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Cultural contrasts in Gurgaon: Are we too quick to judge this city?

Yet another article, in the Business Standard this time, highlights the cultural contrasts between the original inhabitants of Gurgaon and its original inhabitants. “The two sets of people do not share public spaces — so vital for a city to become a melting pot of cultures. For example, the city’s sought-after clubs are out of bounds for the villagers because they do not fit the profile,” write journalist Veena Sandhu. Access to private schools is equally difficult for rural children, despite their immense material prosperity. It is a strange situation, by any standards.

I happen to frequent several days a week a space where these two worlds do meet. My gym. Owned by a local, most instructors in the gym belong to Gurgaon’s urban villages. The customers are a mixed bag of ‘us’ and ‘them’. The interaction has helped me look at the young men with a different lens. Often labeled as aggressive and uncouth, the citizens of modern, glitzy Gurgaon would like to dismiss the city’s rural young, avoid them. I, however, see their immense dedication to their bodies, their single minded focus and determination when they work out. I have not once (in several months) seen them ogle at a woman, flirt with one or even come anywhere close without permission. Initially, my attitude was as neutral as possible, perhaps even avoiding eye contact totally. Then slowly, I felt myself relax. Initially a smile would get a stiff response, almost a scared one lest I judge him. Now the regulars will smile back or even have a conversation in the lift. My trainer never introduces me to any of these friends of his by name; that comfort level has not been reached yet. But our distrust is as much the cause for this as the actual cultural divide.

I see spaces like this (and its good to take these spaces even more public than a membership-based gym) as a great opportunity to initiate interaction and sports can be a starting point to evolve a new culture for this city, which is young and in a delicate formative stage. I feel that we are so quick to judge, almost as if someone passing a diktat to allow intermingling will miraculously overnight resolve these issues. And then a woman gets molested, and everything clams shut again, the abyss deepened, trust destroyed.

We need to give this city time to evolve and find its balance. Yes, efforts must be made to initiate those dialogues, and equal opportunity is a good starting point especially in areas like education. Personally too, it is important that we get out of our shells and really open our eyes to the realities, to the ‘human’ side of the people around us.

Can women have it all? Who can? Aug 19, 2012

“Can a woman have it all?”
It is a statement that infuriates me no end. Can anyone have it all? No, right? So it’s a stupid question. Yet, the perception is that love, riches, power and fame, in no particular order, constitutes ‘all’. That love can be substituted by sex and happiness, whatever that elusive thing is, plays no part in this construction further muddies the myth of ‘having it all’ for me.
It upsets me that the rhetoric around compromise is assumed to apply more for women than men. Is not life a negotiation of compromises and priorities for each one of us? Is it not about recognising opportunities and choosing which ones to take and which to let go?
At certain points in their lives, men and women feel their disappointments bitterly. At others, they feel let down, either by themselves or by others. In this, perhaps men are wont to take responsibility more often for their losses, while women might tend to blame it on others. That goes with the territory of patriarchy that we accept around us, especially when we question if women can have it all!
I wouldn’t want it all. I couldn’t handle it, I’m sure!

Bonding in the salon: A sunday ditty about a man and his cutest little girl! April 15, 2012

“Appa is looking like a monster!”, a small little voice piped. I craned my neck to spot a delightful, dusky little girl seated in front of one of the mirrored stations at the neighborhood salon. Appa, who I never caught a proper look at, appears to be a large man, face covered with something dreadfully white and head inside one of those round helmet-like contraptions you see in ads from the ’60s.

While I get my head oiled, I watch a cute little drama play out on the opposite side of the mirrors between us. Appa continues to talk to the little girl, aged perhaps four or five, in his booming, patient voice, even as the salon “bhaiyya” does his stuff to Appa. The girl proceeds to call Appa, fondly, a buffalo, a funny cow, a hippo, several types of monsters. Appa buys time with the promise of gems. Some friendly bargaining later, it is agreed that it would be the round packet of gems that comes inside a plastic ball. As time wears on, the little girl frequently asks about when they could go home. Appa bargains for a little more time, the bhaiyya being blamed each time for the delay. And the promise of the visit to the grocery store for the gems is renewed once again!

As I left the salon, I saw another little boy sitting fidgety-fidget in a chair, while his dad got a haircut and a pedicure. Before, at the reception, I had caught an entertaining piece on the obsession for non-wrinkled underarms and a known city clinic had claimed that 60% of their clientelle for underarm botox is men!

This is a new breed of men, and a new breed of fathers. I see mothers being short on their kids in public all the time. There are women who regularly drag their kids with them to the salon and snap at them for being impatient and bored. The men in the salon today, i contrast, were spending quality time with their children, telling them stories, hearing what the kids did at school or in the park, and generally having a rollicking time. While the kids did get edgy, there were no harsh words. At the same time, the dads got the grooming done too, clearly a vital part of their weekend routine! Perhaps the mums were inside one of the closeted rooms getting some grooming done as well, and it was a big family day out at the parlour!

I had a fleeting naughty thought as I sat there though. What happens if one of these 40-something guys is sitting there with cream on their face and head inside space helmet and the smartest, young female team member at work (the kind that men secretly desire and have a strange mentor-cum-admirer-cum-boss relationship with) walks in to see them there! Would he stutter in embarrassment, turn his face away or greet the girl confidently, with a smile on his face? Thought for your Sunday!


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