Moving mountains
JUGULAR VEIN/JUG SURAIYA

[ SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 14, 2002 ]
The Himalayas aren’t the youngest and fastest growing mountains in the world. The youngest and fastest growing mountains on earth are where I live, in Gurgaon, Haryana.

 
Mountains? In Haryana? Poor Suraiya. Knew we should have had his batteries checked when we sent him for servicing.

Sceptics, however, are silenced when I invite them over and point out the towering ramparts that have sprung up practically overnight to surround us.

When Bunny and I moved there six years ago, Haryana stretched around us green and flat. From our first floor we could see for miles. Nothing much. Droves of grazing donkeys, exhibitionist peacocks who danced for an audience of wisely nodding owls, and the occasional camel caravan from Rajasthan undulating by as though the dunes of the desert were themselves on the move.

Then upward mobility came to Gurgaon. The earth convulsed and erupted in a rash of concrete pustules, 200, 300 feet high.

Natural mountains are formed by the tectonic plate activity of geology which causes the land above it to rise.

Man-made mountains are formed by the more potent tectonic activity of greed which causes the real estate on top to skyrocket.

The arithmetic of greed is simple. Take a plot of land and build one living unit for one family, you get a one-off return.

Take the same plot and on it stack up 20 living units for 20 stacked-up families, you realise 20 times the return.

So up they came. Man-made mountains bearing exotic names like Malibu, Regency, Beverly, Belvedere, Laburnum, Ambience.

The donkeys and owls and camels that Bunny and I could see from our one-storey house in the National Media Centre — which remains a low-rise oasis in a mountain desert of high-rise concrete — have gone, squeezed out of existence.

Also squeezed out of existence are bijli and pani.

For when they built all those stacked-up living units for stacked-up people someone forget to provide a system of stacked-up electricity and stacked-up water.

There are areas which haven’t had power for weeks at a stretch. And the only water seems to be that which the hapless residents suspect they must have had on their brains for having bought the arid hellhole that their dream house is fast turning into.

But even if there’s no bijli-pani to speak of, there’s no dearth of multi-storied shopping malls.
There are some half-a-dozen under construction and several more in the pipeline. Who is going to do all that stacked-up shopping, and what are they going to shop for? I wonder.

Silly question. For the answer is obvious. Everyone’s going to shop for cars. As there is no public transport worth the name in the area, each stacked-up family has to have at least one car at its disposal, preferably two or more.

You have to have a car if you want to go anywhere.

Or even nowhere. For by now there are so many cars on the roads that the more people try to go any place the more they go no place.

With no one being able to go anywhere, home entertaining has become very popular.

Mr and Mrs Sector W-7 ring up their good friends Mr and Mrs Sector C-9. How about dinner Saturday night? say Mr and Mrs Sector W-7. Why, thank you, reply Mr and Mrs C-9. We’d love to. We’ll order in home delivery pizza and ask the delivery boy to give you the bill.

And next to next Friday, you have dinner on us, and send us the bill.

What are they going to do when there is so much traffic that even the pizza delivery can’t get through? I ask a fellow resident.

Will they start stacking up the traffic one on top of the other, like they’ve stacked up people? Don’t be silly, replies the resident. Everyone knows you can’t stack up traffic; what you do is stack up roads.

And apparently they’ve got a whole slew of stacked-up roads on the anvil. Six ordinary flyovers, one clover leaf flyover and something called a spaghetti junction.

Just in case people get tired of pizza and want some home delivered pasta for a change.

Maybe we should disguise ourselves as a couple of home deliveries and get out while we still can to someplace a little less crowded, I suggest.

But Bunny seems dubious. And I understand her hesitation. Some people believe that their faith can move mountains. Bunny and I are beginning to believe that our fate moves mountains — to wherever we happen to go.

When we came to Gurgaon it was a bucolic Eden; now it’s a towering dinferno. What guarantee the next place we go to won’t soon see the odds stacked-up against us?

Don’t be alarmist, says my fellow resident, who is in with the builders’ lobby. I know we Indians make our occasional mistakes. But when we do, we give them a decent burial and start over again, he reassures me.

Really? Where did we do this? In South Extension, Lokhandwala, Koramanglam, New Alipore, Jubilee Hills? The resident waves these aside.

Slightly farther in time, he says. Very desirable address it was too, once. By the name of Mohen-jodaro.
 
 

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