Finding friends and community in suburbia- Jan 5, 2012
I’m not a huge proponent of suburban living. Yet I live in Gurgaon, which in urban planner-ease is almost treated like an abusive word! “You live in Gurgaon??!???” is something I hear all the time. But I do and in some ways, I’m glad I do.
My must-have list for living my life evolved in the two years we lived in GK-I in South Delhi. Rahul and me lived on our own, with plenty of dear friends staying with us off and on, lots of visitors and a full Dilli-style life. Parties, dinners out, mall crawls, late night movies punctuated our work-sleep-work routine. We lived the quintessential DINK (Double Income No Kids) life and were quite satisfied. Of course, every so often we would return home to find our parking spot taken. The neighbours would at times slyly shut off the supply to our water tank so theirs filled first and forget to turn it back on! Every Durga Puja, the Durga Badi in front of us would bombard us with Bangla Rock! Blaring horns were something we didn’t even think about.If we wanted to walk, we negotiated some traffic and got to one of the nearby parks. We didn’t know the neighbours, but plenty of other friends lived somewhere in South Delhi and M-Block market was a great meeting place!
And then one day we had a positive pregnancy test to deal with….a few months gone by, I resigned from work, which was super hectic and started focusing on life as a mom. Panic set in when I realized I would be stuck alone in a 2nd floor apartment with stairs too narrow to carry a pram up and down, for days on end!! Even if I managed the superhuman feat of carrying down the pram, where would I go without the baby breathing in the fumes from passing cars? Do they have baby ear plugs? And I didn’t know a single other person in the vicinity, leave along other moms with babies…..
Halfway through my pregnancy, a close friend Rachna moved work and home to Gurgaon, which was kind of beyond our normal frontier of thought! Another one from our gang Nupur had been living there and visiting her house was some sort of picnic for us. So we were around when Rachna moved to this housing society in Gurgaon, complete with designated parking, elevators, park space, swimming pool, club and the works. I couldn’t resist the temptation and since Rahul’s workplace, the airport, was equidistant from GK and Gurgaon, we moved in December 2003. Rachna and Nupur were our only friends in Gurgaon at this time!
Seven years later, I don’t really regret the move. Yes, Gurgaon is culturally barren, infrastructure sucks, it is an artificially homogeneous society, it can be super pseudo and pretentious. Yes, Gurgaon has no real internal public transport system except for recently introduced, recklessly driven autos and cost of living is very high. Yet, it is in Gurgaon, within the confines of my large housing society that my children have found the space to play, run, make friends. Through their friendship, I have found precious friendships too, friends with whom I can share my joys and sorrows, friends who don’t judge me and who stand at a similar point in life, give or take a few years in the cycle of marriage, babies, young kids, older kids…work, out of work, part-time work and full-time work…juggling children, work, hobbies, parents, in-laws and everything else….Hansa, Ruchi, Shruti, Vimi, Preeti, others who I may have left out, thanks a ton!
In the past year, I have tried to balance this carefully orchestrated domestic bliss out by choosing to work in low-income housing, so I also get to see the other extreme of life- poverty, degradation, struggle…working among people in the slums and resettlement colonies of Delhi. How to reconcile the disparities between my life and theirs is something I’m still working out. I admire the tenacity of the poor. I see how they make up for deficiencies in infrastructure and resources with a strong sense of community, leveraging this inter-dependence to increase efficiencies. For instance, one mother watches over kids in the gali, while the other mothers go to work as domestic help in the middle income colonies nearby.
I must say I am lucky to have found a sense of community, something that many complain about in suburban life, within my housing society (we friends replicate amongst ourselves a similar kid-care system). This is perhaps the single most important reason, beyond the comforts and conveniences, that Gurgaon has been a smooth ride for me!