that doesn’t judge you for your religion or community. You don’t have to speak Marathi to get a job here. Every festival sees a mela of some sort in the apartment lawns. So yes, its driven by consumerism, but isn’t every festival today?
I am happy to meet plenty of people that I’d love to get to know better. Artists, designers, doctors, musicians, photographers – I’d mistakenly thought that there would be only corporate types and their kitty party attending wives, but I am happy to be proved wrong. Unlike the author, I took the time to know my neighbours and I can no longer in any honesty tar them with the same brush. The NCR is expanding, real estate is expensive and just about every type of person who needs a home has moved out here.
I am glad for the friends I have made and the winter afternoon picnics in our lawns and strolling down with a cup of coffee in hand for a midnight chat while we lie in the grass and look up at the stars. Confident that we’re only a quick elevator(!) away from our sleeping kids being watched over by maids (!). A small reward for working long hours and living far from family in a country that is entirely unfriendly to nuclear families.
I am glad that I am here and a participant as the city makes its policies and creates traditions – like breakfast at Roots after a jog and flag hoisting at the Epicentre. There is something to be said for a city that has history. There is also something to be said for being part of history in the making.
And maybe this is why I was so saddened by that article. The author chose to write a wannabe witty, but borderline nasty piece on an entity that cannot strike back. Actually it wasn’t even the city she made fun of, so much as the people – people who unlike the other metros are not Tamilians or Bengalis or Maharashtrians or Punjabis – not from one single community. A city that is a melting pot in so many ways that it cannot be defined by its people. One that she continues to make her home in. One that she seems to have seen no redeeming features in. Yes, I know we all need to promote our books and butter our bread. This one though, was just – a waste of printspace.
So, to a year in Gurgaon *clink* I may not love you yet. But I think we might just be friends someday.