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 Gurugram, 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 Gurugram. The earth convulsed and erupted in a rash of concrete pustules, 200-, 300-ft-high. Natural mountains are formed by the tectonic plate activity of geology which causes the land above it to rise. Manmade 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. Manmade mountains bearing exotic names such as 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 paani. For, when they built all those stacked-up living units for stacked-up people, someone forgot 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 hell-hole that their dream house is fast turning into.
But even if there’s no bijli-paani to speak of, there’s no dearth of multi-storeyed 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. Maybe we should get out while we still can to some place 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 Gurugram it was a bucolic Eden; now it’s a towering inferno. 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? I ask. The resident waves these aside. Slightly further back in time, he says. Very desirable address it was too, once. By the name of Mohen-jo-daro.