“Kehne bar ko yeh shaher hai, lekin kanoon yahan jungle ka chalta hai” – Vijay Deenanath Chauhan in Agneepath.
The city is rife with moss covered yellow buildings. Any refugee who comes to this city watches longingly these yellow apartment complexes from the windows of the city buses. The buses pass very closely to these apartment buildings as they cross over road bridges called flyovers. The refugee has his first view of the inside of the apartment from the bus window, as the bus reaches the top of the flyover. He wonders who stays in these magic cubes like blocks, no one he knows lives in these blocks. He doesn’t even dare to dream of staying in one himself. The dare may scare away the dream itself.
City is full of haggard men who go about their daily struggle to earn their keeping in this city. Then, there are dreamers, who go about ignoring all their failures of past, focused on present and success. These are the men most desired and detested by the city. These are the men who are restless and unrelenting in the face of ignominious treatment that cities meet out to them, but that changes soon. They connect, they bond! These are the people who make the city what it becomes; they survive on the edge of the heaving stench of organic growth of the city. They rise, despite the odds against them, they climb the ladders of influence to public spaces, newspapers, club houses and like.
Men as deep as dried out wells, where you are afraid to look for the water at the bottom. They write about unrequited desires, about Maya and glass beads. They bare their wounds and deepest desires unabashedly to the public. The public they want to become, in due time or rather, in short time. They loose their reserve, their dignity to highlight the intensity of their pains and joys, the public cheers for more. It is like a circus of pain and misery. Greater the pain and shamelessness, greater the cheers.
We don’t write about the haggard men who stop to dream, they are everywhere, but they go unnoticed, shrinking in size as dreams roll down the windows of their new cars. They, you meet, no; you see them, as devices, tools! They are the drivers, maids, fixers. They are tools and mechanizations of your happiness; they are cogs of your elaborate machine of happiness and growth. At times they lose their sanity and plunder the joys of the very masters they serve. They rape, murder and destroy, seeking revenge and respite in this unforgiving city. It can forgive anything but poverty.
The potato eaters are no longer potato eaters, they have money too! They earn in a month about the same that you make in a day or half, yet they feel rich! Where is the disparity, you ask disdainfully. They still live 5 in a room, squatting in open, chewing tobacco and spitting on the red sandstone of your beautiful city.
Sprawling campus! That is the way global glossies introduce the new temples of modern India. The campuses are acres and acres of land, recently agriculture, which has concrete buildings clad in highly reflective green glass. Inside, are the new pundits of these modern temples. Overweight, diabetic and full of good cheer! They are the people who sell the middle class dream of a house, a car in the garage and abundant cash in the bank. They are the people who have made it! These are the people who you do not see or meet often, they only hobnob with their own tribe, they are disconnected children of this city, and they stay in suburbs with mansions that have spaces that they haven’t been to in months. They write about frugality and pain of poverty in dailies and glossies. Three spare houses, a couple of apartments and cash parked in government securities, their only fear is that day someone might notice their good fortune in contrast with their own lot.
Sonu lost his father when he was three, he doesn’t even remember the name of his father now. He is eight. His mother works as a maid and he hasn’t been to school most days of last month. Aye Haramee! He calls his friend as I try to digress my daughter’s attention. This is the future! About half of India is this lot earning less than Rs. 90 a day.
Dipen’s father is a mason; he works mostly part time, rest of the time he used to be drunk. Dipen is seven year old and has craniopharyngioma, a form of tumor in the brain. He is of a small frame and blind, which is because of the tumor pushing against the Pituitary gland and the optic nerve. So he has to be operated on and the tumor has to be remove. City’s most premier government hospital has classified this kid’s case as top priority and his father has been visiting the hospital nearly everyday for last five months. There are no beds available for Dipen where he can spent two days post surgery. One of the largest private hospitals famous for its founder’s presence on page 3 of dailies asked for a share of treatment cost from the father, if they were to consider the case under their “corporate social responsibility”! The poor father stopped drinking and hopes to save enough money to bribe someone to get his kid a bed for two days.
Retired General for Indian Army spends most of his time looking after the garden, maintaining the house and gossiping with neighbours. There aren’t many in the “posh” suburban colony. The colony is full of retired defence forces officers like him, who could afford to buy “plots” here at very cheap rates before the real estate boom. Most officers are old, yet superbly fit and full of cheer. Brig. Malhotra is the most cheerful of all. He refuses to accept that he bit hard on hearing, so he handles whatever you throw at him by way of conversation. Most times he gets the context and he reels on his view of the matters with liberal “buggers”, “bozos” and “my chap”. It feels like Victorian times again. General sahib was the GOC in C based in Srinagar during the Kargil war. One of the local RWA presidents told him “Bahut dekhe hai aap jaise!”, when he tried to intervene in a house owner and tenant argument. The other day he was tending to his garden in his boxer shorts and a nice grey T-shirt, Mrs. Malhotra passed by with Mr. Malhotra at the wheel, she piped in cheerfully: “still hot as usual” to the General! It is fun to watch a 65 old man blush! Brig. Malhotra cheerfully fired his “buggers”/”chaps” and sped on, he hadn’t heard anything.