Haryana's financial capital, Gurgaon, is home to two civilisations marked by a stark contrast. Veenu Sandhu offers a glimpse into the two worlds that exist side by side and are yet so distant.
Aishwarya Dravid has been living in Gurgaon ever since she was born 23 years ago. Jackals and hyenas used to abound in the Delhi suburb not many years ago. Today, the area around her house in plush DLF Phase I is bustling with malls and restaurants. Dravid, who works for an online youth forum, travels freely in the city. Yet, there are certain parts where she does not venture. Those are the areas where the original inhabitants of Gurgaon live, villagers who sold their land to builders like DLF and Ansals so that India’s Millennium City may come up.
Like Dravid, Aman Gogia, 26, is careful about the places where he hangs out. He prefers pubs like Striker where he knows men from the villages don’t come. Dravid and Gogia have heard stories about the villagers getting into brawls, misbehaving with women or even whipping out guns. They haven’t personally had any such experience, yet the need to maintain a safe distance is deeply ingrained in their minds.
The police, too, view Gurgaon as two worlds — “the good and the gaon (village),” says Deputy Commissioner of Police Maheshwar Dayal who is in charge of crime and traffic, along with Gurgaon’s south and east districts. (The city ought to have six DCPs but is making do with two).
Dravid and Gogia represent the modern, fast-paced and upwardly-mobile world that has descended on Gurgaon in the last 20-odd years. The city has become home to the likes of KPMG, McKinsey, Nestle, Google, Microsoft, Genpact, General Motors, Accenture, Bharti, Airtel, Nokia, Ericsson and many more. People who now live and work here are evolved in their tastes, well-travelled and sophisticated. Modernity is their badge of honour, and they wear it unabashedly. The villagers they so carefully avoid come from the world where time, for centuries, has moved at a leisurely pace, where traditions define the way of life. It’s a stark contrast of civilisations. Both worlds maintain a fragile balance that sometimes gets disturbed and leads to friction. “The city’s educated, cosmopolitan people live in islands, in their flats and condos. For them, life outside is the drive they take to get from one place to another. There is very little connection with the city,” says former Ranbaxy CEO Atul Sobti, 58, the editor of the city’s first weekly newspaper, Friday Gurgaon.
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Life in Gurgaon’s numerous condos is regulated. They are clean and proper. Cars are neatly parked in bays. Clubs flourish. The better ones offer water and electricity round the clock. Ardee City is one such gated community. Next to it is Wazirabad, a large village with a population of about 8,000. The roads in this village, as in the others, are cemented and the drains covered. SUVs and luxury cars are parked with pride in the narrow lanes where salwaar-kameez-clad women pass them by carrying baskets of cow-dung cakes. Mir Singh Yadav, 72, a former soldier and landlord, sits outside his crumbling haveli smoking a hookah. His neighbour, he says, has got five cars for his five sons: a BMW, Audi, Toyota Fortuner, Mercedes and Land Rover. Yadav’s son, Vijay, 37, drives a white Fortuner. “About 20 years ago, you could tell a farmer was prosperous if he had a scooter or a television set in his house. Now, we’ve lost count of the number of big cars in our village,” says Yadav.
By all evidence, there is serious money in the villages. But that money doesn’t guarantee entry into the city’s elite circles. That’s reserved for businessmen, senior corporate honchos, professionals and expats. In a way, expensive purchases by the villagers could be their way to gain social acceptability. If money is the yardstick for success, they want to show they’re second to none. A sales executive at the Hyundai showroom on Golf Course Road, which opened six months ago, says he’s already sold five Santa Fe SUVs, priced at over Rs 28 lakh each, to young men from the villages who paid cash down. “They come in groups of four or five, go for one test drive, don’t ask too many questions and aren’t really aware of the competition,” says he. It’s only seldom that their visits don’t result in a sale. “You can sometimes even spot a Ferrari in the villages,” says the salesperson.
The display of new-found wealth has begun to bother the other set that might be hip and happening but also works round the clock. A customer at a jewellery shop in a tony locality recalls how taken aback he was when a man pulled out Rs 70 lakh in cash from his bag to pay for the ornaments he’d bought. “And here I was sitting with my credit card doing the math.” Aditya Madan, 31, the proprietor of Yes Apparels, one of the oldest shops in one of Gurgaon’s oldest markets (Sector 14), recently had a customer from a village who bought Numero Uno jeans, jackets and T-shirts worth Rs 2.20 lakh in cash. The new citizenry doesn’t come to his shop. “They don’t want to come to this side of Gurgaon,” says Madan.
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The two sets of people do not share public spaces — so vital for a city to become a melting pot of cultures. For example, the city’s sought-after clubs are out of bounds for the villagers because they do not fit the profile. They encounter the same snobbery when they want to enter a nightclub. “They’re treated as pariahs in what was once their land, which is humiliating and frustrating for them,” says activist Amina Shervani, 48, who shifted to Gurgaon in 1989 and has seen it transform from a sleepy village to what it is today. So, brawls are frequent, though matters don’t always reach the police. Earlier this month, one such fight broke out at an upscale gym. A young villager demanded to use the gym during a women-only time slot and was refused entry. He called in a group of his brawny friends and they blocked the entrance to the gym, holding up the women inside. No police case was registered but the owner decided to shut the gym till things cooled down.
Schools aren’t helping bridge the gap either. Back in Wazirabad, Vijay Yadav says the farmers have prospered by unimaginable proportions, but access to upscale private schools is difficult. One such school turned him away because his children came from the village. So, he got a house in a gated complex and filled that address in the form (though he lives in the village) — this time his children got admission “The big schools don’t give admission to village children and this leads to fights. The villager’s argue, ‘We gave you our land, and you’re not willing to educate our children’,” says Babu Ram Saini, 60, who sold over 100 acres to the Ansals back in 1990.
Even in the schools where children from the two worlds study together, urban parents are cautious about the extent to which they mingle. “When I found out that my son was being friendly with a property dealer’s boy in school, I told him to stay away from him,” says the mother of an 11-year-old. “These little children talk in crores and discuss property matters. One of his classmates carried Rs 20,000 for a Class VI trip!” she exclaims. The 2007 shootout in Gurgaon’s Euro International Kids School involving the son of a rich property dealer from a village is still fresh in her memory. “There are few opportunities for the children and the youth from the two sides to connect,” says R S Rathi, president of Gurgaon Citizens’ Council. “Youth will connect in schools, colleges, universities or cultural centres. Gurgaon, with an official population of about 1.6 million — unofficially, it’s over 2 million — has only three colleges and the children of the new settlers do not study there.”
Sadly, stereotypes have emerged in a short span of time. Naman Goel, the 20-something owner of Dress Code, an apparel store in Sector 14, says: “In the gym where I go, you won’t see members from the new Gurgaon interacting with the village boys. They are very loud and brash and you know you wouldn’t want to associate with them.” Yet, he is ready to do business with them: most of his customers come either from old Gurgaon or from its villages. “They have a lot of cash to spend. Till some years ago, if you didn’t replace an outfit, they would even pull out a gun,” he says.
Fears abound. Gogia adds, “While driving, even if I know it’s my right of way, I let the other person have his way because he could be armed.” Ishani Bagaria, 24, who works for Taj Mansingh Hotel in Delhi and shifted to Gurgaon three years ago, says there is the feeling that if you go to the old parts of Gurgaon or towards the villages at night, you could get into trouble. It’s a perception that pains the villagers. “We have money and we speak and live differently, that’s why the new settlers are sometimes guarded around us,” says Om Prakash, a 30-something resident of Wazirabad. “If the city kids say aap, our kids say tu. We might sound rude or crass, but we don’t mean to. That’s the way we speak,” he adds. Om Prakash used to drive an open Jeep, but switched to a Hyundai Santro after his uncle told him that he looked like a “spoilt village boy” — precisely the image most youngsters are desperate to shake off.
Shervani blames the “successive state governments, the builders, and the snobbery of the urban settlers” for this tricky social situation. “We bought in a culture of clubs, pubs and malls which they [the villagers] couldn’t even dream of,” says Shervani, one the few urbanites who has forged a relationship with the villagers. “They are a bit feudal; they are patriarchal and culturally different from us. There’s no denying that. But we, the urbanites, have made the situation worse by blocking them out.” Unlike the other Delhi suburb, Noida, where the state bought land from farmers and sold it in a planned way to individuals or builders, in Gurgaon builders bought directly from farmers and developed the area as they pleased — with little thought for sewage, roads, lighting etc. Already, people like RTI activist Raman Sharma, president of the Progressive Gurgaon Forum, and some citizens’ groups are fighting for a better Gurgaon fearing that frictions will only increases as resources, like water and power, become scarce.
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Some villagers have made a conscious effort to become a part of the new Gurgaon. Not far from Wazirabad, surrounded by gated high-rises, Ashok Kumar Yadav, a wrestler-turned-municipal councillor in his mid-40s, is holding on to his piece of land where cows and buffalos share space with a Qualis and a Fortuner. His fields have been reduced to a patch where he grows fodder for his cattle. His older son is a law student and the younger, finishing school now, hopes to appear for the company secretary’s exam. The boys belong to both these worlds — one, that they’ve grown up in and the other where they aspire to fit in. When Sahara Mall came up, the family opened a pub in it. “This new wave was going to change the youth of Gurgaon who were unaware of this modern culture. We wanted to be active participants in the massive transition that was taking place,” says Vinod Nambardar, 34, a resident of Gurgaon’s Chakkarpur village who owns the Blue Eyes pub in the mall.
Today, the area around Sahara Mall is notorious for drunken brawls during the night. Yadav’s boys want the family to close the pub. “It’s not safe,” says the elder son. And, it is not a place where Gurgaon’s elite will step into at night — that’s where the boys want to get.