My house, technically so, is in Gurgaon (now rechristened Gurugram on “sarkari” letterheads and many signages) but there, unbelievably so, are very many homes which have their frontside opening into Delhi, their backyards into Haryana, not Gurgaon, to make it sound more dramatic! Yes, yes, not only a different city but my goodness, a different state. What I am getting at is that my residence is barely a five minute walk from the capital. Many years ago, built home here because the area was tree-lined, had grassy grounds, a clear almost azure blue sky, peacocks, yes, peacocks waltzing in happiness, and the feeling of space was breath-taking. It was a different matter, that day in and day out, one had to commute for work to Delhi, and that being creatures of habit—myself and my significant-other had to, come every week, stock up our pantry from Defence Colony, procure our fruit from INA Market’s “Bombay Fruit Store” (funny, how Dilliwallahs think that if you baptize your business or whatever with “Bombay” the stamp works…I even know of a vegetable shop run by an Afghani Sardar, who quick as a bunny, with boundless energy tells you that his special “sarson ka saag”, all chopped and packed, makes its way to Bombay’s rich and famous, who do away with their caviar once their spinach airlands into their penthouses.
So Bombay is the magic word, alluring customers who might, one fine day, make it to tinsel town, make a bundle, returning home with deep pockets, and better, perhaps, even strike gold. Now the simple logic at play, heard over and over again, me wanting to either put a sock in the speaker’s mouth or shove freshly sheared wool deep into one’s ears, before being, in a garden-fresh voice kept abreast of the already over showcased fact that Shah Rukh Khan was a Delhi boy down to the last letter— marrying Gauri, a bona-fide Delhi gal— who became King Khan, quite early on in Bombay. His bungalow’s current worth 200 crore, putting Mukesh Ambani’s 10-star property (what other name would it go by?!) in the shade. But, characteristically so, I digress, lose the thread…hopefully, I haven’t strayed from the subject too long to harken back! Yes, to summon back where I started off. The neighbourhood I live in, and why one chose to set up house here, despite the frittering-away, stretched-out travel back and forth. Now , inconsolably so, this most picturesque place, with Builders bulldozing their way in with demolition driven hands, Palam Vihar, to use an archaic expression, in two shakes of a lamb’s tail, is on its way to becoming a Karol Bagh, a Patel Nagar, a Rajinder Nagar, to just start off. Individual toy-town houses with the most fetchingly adorable gardens and evergreen classic bungalows are being razed to the ground.
Now for instance, where a family of four to six lived, after being pulled down, flattened, laid to waste, construct with, hurly-burly haste 4 grand floors with state-of-the-art kitchens, where microwaves pop out of the walls, faucets run as soon as you put your paws under, concealed lights turn on and off with the effortlessly light clap of your hands—-this just peeling the first layer of the onion. And then there is underground parking, which falls short since with people for over years and years now, in big cities at least, own definitely two cars, if not three, the roads outside one’s house meant for taking walks or strolls or standing along with your next door neighbour chatting or gossiping away, homing a cavalcade of cars parked haphazardly waiting for a heap of accidents to happen. Now a house which had to home six is roof for 24 or more. Zomato bikes zoom by all day long—people seem to have given day-to-day meals a pass, bikes lorrying online apparels and whatever stuff under the sky, streaking by like lightening. At this pace, sooner than soon, the day is in clear sight, when there’ll be an insufficient supply of electricity, water, and the likes. Rajouri Garden, Pitampura, and even many areas in the so-called posh places of South Delhi, with electric wires unfazedly hammocking over one another, sometime swooning so low as to brush across a bystander; quite often emitting sparks which residents take little notice of. (Here’s where even a long-standing, steely-eyed, agnostic would have to believe that there is some Divine Power watching over!)
So much of the capital has become a slum, and we’re so used to things being so, that we don’t even catch sight of it. Of course, even if one was blind as a bat, the beauty of Lutyen’s Delhi is right there for a beholden you. Only two days ago, the marvellous sight of tulips and salvia—quite contrary to one another—swimmingly blooming on the ground beneath the statues of the Dandi March heroic figures, was something that even a while back, “flashed upon that inward eye”. My space is like greased lightening, closing in, much to the annoyance of my pen which likes to go wherever it fancies, without being reined in…However, as goes the saying, “If Wishes were Horses, Beggars would Ride”, and so off to Himachal, actually Shimla. Over the years, Shimla, the love of my life, has become, more or less, a run-down town. Mountains, short of being dynamited, been levelled down, knocked down, with giant-sized vernacularly regional hammers, spades, shovels and currently drills of the missile variety, its arsenal for the most, abortive, due to power in short supply. However, despite so, the chunking away continues with trees being felled down with hare-footed speed. Whyever so?! A resort-ridden town, this once-upon-a-time, bewitching summer capital of British India, has morphed into. So, on a full tilt tempo, apple orchards with a good share of plum, apricot, and peach trees are like a scalded cat to get rid of at the earliest. (Long dead is the romance of strewing one’s hair with apple blossoms!) So now in Shimla we have resorts a dime a dozen, where post-Covid, people from Punjab and Delhi, are taking weekend getaways as a manner and mode of living and the fresh mountain air too, is being put down like old Tomcats.
With all this, is there little surprise that the ground beneath one’s feet is on unsure footing…
(Dr Renée Ranchan writes on socio-psychological issues, quasi-political matters and concerns that touch us all.)