I love Gurgaon: Concrete jungle where you can be free, run wild
This city is not bereft of prejudice, but the anonymity in its high-rises spells more freedom, especially for a single women, than intimate residential colonies affordI Love Gurgaon Updated: Jun 08, 2017 14:40 IST
“Dogs and single people are not allowed in this complex,” he said. “These unmarried people create too many problems. They have parties, get drunk and throw bottles out of their windows.” A retired Armyman, no less, the author of that decidedly silly remark was also the secretary of a Gurgaon co-operative group housing society where, following that conversation, my sister and I managed to get a flat on rent for several years despite our damning spinsterhood.
Desperate people have high tolerance levels for humiliation. We needed that house. And so, ignoring my natural inclination to snub Colonel WhatsHisName for the insult, I stayed silent. I did not ask why the rule was relaxed for us either. When we moved in we discovered that there were, in fact, dog owners in that co-op. Throughout our time there though, we were the only unmarried humans around.
You may wonder why I cite this seemingly damaging example to explain why I like my life in Gurgaon. That chap’s cutting words, after all, reflect poorly on our bustling suburb. The answer is this: as a single woman, I am used to bias in varying degrees wherever I am in the world; Gurgaon, in that sense, is no different from anywhere else, but the blissful anonymity I have found in this city’s high-rises spells more freedom for me than intimate residential colonies afford.
After that compulsory meeting with the Colonel, we avoided him to the extent possible for all the years we lived within the same compound. Now imagine if he had been our neighbour in a village, a town where everyone knows everyone and ‘dropping in’ unannounced is still okay, or even in an urban locality with bungalows and/or row houses? Chances are we would have been compelled to socialise with him, giving him multiple opportunities to rub his conservatism in our faces.
Stigmatise the “concrete jungle” all you wish, but I’ll take the blessed isolation of my Gurgaon flat over neighbourly intrusiveness any day. This is not to say that encounters with prejudice have turned me into a recluse, but that these much-maligned urban sprawls offer residents the luxury of picking and choosing their social circle, weeding out negativity in ways that are not possible in smaller communities. Like that neighbour who ran into me by the lift the other day and, for no explicable reason, breathlessly explained her busyness thus, “I have to get a, b, c, d, x, y and z done just now. Aapki tarah mere mazey thhodi hai” (Unlike you, it’s not all fun and frolic for me). In the quiet corridors of Gurgaon’s condominiums, there is no pressure to extend my acquaintance with her beyond superficial pleasantries whenever we happen to meet.
Age has had this delightful effect on me – I value my time and peace of mind even more now than before. As my patience with fake friendships and appearances declines, I have grown to love Gurgaon’s secluded apartment blocks that allow me, to a great extent, to filter irritants, idiots and bigots out of my life. I gladly visit a sweet neighbour or drive across town for coffee with interesting friends, but a chauvinist a floor below is not worth even the minute spent walking down a flight of stairs.
I am not suggesting that Gurgaon’s co-ops and condos are bereft of bias. That should be clear from my opening example. In a similar case, the Residents’ Welfare Association (RWA) of Essel Towers recently reportedly banned unmarried tenants, especially men. The reasons cited in the media illustrate what happens when a community gangs up against a minority, attributing misbehaviour by one member of the group to the whole.
Gurgaon is not Venus or Mars. People here are drawn from the same casteist, class-conscious, communal, patriarchal and intolerant-in-so-many-other-ways society that the rest of our population comes from. My only contention is that by and large people here have less time to interfere, as is the case with denizens of most big cities; that except in extreme cases like Essel, the architecture of high-rises combined with the urban rush makes it easier to avoid busybodies here than in rural areas and smaller urban clusters.
Mass-produced apartment complexes are often disparaged as “concrete jungles” by those who tend to romanticise village and town life. B.R. Ambedkar showed a far deeper understanding of prejudice, derived no doubt from his lived experience as a Dalit, when in the 1930s he described India’s villages as being “hidebound by caste” and “infected by ancient prejudices”.
In Shanavas K. Bavakutty’s lovely 2016 film Kismath, a romance between a poor Dalit woman and a well-off Muslim man in a Kerala town ends in his violent death. In the closing scene, we see the young woman leave for work from her flat in a multi-storeyed building in Mumbai. No one bothers her. She is Everywoman here. The impersonal nature of the metropolis becomes the ultimate symbol of escape from the snakepit of sectarianism that was her hometown. Mumbai is no sociological utopia, but in the anonymity she finds in the big city, she also finds her freedom.
I completely relate to her and to Ambedkar’s words. Gurgaon, like all cities, is imperfect, but confusing her seeming aloofness with apathy (or equating intrusiveness with concern) amounts to lazy stereotyping. When you mock the “concrete jungle,” remember this: the jungle, after all, is where all creatures may run wild.
(Anna MM Vetticad is a journalist, social commentator, and journalism teacher based in Delhi. She is the author of The Adventures of an Intrepid Film Critic.)