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Chandigarh’s sector 49: Community culture

AT HOME This young sector boasts of 36 societies that take great pride in forging friendships and resolving issues in little worlds of their own making.

punjab Updated: Aug 29, 2018 23:08 IST
Srija Podder
Srija Podder
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
sector 49,Community culture,Chandigarh
The dinosaurs park in the sector is a big hit with youngsters of the community who love playing ball in the presence of these giant animals frozen in stone. (SANJEEV SHARMA/HT )

While the rest of the world shares emoticons over GIFs and memes on social media, families living in housing societies of Sector 49 are inextricably tied to each other through good old meetings and get-togethers.

Welcome to the still-in-the-works sector, where 36 society complexes have come up over the past 10 years. You can see societies dotting the lanes from 49-A to 49-D, separated by boulevards. Their names, mostly quite mundane — some examples being Punjab & Haryana Advocates Enclave, SBI Society, Young Dwellers Complex, PGI Society—point to their origins.

Mini democracies

Big or small, each society has a mind of its own and a culture unique to it. A managing committee headed by a president ensures the welfare of all 45 families residing in the PGI society.

Elections are held every year. Residents elect the president, in charge and committee members unanimously. Surinder Lamba, president of the advocates society, takes it upon himself to fix the problem of a flooded boundary wall. The society should not suffer.

SBI society president Jagdish Kumar, who has been living here for the past 15 years, recollects how in 1997, the Chandigarh Housing Board allotted land to groups formed by PGI doctors or state bank officers, who collectively appealed to the government to build a community.

“It was the start of an era. The government approved a fixed number of flats and allotted land. This society came up in 2003,” he adds.

He fondly recollects the time he moved here with his wife and children from Sector 21 in 2005. “We bonded quickly with the families living here and grew attached to them in a short span. Those days there was nothing other than societies here.”

They moved back to Sector 21 with its big bustling markets and restaurants only to start missing their newfound friends and 5pm chats over tea. “So we moved back in no time,” he smiles as he whips out his phone and opens the gallery.

The pictures and videos were of the recent Teej celebrations, where women in their late 50s danced to ‘Barso re megha megha’, in perfect rythym. They also organise langars, plantation drives and cleanup campaigns besides a plethora of other activities. “I am 68, my wife is 62, but we don’t sit at home. Our children have moved away but the community affairs keep us engaged,” the president says with an air of melancholic tranquility.

The lush green belt is a sight for sore eyes.

The past

With over 30 societies, the sector is a perfect blend of wilderness and habitation. But before the land was acquired in 1992, there were no signs of habitation here. “This was all fertile land. I owned large tracts of land here,” says Joginder Singh, an old-timer, who was here before the birth of the societies. The landowners were natives of Burail.

The main historical attractions were the two iconic gardens in the sector — Khazan Singh Bagh and Bhillian Wala Bagh. The former was named after Khazan Singh, who was the 14th nambardar of our village, says Joginder Singh, who owned land on both sides of the Sri Santoshi Mata Mandir in the sector.

“Yoga and meditation sessions are the main activities of residents, most of whom are retired,” says a member of PGI society. Clubbed with PEC society, it has total strength of 22 families. Vijay Bali, their president, also helms the residents welfare association (RWA).

“I bought the flat for Rs 15 lakh in 2008 and the district administration took Rs 500 per square yard for internal development,” he recounts.

A support system

Harvard University psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, says intentional communities are about creating attachment, the feeling that someone has your back.

This is true of these societies. Bali speaks for many when he says, “I would prefer to live in society over a kothi any day.” Giving a humorous description of the reality of today, he quips, “Children live abroad. One big house, two oldies, one labrador, four cooks. End of the story.”

“Our system is like that of a village. Come here and ask for me, anyone will show you the way,” he beams.

In each of these communities, it’s the relative compactness of population that creates the feeling of togetherness. The small societies also make for easy maintenance and close neighbourhoods unlike the big societies like Pushpac, comprising 591 flats, where it is impossible to remember everyone’s name and house number by heart.

Some of these communities have their own neighbourhood watches, WhatsApp and Facebook groups besides community pages. You can feel the sense of solidarity that exists in these neighbourhoods, which collectively resolve any issues that may come up, be it maintenance or safety.

Conveniently yours

Area counsellor Heera Negi has also formed a WhatsApp group. The residents put up their complaints in the forum, following which the counsellor resolves the issue. “There is no hassle in functioning as a society when the seeds of trust have been sown in the hearts. I was able to get everyone on board within two days for the installation of PNG gas pipeline,” Jagdish Kumar fondly recalls, telling how SBI became the first society in Chandigarh to install the pipeline.

The pace of development looks promising in this up-and-coming sector, a departure from Le Corbusier’s original plans according to which this was supposed to remain the green belt of the city.

The counsellor informs that areas have been earmarked for construction of showrooms. The sector is also set to get a new dispensary. “We will not open it unless it is properly staffed, just opening it is not enough,” says the counsellor, who has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with PGI to staff it up.

A fruit and vegetable cart parked on a vast patch of deserted land, opposite the cluster of societies, is the only visible mandi here. The owner, 16-year-old Manju, knows the tricks of the trade. Claiming to earn up to ₹5000 a day, he says, “Ye sector badiya hai.”

Overall, the sector has two markets, one dispensary, a community centre, a gurdwara, two temples, two schools and two big parks. Paras Ram Thakur, a long-time confectionary store owner in the sector’s market, a hub of 10-odd stores, nestled in a quiet corner of 49-A, lives in Super Cooperative Housing Society.

He says, “We paid ₹2 lakh for our flat in this society in 1990. The boundary acts as a shield, we feel a sense of security here. The society has 70 flats, spread over 1100 acres. “It does not matter what economic strata you belong to, you are welcome in my community,” he adds.

However, his perception about community living is slightly different. He says the community dwellers remain aloof in the confine of their flats. “Earlier the scenario was different. Now we don’t meet too often. Our equations have changed drastically. However, we find comfort in this peaceful existence.”

This is the paradox of the human condition. Some prefer to be social recluses even in a 74-family community. Jagdish Kumar, on the other hand, believes in active participation. As he puts it, “The sole purpose of living in a society is to reduce stress because our children worry. If I fail to take their calls, they call up our friends and we do the same for them,” he says with sincerity.

A CULTURAL HOTSPOT

Back in the days of yore, when this sector had not even been conceived, the focal point of this pastoral area was a rivulet, running along its periphery throughout the year. This natural stream was also a cultural hotspot. “You could see youngsters taking a walk here in the evenings. Shepherds brought their livestock here, children frolicked. There was little to do back then. So, for us, it was a gift of nature,” recounts Joginder Singh.

A reservoir at the foothills of the Shivalik made the land fertile for culivation of wheat, maize, tomato, cereals, brinjals, peas and sugarcane.

The culture of communion with nature has carried on even after the urbanisation. The green belt in 49-B, next to Advocates Society, welcomes people from all walks of life for a stroll at dusk.

The energy in this park is infectious. Come evening and hundreds of people, both young and old, cover the length of the park. The elderly sit in circles, occasionally bursting into fits of laughter, while families exercise in the open-air gym.

The animal park opposite it gives a Jurassic Park feel with statues of different animals, with the two towering beasts from the Mesozoic era guarding the gate.

These dinosaurs are special, for they are the only ones in the city. And the kids simply love them

OF PARTY ANIMALS, THE DEVOUT AND DOCTORS

A noisy brat

The community centre inaugurated in 2015 is a party hub. If it were a person, it would be the noisy brat as neighbours have complained of excessive noise. Now the counsellor is sound-proofing it, almost like meting out punishment to a rowdy kid.

Healthy and holy

Sri Santoshi Mata Mandir in the sector came into being in the mid-1980s. The land belonged to Jagat Singh, a farmer from Burail village. “We take the needy in and heal them,” says the head priest, who has been here since 1991.

The grumpy loner

The sector has a dispensary, which was opened in 2017 to be run by PGI doctors living in the society next to it. If it were a person, it would be a grumpy loner. An eerie silence greets you as you enter the premises.

First Published: Aug 29, 2018 23:07 IST