We often read about cities having an identity. Sadly, our city of Gurgaon has a bit of a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde personality. While those far from it perceive it as the Millenium City of skyscrapers and dapper architecture, those who live in it cannot look past its potholes, messy traffic, soul-less-ness and, increasingly, its brash criminality and lack of safety for anyone, not just women.
In a recent tweetchat hosted by thisbigcity, an award winning sustainable cities blog that covers innovations in urban design, architecture, culture, technology, transport and the bicycle, identity was discussed in some detail by experts the world over. Interestingly (and scarily in the context of Gurgaon), the lead question was about how your city has shaped your identity. Anyone Gurgaon resident wanting to take a potshot at answering this is welcome to comment on this post and it promises to be an interesting compilation!
But really, how would I answer that? I can articulate clearly how other cities I have lived in have shaped my identity. Chandigarh, I barely remember, but Mumbai and Lucknow play a significant role in my life, a role I have described before. And my years of studying architecture and working in Delhi have certainly made me more independent, more aggressive in getting heard, less trusting perhaps but also helped me seek pleasure from the complexity of the urban environment I live in. Culture and heritage, learned from Lucknow, were able to bloom as aspects of my personality in Delhi.
In Gurgaon, I learnt to recognize limits and also learn to enjoy them. A clearly stratified city—this side of the highway and that, signifying old Gurgaon-ites and the new immigrants—Gurgaon taught me to seek refuge in my identity as an educated, upper middle-class mother of young children. It taught me to see a city for the basic amenities it can offer rather than to expect excitement from it. It taught me to value the sanctum of my secure condominium and try to not think of what that says about the safety of the city in general; to enjoy the company of others ‘like’ me (read educated, middle class, similar background) rather than look for diversity. Gurgaon taught me that driving for miles to buy basic supplies is ok, that its normal for every home to have two cars, that suburban life is the inevitable future, that living on power back-up was not something I should feel guilty about……I could go on, but you get the drift!
After eight years here, there are days I see nothing wrong with my life. But today, when I examine the issue, I am horrified to realize this is not what I am and certainly not what I want to be. And if I am disgusted by what I am turning into, what am I doing to my children? Will they imbibe the aggressive barrenness, insensitivity and apathy that define this city, or is there a hope that positive changes will happen? I am hopeful, because everyday I meet people who want to see the change; increasingly, I am meeting people who want to ‘be’ the change, and even some who ‘are’ the change. Am curious to see all these change makers and initiatives come together somehow, to make an impact on our city, and inevitably on us, offering us a brighter, richer, more diverse, inclusive, empathetic, energized and safe future.