Thursday, January 10, 2008

Time Travel : Gurgaon in 1988

Exactly twenty years ago, my father died of a heart attack in a remote village in what was then the backwater town of Gurgaon and looking back at the past twenty years, one can only marvel at the change that has taken place. My father died some near the village of Manesar where today the facility of the National Security Guards (NSG) stands. The NSG was set up following the assassination of Indira Gandhi and in 1988 was still finding its feet.

I used to live in a remote village by the name of Muhammadpur which used to be served by two Haryana Roadways buses on a good day and the transportation to the nearest town of Tauru was very literally by a bullock cart. No buses plied on that route and the bullock cart took an hour to travel the 10 km distance and was an extremely enjoyable ride on a winter afternoon. Traveling from Delhi, to get to Muhammadpur, you had to first hop on to a bus at the Kashmere Gate ISBT or Dhaula Kuan, alight at Gurgaon and then change into the Haryana Roadways bus for Muhammadpur. If that bus was not running, then there were plenty plying down the National Highway 8, but they would drop you on the Highway and from there my village was a two hour long brisk walk. I remember making those treks often, usually after a Sunday spent in Delhi and then discovering in the evening that the Roadways bus wasn’t on road that particular day.

If for some reason you got stuck in Gurgaon, there wasn’t a place to stay. Between the Maruti factory, land for which had been acquired way back in Sanjay Gandhi’s time but had just started functioning a few years earlier and the main town, which began a little before the bus stand, there was nothing but wilderness. The only lodging place I ever discovered was the Ex Serviceman’s Rest House set up by the Haryana Government to provide a facility for retired soldiers from the villages needing to come to town, usually to collect their monthly pension. If it was and it usually was, then for a nominal amount, the care taker would give you a charpoy and a razai and put you up in the dormitory. There were a couple of rooms meant for officers too, but you wouldn’t want to stay there. They would remain occupied for long periods, cost more but always had a lingering musty odor after the doors had been open. The dormitory only had the buzz of mosquitoes.

There were no shopping malls and the buzz of the town was the string of shops on Railway Road. Gurgaon has always had a railway station on the Delhi-Jaipur route but the station lay on the edge of the town and wasn’t very popular. The bus stand which had an appropriately named restaurant called” Wheels” was the hub of town and most of the important offices, banks and shops were in that area. There were no amentias like hospitals either. On the day of my father’s heart attack, I remember in a memorable experience, driving down all the way to Delhi, because the option in Gurgaon then that any one knew about was the local civil hospital an option of no one’s choice. He died on the way.

The Gurgaon I am writing of is the late eighties, when the labor pains that would eventually birth India’s release from socialism and the beginning of the transformation into a free market economy but it wasn’t there yet. More specifically, I am writing about a part of Gurgaon where I lived called Mewat and the story of Mewat and Gurgaon put together is the story of India that is half here and half still there. As I dodge the call centre vehicles screeching past my house, pass the shiny malls and the high rises and read pejorative comments about sleepy old Gurgaon town, I wonder at the Gurgaon of two decades ago and whose roots according to local lore went back to the Guru Dronacharya of the Mahabharata. Unfortunately the call centre vehicles don’t travel much further beyond the modern complexes developed by Unitech, DLF and the other builders. If they did, they would find that a couple of Kilometers off the National Highway 8, the description of the previous paragraphs still holds true. Bullock carts still ply between Muhammadpur and Tauru. As they do in many other places in India presenting the contrast between the eternal India and the emerging India. And that is Incredible India.

1 comment:

Aditi Malhotra said...

It is a wonderful post by your end, where every line is so much on the detailed and informational. Thanks and keep sharing your thought with all.

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