IMPRINT 12 Annual Anthology of Women in Publishing Society Hong Kong.
A dusty haze blurs the slowly rising sun rubbing in a new dawn over the expanse of city roofs and tree tops. The mongrels, their numbers increasing, furrow deeper into their earthy depressions after a relentless night vigil and are ignored by the pigeons swooping towards their favored spots on the electric wires.
I am on my terrace looking into homes waking up to daily chores and possible reports in the papers of yet more rape cases in Haryana State, a state that has the most skewed sex ratio in India as result of female feticide. I ask my neighbor, a resident for the last ten years , about her impression of the Millennium city. Her response ‘the one from above or the one from street level’ made me realize that the best way to appreciate Gurgaon was through a prism of change.
Gurgaon, a city with a historical past, began its million-dollar journey as an epical gurudakshina (payment or acknowledgement gift) by the eldest Pandava brothers to Dhronacharya, their guru their teacher. Dhronacharya had taught martial arts and archery to the Pandavas and their cousins, the Kauravas, skills that were tested during the Mahabharata, the Great War between the warring clan members. Thereafter this tiny hamlet, twenty kilometers from New Delhi, was referred to as Guru Gram from guru and gram, Sanskrit words for teacher and place. The water well that Dronacharya supposedly used is still located in the heart of old Gurgaon city.
Decades later Guru-gram became corrupted to Gurgaon by New Delhi builders and developers lured to the vast open spaces surrounded by the scraggy Aravali range. The new city of residential and commercial blocks changed the rural face of the village and provided the ideal foil for the congested and hardened city of Delhi. For the local land owners it was a win-win situation turning them into overnight millionaires with SUVs and luxury vehicles replacing the century-old trademarks, the bullock carts. The arrivistes could now sidle up to their generational counterparts of Delhi and flaunt television sets, mobile phones, ‘phoren’ or imported clothes and accessories, shop in malls and splurge money in pubs and clubs. It was a different matter that money gave a false swagger encouraging brawls and crime, especially against women working late shifts in the bourgeoning IT industry, honor killings and ‘khap’ dominance the rule of village elders.
The arrival of global multinationals and manufacturing units paved the way for non- resident Indians and expatriates from different corners of the world to invest in properties and move in with families hoping to give their children a touch of India-ness. They were joined by Indians from rest of India and before long land prices escalated, land selling at premium, and defeating the very purpose of the city. The new residents stayed on despite the endless traffic jams, power outages and dependence on generators, the debilitating shanty towns co-existing with luxury high rises, cratered streets and lanes, the innumerable cycle- rickshaws and the ubiquitous Indian cow blocking traffic at whim. The redeeming attributes of this ageing millennium city….the still visible green spaces, broad roads and Metro connectivity with New Delhi, the malls, coffee shops, multi cuisine restaurants, swanky office complexes and hotels and the multi- cultural complex, a balm to art starved residents- were rays of hope.
We had joined the bandwagon in 2007, lured by the ambience of nature, the general air of expectancy of the new/first time home owners and the enterprise of the BPO ( business process outsourcing) employees living a lifestyle far removed from their parents frugal existence of a few years back. This was the new Gurgaon over shadowing the old Gurgaon that had been witness to many wars under the purview of the Rajputs, the Mughal kings and the British East India Company- a Gurgaon still clinging on to its cultural and historical past of archaic family dispensations, congested lanes and crowded housing.
A four-year hiatus in Hong Kong (2008 – 2012) was too short a time to expect infrastructure miracles and on return welcomed the propitious changes represented by women and the young asserting their independence through minor efforts…the traditional women’s wear, the sari and salwar-kameez, loose trousers and shirts, replaced by dresses and active wear, the achievement quotient of youngsters from different social strata and the availability of global products.
On first day of our return I walked into the general store near our house to find Australian apples, Thai guavas and custard apples, Chinese pomelos and persimmons, cheeses and sauces and eatables from different corners of the globe prominently displayed on front shelves. The store owner was surprised when I asked for the delicious Kashmiri apples, guavas from my hometown Allahabad, the Indian persimmon or ‘khurama’ and locally made food items. He gave me a condescending look as if to imply that I might have stepped out of the Mahabharata.
Every day is a new challenge, a routine, personal and community, as I try to understand the blatant contradictions of this international city that appears to be a victim of its own hype – its commitment of ‘millennium’ promises.