There’s a lot of wildlife indoors as well, so even if you have a lovely large balcony, keep the doors shut always.
The back cover blurb on Debeshi Gooptu’s Gurgaon Diaries asks a pertinent question: “These are stories of a two-decade-long journey. The journey from Gurgaon to Gurugram. Or was it the other way around?” The jury is still out on that one. While globalisation, outsourcing and the BPO boom have given Gurgaon the title of Millenium City, with residents living in fancy gated communities, flaunting the latest in designer wear, and into the latest international fads, at heart Gurgaon is just “the village”.
Gurgaon Diaries is not strictly in a diary format like say, E.M. Delafield’s charming Diary of a Provincial Lady (though the title could well work for this book too). It’s more a collection of amusing, and occasionally disturbing anecdotes presented in random order that give you a flavour of “the village”. While it cannot be called “the” definitive book on Gurgaon (why, it’s left out a huge chunk of the unique Gurgaon experience: the ghastly weather with fierce dust storms and the tandoori loo that bakes you to a crisp in summer), it’s a must-read for those who may be transferred to Gurgaon — yes, transferred because that’s how most of its residents got there.
There are warnings that must be heeded. Here are a just a few: do not pack non-vegetarian fare into your child’s lunch box during the navratras or else; the fancier your car, the greater the likelihood of it being stolen; keep an emergency earthquake kit packed and ready to run down the stairs with (and ensure that your nightwear is not revealing); beware of short, rude ghouls who ring your doorbell once a year demanding candy (or money, if the candy is not up to scratch), make a list of expensive birthday presents for dogs before you even set foot on the parched soil. Oh, and get yourself a haute dog too if you want to keep up with the Vanderbilts (somehow, Joneses doesn’t quite fit Gurgaon’s well-heeled residents). And never forget this advice: some buildings are plastered with “Entry from the backside only” messages: always keep in mind that these are not invitations to orgies.
Now on to Gurgaon’s rich wildlife — the watering holes are packed with wealthy young studs from villages in Haryana and Punjab, particularly on weekends and holidays. Observe them from a distance, please — the further, the better. Bar brawls are not fun. While joke book chickens may cross roads to get to the other side, real life cows are in no hurry to get anywhere — they create traffic jams while they confer with each other in the middle of roads and there’s really nothing you can do about it! If you so much as say “Boo!” (or “Moo”) and a gau rakshak hears you, you may be forced to eat cow dung as punishment.
There’s a lot of wildlife indoors as well, so even if you have a lovely large balcony, keep the doors shut always. Monkeys drop in frequently without so much as ringing your doorbell but hey, they know how to open your fridge door! They’re aggressive vandals and can destroy your home in minutes — many Gurgaon residents have been known to change condominiums because of them. Do ensure that your neighbours aren’t devout worshippers of Hanuman or else monkeys will be encouraged to drop by frequently. Some of the more considerate condominiums alert residents of monkey sightings on the PA system, so when you’re looking for accommodation, put the monkey menace somewhere at the top of your list. Then there are more wasps than you can count during certain months of the year and unless you’re into natural wasp-stung lips, do not go near them. The pigeons are decidedly militant — they want to reclaim their land (i.e. your apartment) and that’s a never-ending battle. It is disappointing that Gooptu left out another species of pests, however: lizards. There are two types: fat, lazy lizards who enjoy elevator rides to your apartment and swing from your curtains for entertainment, and thin sprightly ones who leap at you — if they could hiss, they would.
On the bright side, there’s food, glorious food. More than you can imagine, thanks to the expats. You don’t have to visit Japan, South Korea or China to taste authentic local fare. You get it all right there in Gurgaon, at a price you can afford; there are dhaba-type restaurants and restaurants in malls to choose from. If you’re a “kitchen god/goddess” and want to whip up Japanese or South Korean dishes at home, it’s not a problem — certain grocery stores stock most of the ingredients. French and American style bakeries abound too. Don’t ever worry about getting fat because Gooptu states very categorically that fitness is a big thing in Gurgaon. Why, you may be scoffed at if you don’t have a personal trainer and you’re not a member of a running club.
While Gurgaon is terribly dry, Gurgaon Diaries is definitely not. Hard facts about the “village” are elegantly presented, and Gooptu’s gentle humour makes it a lovely, leisurely read. I do wish, however, that she had added more anecdotes about foolish, snobbish Ms Chopra (her neighbour). Ms Chopra is as entertaining and endearing as the protagonist in Moni Mohsin’s The Diary of a Social Butterfly. I do hope to read much, much more about her if there’s a sequel.
Rupa Gulab is a freelance writer and the author of Girl Alone, Chip of the Old Blockhead and The Great Depression of the 40s