January 2021: A New Year and a New Beginning. We are back in our old haunt and ‘lovin’ it’ .
In self imposed quarantine, my walks are restricted to our 2nd floor terrace. I gaze around and where once (2008) the view was of trees and more trees squinting at the sylvan settings of DLF Golf Club on the main artery of the Millennium city, it is now concretised curtains embedded with glass claddings and coloured pinnacles.
The monkeys are still here, strutting from terrace to terrace proclaiming their lost habitat. The Resident Committee has hired monkey catchers but the simians, masters of body-swerve, have the last laugh.
‘Rural Heart: ‘ The sky view (airplane) presents a futuristic city is dazzling and modern, but ground reality is an unfinished picture of unruly traffic and whimsical constructions.’ I agreed with the visitor. The reason…. at heart Gurgaon is still the village of the Pandavas and Kauravas ( Mahabharata fame) where they were taught the art of warfare by their Guru (teacher) Dhronacharya. Proximity to Delhi and a rich hinterland propelled this ‘ancient’ hamlet towards fame during Mughal and British rules. ‘Old Gurugram’ still retains Colonial era buildings, the Mahabharata period temples and water-well, Mughal ruins, congested markets and alleys….symbols of history pages.
A City on the Move: Successive facelifts and the farm lands sprouted multi-nationals, innovatory manufacturing units, hotels, shopping malls, skyscrapers, subways, parks, cafes and clubs….a City emerging from the flattening of the once ecologically rich Aravalli mountain range surrounding Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi.
In the distance the clattering Rapid Metro train zooms past reminding of the change from Gurugram to Gurgaon and back to Gurugram. A metamorphic journey thanks to city developers who followed Guru Dhronacharya’s advice to Arjun, one of the five Pandava brothers, to ‘look at your target with a bird’s eye’. The green fields and swaying crops turned into brick visuals to entice farmers who promptly disposed of their holdings to neighbouring city dwellers. The money-wand converted bullock carts into Sedans and SUVs, the huts into mansions and toiling days into vaporous smoke rings from Hukkas. Everyone benefitted with villages turning into extensions of New Delhi or NCR (National Capital Region) and North India’s Cyber and Finance capital. A Millennium City aligned with the dreams of millions who troop in following their ‘bird’s eye’.
Present: Like rest of my city/country people I am waiting for the vaccines, Covishield and Covaxin. Nearly 4.5 millions Indians have received the Covid-19 vaccine shots till date and by mid March it will be the turn of senior citizens and the over 50’s. A much awaited boost as most countries and their national carriers have made vaccination mandatory to help ease restrictions and discomfort of quarantine. 2020 had swept ‘travel’ under the couch and most of us enjoyed the longest leisure stay in one place…our residences. Now we are ready to flex our choices.
On the world stage…. USA is back in business with a new President and Vice President. Kamala Harris, as the first woman Vice President of color and South Asian heritage and first Blindian (Black plus Indian parentage) has inadvertently contributed to changing attitudes towards ‘colour’. The event brought back memories of a talk with a friend who was apologetic of her daughter marrying an African-American boy while studying in California. To her it was ‘color’ and not the person who mattered. Indian parents, whether in USA or any country, generally prefer their children having ‘White’ partners as a ‘white’ son or daughter-in-law is a trophy to be displayed with pride and pageantry. Now with Kamala, the offspring of an Indian and a Jamaican, striding the world stage I wonder what my friend must be thinking. Hopefully, there will be change in perceptions. (The term “Blindian” was popularized by the Blindian Project, an Instagram account created in 2017 as a community for Black and South Asian couples and families).
With ‘colorism’ a continuing debate my read of month was THE VANISHING HALF by Brit Bennett.
It was after nearly 10 months that I stepped into my neighbourhood bookstore and flipping through the choices available I picked up The Vanishing Half. But not before reading the review blurbs even though most often I end up disagreeing. At least I know what to expect. BERNADINE EVARISTO, author of GIRL, WOMAN, OTHER (2019 Booker Prize winner) blurb.. ’mesmerising novel. It seduces with its literary flair, surprises with its breath-taking plot twists, delights with its psychological insights, and challenges us to consider the corrupting consequences of racism on different communities and individual lives.’
Wow…I picked up the book ready to be beguiled, delighted, swamped, with the literary journey through racist south to liberal California, through decades and time zones exploring gender, race, identity without derailing anywhere.
It is the story of twins, Stella and Desiree and their escape from the all white African (mulatto) town, together. Somewhere it changes tack, blending superficial with reality as their journeys divaricate. One ‘Half’, Desiree, returns to their hometown with a dark-skinned child while the other ‘Half’ Stella continues on her make believe journey always on ‘amber alert’ for her fabricated ‘white’ identity being discovered. The swaps and tweaks…sex-change, loving husband to wife-beater, white into black (Stella’s blond daughter envious of her Black cousin, Desiree’s daughter) and vice versa. There are echoes of Arundhati Roy’s ‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness‘ with mix ups and pile on.
The similarity fizzled out as I continued reading Vanishing Half. I had discarded Roy’s book mid way.
My one take away…It is karma that decides your life and not your skin color.