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Land of the sterile

Today I’m taking you to no monument, no tomb, no garden, no haveli, no mall. Mayank Austen Soofi takes us on a journey...

art and culture Updated: Oct 27, 2008 20:50 IST
Mayank Austen Soofi
Mayank Austen Soofi
Hindustan Times

Today I’m taking you to no monument (thank God), no tomb, no garden, no haveli, no mall. In a city whose population is larger than Australia, there’s a locality called…hold your you-know-what, Nasbandi Colony. Yes, Nasbandi — the Hindi for vasectomy.

Okay, Nasbandi Colony is not within city limits. It’s in the NCR, in Ghaziabad district. But there are reasons why I’m taking you there. You see, most of us mall rats are pampered kids of globalisation. We crib about rising prices of Subway sandwiches and have problems if our recession-hit office is giving a mithai ka dabba as the Diwali bonus. This walk in Nasbandi Colony will make you realise just how lucky we are.

Inside Nasbandi
Take a Metro to Shahdara. From there, an auto to Loni. Now, board a rickshaw. After a few stomach-churning bumps on the unpaved road, you will soon reach your destination.

The locality is just across the border from Delhi and yet, Delhi seems so far. PVR, Sidewalk mall, Lodhi Garden, Sarojini Nagar, Big Chill...what names are these? Do they really exist?

In Nasbandi Colony, people might be...well, sterilised, but the water is certainly not. Open drains line the houses. The streets are strewn with refuse. Goats and people scamper by the sides. I stop by a butcher’s stall. buffalo meat on sale. Looks finger-licking. The hospitable guy here offers me — oh my God —water. Should I drink or not? I drink. Hello cholera, come and make love to me.

I’m told that till twenty years ago, the place had a more respectable name — Buddha Nagar. Then the government, panicky over the growing population, announced a unique scheme — get a nasbandi, get a free plot of land. Around five thousand people underwent the birth control operation. Buddha Nagar became Nasbandi Colony.

But then, why is the colony so crowded? How came ‘impotent’ folk continue to be productive? It so happened that more women than men went in for the surgery. So the fountain for future generations remained fertile.

Walking the streets
I stopped by one of the hovels. Sunhera Khatoon lives here. Her youngest was a girl of six when Khatoon went for the ‘operation’, after which she was awarded a free 50-square yard plot at Buddha Nagar. She was living in Seelampur then. “Nasbandi was like a jungle in those days,” recalls Khatoon. “Keekars dotted the gehu and makka fields.” Now, all that has gone.

Walk in any street (there aren’t many) and you’ll see houses doubling as Dickensian factories. Junaid Alam, from Darbhanga, Bihar, makes metallic springs. His daily output of ten kilos translates into Rs 200. Tanveer, next door, earns Rs 70 by making 4000 brass buttons daily.

Mohammed Nasir was selling yummy buffalo biryani for Rs 5 per plate. But there’s not much to nibble on in Nasbandi. No McDonald’s, no Domino’s, no Nirula’s. However, there’s an abnormally hot bakery where seething young men churn out rusks on steel trays. Try them — they are hot, crunchy and delicious.

Don’t be bogged down by the third-worldliness of the place. Ignore the stink of Budh Bazaar, the colony’s commercial heart, and probe deeper. Pavement tailors are stitching delicate embroideries on salwars; makeshift ‘halls’ are screening films on VCD for Rs 5. Santosh Jewelers attracts with its claim of making 23-carat jewels to order. All this pretty girls observe from rooftops.

Those who fear for secularism must visit Gulshan Public School in G Block. Almost all of its 150 students are Muslims who sit in classrooms adorned with Saraswati’s portraits. Even the insignia on their belts show the goddess’s image. The Hindu manager has not received a single complaint from Muslim parents.

A whole new world
Err, what are you saying? Exhausted? Then it’s time to leave. Take an auto to Ghaziabad. Mohan Nagar crossing is 15 minutes away. Get down at MMX multiplex there and walk into the Pizza Hut. Today the farmhouse pizza will taste different. Yes — after this excursion to Nasbandi Colony, you’ll see everything — your job, your grocer, even your loo — in a different light. I promise.