Sunday, June 13, 2010

Gurgaon Diaries - 2

Gurgaon, I was told, is completely devoid of public transport system. The government is probably proud of it as well. Being from Navi Mumbai (Kharghar), I can well imagine this. My initial days at Kharghar, when I did not have a car, involved plenty of walking, wooing and cajoling auto-rickshaws to go my way and showing that famous horizontal thumb gesture indiscriminately to any passing vehicle. Gurgaon promised to transport me back in time to those days!!

As a first step, I asked for the nearest market place and was told that there exists a “well established” market called the “Hudda Market” about a km away. I walked down to this market and found it to be a dingy little place with a bunch of shops set up in a distinctly claustrophobic manner. It has only one proper eating joint inside and five medicine shops around it which seemed to cast some suspicion on the quality of food being dished out by this place. Other than this, this market also has an abnormally high number of Unisex saloons which also makes you doubt about their true purpose of existence. This market also has the only liquor shop of this area (which was surprisingly well stocked; the guy had Carlberg / Budweiser/ Tuborg/ Foster beers along with the usual Indian fare) very strategically located at the extremely corner of the market – immediately beside a small kabab-wala. A subsequent visit in the evening revealed that the kabab-wala sets up plastic chairs & tables in the small stretch beside the booze shop and serves kabab and booze over there. The kabab-wala has a decent choice of offerings with those typical glass-single-window-thela and multi-coloured kababs (I could find red, orange, yellow, brown, green colours) hanging on sheeks – ready to be served at a moment’s notice. One also has the comfort of sitting in open air, very close to the boundary wall of the market so that any sudden visit of the authorities in khaki can be handled by quickly jumping over the boundary wall and running cross country across the dark grounds surrounding the market. There would, of course, be a certain amount of danger of breaking your leg or getting bitten by the innumerable dogs that seem to infest the surroundings of this market but one must accept it as a part of the charm and excitement of visiting this place.

Though the official opening time is ten, it is only by eleven when you can see some activity in the shops. The shop keeper would come by that time, yawning away to glory and if you dare to question him about the reason for this delay, you would be given a long lecture which will start with “aise bhi kya jaldi hain..” and then move on to sentiments like how we do not have time to stand and stare any more. To be fair, these shops stay open till about 10:30 or 11:00 pm (the booze shop and his kabab partner till 1:00 am in the night) and one has to give some leeway on account of this.

Another interesting this about this market is the complete diversification the shop keepers seem to have achieved. There is a milk booth which also doubles up as a Xerox shop, an internet café (the only one in this area) which also functions as ladies tailor, a duplicate VCD shop which also sells stationeries and one of those unisex saloons also sell mobile handsets. The most unique one will have to be the shop which sells ladies undergarments and towels (and which happens to be the only shop selling both the items in this market). I had a rather embarrassing moment when I had to enter this shop to buy a towel (I had forgotten to pack one) and had to wade through a sea of women of different sizes and shapes who gave me very dirty looks.

Just when I was about to give up on this market, I discovered that there is a better version of this market available just behind this market. This was more of the present generation market – which has three supermarkets including the Aditya Birla group “More”, the “Grahneez” (a popular local supermarket chain) and “Mandi” – an exclusive fruits and vegetable market. These are the new generation air-conditioned shops with bar-coded materials on well lit displays and English speaking staffs – shops to which we have now got used to. I also discovered that there is a shop which sells an amazing range of frozen foods including Japanese foods, pork and beef cold cuts and diet ice -creams. And this new market also has a Pizza Hut and several small food joints – all of whom are ready to deliver at home.

One could easily notice that Gurgaon is like a small island amongst the traditional Haryana lifestyle; an island with wide roads, plush cars, educated executives and call-centre crowd maintaining an air of exclusivity within it. It is an upwardly mobile place with a somewhat cosmopolitan culture and expensive lifestyle. I expect that this probably would have created a rift with the local people, as I had seen in Kharghar. It is too early to comment – one needs to observe more.

Till then, let me feel at home – now that I have discovered that I have a Pizza Hut less than 1 km away!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Gurgaon Diaries - 1

I landed up in Gurgaon on 2nd June 2010, after an eight-year stay at my adopted hometown Mumbai. The welcome was not altogether pleasant as it was hot (37 deg C at 8:30 pm in the evening!!), my luggage was the last on the conveyor and I was tired. The tiredness was probably more mental than physical – caused by the psychological effort of moving out of my comfort zone, both in terms of location as well as job.

The hotel, a simple and unpretentious one in Gurgaon called “Bax” (god knows who chose the name), fortunately could provide me a room immediately and also promised that food will be available incase I wish to partake the same. The room was perfect except one near-fatal defect – namely, the air conditioning does not work. To be fair, it switches on, makes a great deal of noise, its flaps move when I press the appropriate switch on the remote and even it displays the temperature. It only refuses to cool down the room temperature!! I suppose some undemanding gentleman would accept this rather than be a terrible bother but at 37 deg C, I couldn’t care less. A quick visit to the reception and a brief eye-to-eye no-nonsense conversation with the receptionist ensured that I was immediately shifted to a different room with an ambiguous assurance that this new room has a “Split AC”. I was too tired to explain that I have no moral objection to window ACs, especially so since I happen to have two of them at my place; my requirement – and this I am rather tiresomely firm about - is that the AC should function. When I say function, I mean there should be a perceptible drop in room temperature once it is switched on. This new room with the “Split AC” which was so highly spoken about, unfortunately did not quite fulfill this demand of mine. For sure, it was better than the previous one but the improvement cannot really be described as substantial. On the other hand, this room had a television whose remote required strong fingers and a very purposeful mind as every button had to be pressed with extremely hard and that too several times. The effect was also somewhat unpredictable as often the channels changed on their own – some sort of a delayed effect of the remote being pressed 15 minutes back.

Having explored all possibilities with the AC and the TV, I picked up the menu card. A call to the room service revealed that only about 5% of the menu is actually available and that too would probably have a waiting period of at least an hour. I chose to have only plain curd – which seemed to be the safest bet amongst the available 5% menu and was promised that this would be delivered in less than an hour. This proved to be true excepting the fact that when the plain curd was delivered, they also delivered two plain parathas with it as "complimentary" . I had a long and desultory conversation with the room service and subsequently with the manager wherein I insisted that I wanted plain curd and just the curd – without any accompaniment of parathas, however tempting they might be; the room service chap maintaining that it is against their policies to serve “just a plain curd” to any of their guests. It seems that it is impossible for an honest and innocent man to have "just plain curd" in this hotel without severely offending the delicate sense of hospitality of the staff.

After this ratherbeventful night, I moved into my new flat on the next day. This part went through like a clock-work. The watchman, a friendly bloke called Mithilesh proved to be one of the most well organized gentlemen I have ever met. Within 5 minutes of me entering the flat, the newspaper-wala was fixed up, housemaid was arranged for, a plumber was sent to check whether there is any leakage and the telephone number of the nearest grocery store was handed over. The aforementioned gentleman, very helpfully, informed me that the grocery store does home delivery and also promised me to introduce to the nearest restaurant who also delivers food at home within a reasonable time. I was seriously contemplating on whether to offer him a job in my previous organization as the facility management head and finally decided not to do as it lead to his losing his entrepreneur spirit and eventually becoming another of those rule-abiding, moss-laden dimwitted nincompoops which only a large conservative organization can produce.

Thus ended my first day in Gurgaon; non-functioning AC, weirdly hospitable waiters and a quick-gun watchman. Let's see what the next days reveal.