The children come first, then the parents. Biologists may baulk at the theory, but this is the sociology and math of the influx of the new-age service class from Punjab to Chandigarh. Youngsters come for college or call centre jobs, find their feet and enough salary to pay for the ration and rent, and then the pensioner parents eventually shift from Muktsar or Phagwara or Khuikhera to a second-floor two-room house in a southern sector of City Beautiful.
The one hope that lingers — fulfilled, too, if the builder doesn’t delay the project forever — is of celebrating Diwali in their ‘own’ house, actually a flat without a vehra but with a substantial EMI, in Zirakpur, Kharar or Dera Bassi. The journey is from Punjab to Punjab, the epicentre is Chandigarh, and your primary festival’s celebration still underlines where your house is, and where your home remains.
In this city of over 11 lakh — about 20 lakh if we count Panchkula and Mohali, even more if the villages-turned-suburbs like Mullanpur are counted in — it is hard to meet a ‘Chandigarh native’ other than hyperbole-infected yuppies who proudly hide where their parents actually come from, or simply refuse to engage in a thoughtful conversation about home and homesickness as they are too busy being awesome instead.
Children at their roadside stall selling hattries (miniature temples) on the eve of Diwali at Sector-15 market in Chandigarh on Saturday. Gurpreet Singh/HT
No wonder, then, that this writer pines to celebrate Diwali on that street corner where friends last converged in 2003, where noise pollution wasn’t yet a concept, and where burning money on crackers was a yearly ritual, not a guilt-ridden Facebook message preaching against patakas. It’s a yearly ritual now, this feeling, only this time it’s more pronounced.
Pardon me, therefore, for not picking up a burning issue this week, but I am reminded of my own story not for vain reasons alone. Over the past two weeks, you would have noticed a series of reports in HT Chandigarh on communities that define the culture of the tricity. From the Keralites invited to populate the town in the ’50s, to Marwaris who are too entrepreneurial to need an invitation, and the Oriyas whose sweat has gone into most major buildings of the Capital Project Chandigarh, to Bengalis who are everywhere anyway, the series has covered all outsiders who feel at home here. It is indeed a mark of the inclusive, cosmopolitan culture of Chandigarh and its satellites that Onam, Ganesh
Visarjan and Durga Puja are celebrated with fervour on the streets here now.
But this writer is part of the overlooked majority, the young aspirant from Punjab who is too much of an insider to find a place in such a series, yet the quintessential outsider who is driven by the ambition that defines Chandigarh. An island in terms of its clean streets, non-savage police force, green cover and genial vibe, the city is the hub of opportunity for those escaping the clutches of drugs and desperation that continue to deprave Punjab.
One such escapee, I haven’t celebrated Diwali, or any festival for that matter, in the town of my birth for almost a decade. For my parents who followed me into Chandigarh, the record stands at five years. Here, we have had happy dinners and uproarious card-playing sessions to make up for the swarm of relatives and friends who used to start visiting since morning. No longer do my father and I go and buy dozens of dabbas of sweets to distribute as a ritual. The last-minute-discounted crackers are now bought by others, if at all, but not by ‘our group’. But Chandigarh’s romance made up for it, or so we thought.
There was a different hope this time. Of shifting into a flat in Zirakpur where thousands who can’t afford Chandigarh real estate have bought houses with the hope of finding a home again. No more rent, even though the houses are co-owned by the loan-giving bank.
But delay in something called a possession certificate has changed plans. This means another Diwali in a city we love, a city that sustains us but we cannot afford to live in. Another year we miss home quietly, don’t know why.