Inside the Millennium City
Author - Debeshi Gooptu
Publisher - Rupa, Rs 295
A combination of the author's sociological observations and satirical perspective unveils the flimsy curtain of modernity and shows the reality of life in Gurugram, writes SANYA DANG
Gurugram, as we know it today, owes its boom to globalisation, influx of overseas companies and the newly minted class of corporate professionals who work long hours in these multinationals. They contribute to the economy by travelling in luxury cars, shopping at expensive malls, sending their kids to International schools and nurturing high-maintenance pets, and tantrum-throwing maids.
Gurgaon Diaries: Life, Work and Play in Drona’s Village — the very title gives the readers enough clues about the genre, form, and content of the book. The blurb tells us the story behind its name. Anyone who has tried to break up the word would have wondered over the two syllables — ‘Gur’ and ‘Gaon’. Was this village famous for its jaggery (gur)? Err...NO! The new name — Gurugram — gives a better picture. Apparently, it was Guru Dronacharya’s village — a gift from the Pandavas and Kauravas for training them in the military arts. The cover, designed by Kavita Singh Kale, is fabulous — you might even spend a few minutes just looking at the illustrations and laughing at the artist’s perspective. It has a map of Gurgaon where Starbucks vies for space with the eponymous ship building (by DLF) which was the landmark we all used before Google Maps made it redundant. There are parks, bridges, flyovers, cars , dogs, cows, malls , temples, Diwali fireworks , pets and stray cows. Rickshaws, shiny imported cars, policemen, metro rail, youngsters clicking selfies. The map also shows the scanty green cover and the dusty arid landscape of the city.
The city is a paradox in itself — inhabited by the uber rich and the downtrodden, beautiful buildings and terrible roads, fancy malls and humble food carts, rapid urban development leading to breakdown of infrastructure. The shine of multinationals lessened by the rising crimes, the modern way of life coexisting with backward practices.
The book is divided into three parts covering different aspects. Life, work, and play are the three divisions suggested by the subtitle. The chapter titles are tongue-in-cheek and take from famous idioms, movies and other elements of popular culture.
The author has been writing this blog for the last 5 years. Her experiences are identifiable and leave one in splits. She finds faults with the culture, infrastructure and people of the city but she also dedicates this book to Gurgaon, her adopted city which she has ‘grown to love more than Kolkata’ (her birthplace).
The non linear storyline works with the multiple narratives that Gooptu weaves as if writing a daily diary of events, peculiar to blogs. The introduction explains her perspective, how she came to live in the village-turned-city and saw the paradoxes that underlie everyday struggles in Gurugram.
The language is pretty simple with commonly used idioms, proverbs and other daily colloquialisms. The author criticises the much-used version of Indian English (“We are like this only”) , language peppered with ‘Americanisms’ and the many new accents that are a mishmash of various twangs. Gooptu even gives names to these funny accents she hears daily — ‘Haryana meets Hawaii’ and ‘Gurgaon goes to Georgia’.
She lists the shockers, from the entitled brats of Gurgaon to the culture of open-air drinking, the various kinds of parties thrown and the of culture of showing off one’s wealth and status through imported cars, branded clothes , expensive schools and exotic pets. She describes the journey of the town through its phase of rapid urban development, change in values, culture, morals, ethics, corporatisation and globalisation.
She finds it hard to believe that every second person she meets here claims to be a start-up founder who has designed an app. These sharp observations make her blog-turned-book not only humorous but also rooted in reality.
Her sociological observation is on point. She uses the microcosm of the coffee shop to explain the people that inhabit the city. Just as a coffee shop has different people working, relaxing and networking in this confined space , Gurgaon is like a melange of sorts. Here we see socialites, corporate executives, school moms, bunking kids, kitty groups, writers, freelancers, expats, colleagues and lovers. Gooptu confesses to this stalkerish observation in coffee shops- “Each day a new episode of a TV serial unfolded right in front of my eyes. I was getting addicted. Not to the beverage, but the ambience.”
Some quotes really hit the bull’s eye, especially when she talks about the hassle of dyeing one’s hair, beauty and a woman’s dependence on the nearest salon. She describes the new meaning of beauty — “Beauty comes from the inside, inside the salon that is”. She laughs at the new fad of staying young through botox, surgery and laser facials. She criticises the Gurgaon women who spend all their time in parlours getting groomed and beautified, covering up their ‘greys’ to morph into the ‘yummy mummy’ category. As she puts it, “With great dye, comes great responsibility”.
The author lays bare her memories of childhood in Bengal and compares them to making different memories in her adopted city. She goes beyond the superficial gleaming facade of Gurgaon and unearths the hollowness within. For example, she misses the human touch at the neighbourhood bakeries which are not the same as the desi sweet shops she grew up eating from. She misses the warmth of family, festivals and gatherings of yore and doesn’t understand the culture of misguided social gatherings that have become the norm. Whether it is a fancy dinner to celebrate your latest acquisition (car, house , dog , new job ) or the various parties that do the rounds (theme, potluck, musical soiree, housewarming, office party, kiddie birthday bash, fancy sleepovers, wellness party , Diwali party), she balks at the idea of superficial air-kissing routines.
Don’t we all somewhere miss the simple picnics at India Gate with food in a basket or the way we celebrated our birthdays as a child with home cooked food, neighbourhood friends and some homegrown games? What happened to all of that? Today we are reduced to WhatsApp-ing our wishes on every festival or occasion to all and sundry with school kids celebrating their birthdays at fancy restaurants, spas and theme parks, competing with each other from a very young age. This book evokes nostalgia in the readers, reminding them of the simple things that used to make them happy when they were younger. It is a good light read and a must for all Gurugram residents.
The reviewer is a teacher by profession and writer by passion
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