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Back in Punjab, via Chandigarh

chandigarh Updated: Dec 15, 2013 09:44 IST
Aarish Chhabra

Nothing reminds me of my native town near the Pakistan border in Punjab more than a power cut. Eight years in Chandigarh discounted, finally, after a month of having shifted into an EMI-fated flat in a sub-village of Zirakpur, it feels like home.

Five hours a day, two days a week - that's been the frequency of power outages so far, as against nearly none in Chandigarh. Truth be told, the perfection of Chandigarh anyway seemed oddly unsettling at times to a boy brought up in the swine-infested, sewage-oozing, potholed streets of an ignored town in Progressive Punjab. One should know one's place in the world.

Anyway, plans to buy a power inverter are afoot, as our builders, and those of most other housing societies in the neigbourhood, do not seem to like trees very much and have kept little space to plant any in the concrete jungle of Dhakoli. No shade forthcoming in the summer thus, one is forced to hunt for off-season discounts on inverters, going against the order of nature to enjoy simple pleasures of power.

Speaking of simple pleasures, there's also that large pothole right where we take a right turn to get into our new locality. Besides, there are always some special road stretches to shake you awake in case you fall asleep on the wheel or if you are driving around drunk.

After all, one does celebrate the newfound freedom from the UT's cops who would insist you blow into a suspicious-looking tube to examine if you had too much alcohol in your system. Hardly any such alcometer trouble now, as the drive from 'home' to the office in Mohali involves just a sundry bypassing of Chandigarh and its discipline. Plus, I hear they are building a new road to completely skip Chandigarh.

The streets have no pigs - though cattle and canines seem to be in a numerical competition with Chandigarh - but our new town remains characteristically broad-minded abut narrowing down markets with encroachments routinely outsizing actual shops.

Conveniently, therefore, you won't need to peep into a shop or look into window displays, as the stuff you would be looking for would stare at you, on the street itself. Buy that bag of chips, a kilo of kaddu or even a geyser as you walk by, with no one to disturb your shopping spree except some honking motorists who are naïve enough to believe that roads are for driving, not for selling stuff or dumping construction material.

Some roads are indeed for driving, though. Like the one from the airport to Mohali that brings investors to a desperate state ruled by modern-day democratic despots. Or one that goes to Delhi and has an American Dream offering cheap McFood by the roadside. No such luck for roads that bring in trucks of politically controlled sand and gravel to house construction sites where the 2BHK dreams of a new service class take shape.

Amid all this, there is one thing that somewhat dilutes the flavour of Punjab from what is otherwise a perfect desi mohalla. And for someone like this writer, who uses Punjabi even with Bengali colleagues in an English newspaper's office, it's an added challenge to have the same experience off duty. Yet, the cosmopolitan nature of settlers here is charming at times.

So you might find it fun - at least initially - to see a Tamil computer engineer and his Kannadiga wife struggling to communicate in anglicised Hindi with an old Punjabi mistri from Banur, or a Gujarati auntie trying to learn how to cook saag from a Punjabi neighbour.

But when you get bored of it, there is always the full-blownjagrata to awaken the gods and add some music to your sound sleep even at 3 in the night. If you like Honey Singh, Yo, we have some wedding halls nearby and no rules in sight. All of this barely a stone's throw away from Chandigarh, you think.

But don't count the kilometres, Punjab is far removed from its capital.