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Art empowers: How kids from Kanhai urban village tell the story of Gurgaon

I knew something very special was brewing when my friend Swati called me to tell me about the kind of work kids from Kanhai gaon (village) were doing as part of the art project she was mentoring in Gurgaon. She sounded excited about both the process and the outcome. That I had interacted with Shikha from NGO Udaan-ek meetha sapna before through another dear friend Sarika further connected me to the project. And I waited in great anticipation of the final result of what had been titled the Growing Gurgaon Community Art Festival.

What I saw displayed in the public space at Good Earth City Centre in Gurgaon blew my mind. I saw 12 very confident young adults, who not only had original ideas but had put in a lot of research and contemplation into their paintings and installations. Their projects commented on class structures in the rapidly growing city and articulated the acute environmental crisis that residents (humans and non-human) find themselves in. The projects highlighted the flawed model of urban development that Gurgaon is an example of, a model that does not include original residents, that is insensitive to the environmental conditions and that does not anticipate growth well. With the innocence of childhood and the power of art, they were saying important things that the city needs to hear. Read more on what the individual projects are on this media article as well as see more pics on the process and outputs on Udaan’s website and FB page.

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Kids imagine their dream home!

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The artist has made a model of her neighbourhood depicting the condition of water supply. It shows a clear class distinction, with poorer areas getting few hours of water. Second, she superimposes her village pond (that was filled by the govt to create urban infrastructure some years ago) as a way to highlight how the city has swallowed its natural water bodies and now complains of inadequate water

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The star attraction- the cow filled with plastic milk bags. The artist spent time at a gaushala to understand how the process works, had followed a cow around to observe its routine. The irony of the milk-giving cow fated to die because it eats plastic milk packets is too clear to miss here!

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Beautiful collages showing the artists themselves

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The hexagonal box depicted the past (fields), the moment of change (the farmer selling his land) and the future (skyscrapers) interspersed with mirrors. A wonderful commentary on how urbanisation changes places, leaving us with memories and spaces residents cannot often relate to.

As an urban planner and urban researcher, I saw particular value in this endeavor and wish we had many more of its kind. Below are some thoughts I had while seeing the exhibits:

1- We adults need to be told the truth and the clear vision that children have does that very well. As a corollary, we need to listen more to kids and instruct them less.

2- Children perceive the world around them in particular ways. Their observations offer clues to how we should plan and design cities and public spaces. The lack of play spaces was a prominent thought that told us clearly about how urbanisation has impacted children. That public space is shrinking and becoming less accessible must concern us all. Interestingly, the exhibition of the artworks held inside Kanhai village drew hundreds of visitors and intense participation. In Good Earth, an elite space, people were less forthcoming and crowds sparse.

3- The particular background of these children, mostly underprivileged children from governments schools and residents of Kanhai urban village, offered specific insights that are not available to the well-heeled residents of the city. The empathy exhibited by the child artists was rare. In one installation, the artists spent time with the night security guard to tell his story. Their idea was triggered when they saw the guard being yelled at. They wondered why the guard does not get respect instead for helping keep us safe. Their project also highlighted the difficult lives migrants in the city lead, often working two jobs to support their families. This empathy touched a raw nerve in me. I often worry the elite, protected upbringing I am giving my children is causing them more harm than good. I am not sure they will have the depth of observation, empathy and freedom to investigate that I found in the artists. Food for thought!

I was also invited to speak at the festival. I decided to speak about urban villages and the transitions these spaces experiences as this has been a subject close to my heart for years, with much of my research time dedicated to documenting these transitions in Gurgaon.

I’m summarising the main points below, for those who don’t speak Hindi.

Gurgaon has grown rapidly. Urban villages are those spaces that have contributed their agricultural land to accommodate the city but where the spaces where people lived have been left alone. These spaces, and the people in them, have faced several transformations as Gurgaon grew. I describe transformations in governance structures, from rural to urban. I talk about the methods of providing services and in the attitude of the government towards these space, using examples from Shenzhen, China on service provision and redevelopment. Third, I highlight social transformations. I describe the post-agricultural livelihoods adopted by village residents, foremost among them rental housing, which brought in a new type of resident, the low-skilled migrant. Lastly, I highlight that urban villages are filling the gaps that planned development has left, by providing affordable housing, services and even space for small-scale manufacturing. My closing point is that we need to think about the different kind of people that inhabit our city because we essentially face similar issues. Unless we come together to find community-based solutions and hold the government and ourselves accountable, things will not change. We need more spaces like this festival to be able to document what we remember of the past as well as imagine a shared future through collaborative process.

I am imagining a much larger community project that communicated citizen’s needs and imaginations at a much larger scale. I imagine the urban village as the sootradhaar (the story teller or rather the story weaver), one who is wise and old and yet, new and changing constantly. What these children have done through the Growing Gurgaon project – kudos to Udaan and mentors Swati and Friederike – encourages me to dream bigger, to shatter the false cocoons we live in and take charge of our environment as opposed to being silent, complaining and passive recipients of what can only be termed as poor governance and poor citizenship.

If you want to help raise funds for Udaan- ek meetha Sapna, you can participate in the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon under their banner.

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Thoughts on the impending creation of the Gurugram Development Authority

The Government of Haryana has recently concluded a massive spate of consultations in Gurugram ahead of setting up a development authority for the ‘millenium city’. The demand for Gurugram Development Authority (GDA) has been articulated amidst a growing sense of frustration about the lack of infrastructure and services in a city that is not only growing exponentially, but also one which a sizeable number of corporates and upwardly mobile families have decided to call home.

Certainly, this sort of thorough consultation process is unprecedented in the State and rare in India. I was fortunate enough to attend one of these meetings about ten days ago and was pleasantly surprised at the open spirit with which it was conducted by IAS officer V Umashankar, who is the Officer on Special Duty looking after the creation of the GDA. A look at the consultation schedule will offer an insight into the range of stakeholders brought to the table and I have reports of many smaller meetings in addition to these.

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Gurugram’s rapidly changing skyline: Upcoming sectors seen from my balcony

 

Cart before the horse: Create, then consult, in usual sarkari style

One of the main issues on the table was the need for the GDA in a city where multiple institutions are already in the fray. Many of the roles outlined in the Draft GDA Bill (see draft bill and other GDA related documents here), including its major role of urban planning, can be taken on by the municipal corporation (MCG) as per the 12th Schedule of the 74th Constitutional Amendment. Further, State agencies like Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA) and the state’s industrial development corporation (HSIDC) maintain control over lands that they have acquired and developed over time. The justification for the GDA, therefore, emerged in the context of the need for coordination among multiple agencies. Ironically, this must happen, as has elsewhere, through the birth of a new institution. The urgent need for capacity enhancements within the MCG were discussed, but overall, despite the open discussion about the need for the GDA, its creation appeared as a foregone conclusion. The text on its official website (yes, it already has one!) is a giveaway in this regard and, in my opinion, puts a shadow on the intentions of the consultation:

The Gurugram Development Authority created in 2016 under the provisions of the Haryana Development Act 1975 “to promote and secure the development of Haryana”.
Key role of GDA would be to manage orderly-yet-rapid development of Gurugram and regulate planned development activity, to control building operations and regulate land usage. 

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Looking over Nathupur: It’s not all hunky dory, the urban poor are not on the table as yet when it comes to consultations in Gurugram

 

Where’s the moolah?

Institutional design, therefore, will emerge as a significant challenge in the process of setting up the GDA and indications that the new agency will desist from taking on roles like change of land use (CLU) and building permits, which often create internal conflict, is heartening. But more worrying will be the struggle with finding sustainable sources of funding beyond State government grants. By the accounts of eminent citizens, relying on the HUDA to transfer unspent external development charges to create a corpus for the GDA is a futile expectation. It is hard to imagine acceptance for additional levies on existing taxes in a city where residents are already feeling very cheated about the poor payback for being one of the highest tax contributors in the country!

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Conversations in the backdrop of the tanker: Despite its wealth concentration, Gurugram is at the cusp of the rural and urban

 

Opportunities to change the game: Participatory planning, accountability, transparency

As a planning agency, the GDA will have plenty on its table. The failure of Gurugram as a planning model has been widely acknowledged and the challenges of overcoming existing systemic challenges and putting in place a fresh planning vision (and regime) cannot be underestimated. However, this is a city that has unique strengths as well in the form of an engaged civil society, plenty of technical expertise and substantial corporate clout. Institutionalizing a process of participatory planning in the Bill itself, through the involvement of a sensitively constituted citizen committee, will be absolutely essential. This point was brought forth by many experts during the consultation including former Planning Commission member and Gurugram resident Arun Maira. The involvement of such a body, and perhaps other mechanisms of broad-based feedback and greivance redressal, through the planning and implementation process but also while monitoring will also boost accountability and transparency, essential elements that will go a long way in acquiring the trust and cooperation of Gurgaon’s citizens and stakeholders.

In conclusion, I would say that change is a constant and in the status quo situation that this city has faced for so many years, something had to give! If the creation of the GDA is a foregone conclusion, I would rather spend my energy in shaping it with the right intents and architecture so that it can be of some service to a city that is as much capable of brilliant achievements as it is in the brink of disaster.

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There is much to love in the city…all the more reason why so many of us will fight to get the best out of the system

Shenzhen Diaries: In anticipation

I first heard of a possible trip to Shenzhen in mid-March from Partha (we work together at the Centre for Policy Research) during a taxi ride from Delhi to Gurgaon. The name Shenzhen triggered memories of conversations we had about the buzzing Chinese city across the water from Hong Kong back in the early 2000s when Amma and Papa (my in-laws) lived in Macau. Those were the years shortly after Hong Kong (in 1997) and Macau (in 1999) were handed over to China and much was changing in the Pearl River Delta. Papa was flying helicopters for a private airline at the time; and in addition to his usual stories of the rich folks he ferried between Hong Kong and Macau on the famed casino circuit, he was talking about the rich business investors he was flying to Shenzhen and Zuhai, both among 5 Special Economic Zones set up by China along the Eastern seaboard in 1980 as key elements of economic reform. On my trip to visit them in 2000, a year before my wedding, they even took me on a day trip to see the wonders of Zuhai’s swank streets, tall glass buildings and sparkling amusement parks. I wondered if I should expect Shenzhen to be something similar. Over the next few days, however, Shenzhen slipped my mind and I got busy with other things.

Then, in the last days of April Mary Anne and Fu Na arrived in Delhi from Shezhen, full of immense curiosity and enthusiasm, surprisingly unaffected by the oppressive heat of the Delhi summer. Over the intense conversations we had while showing them around the urban villages and slums of Delhi and Gurgaon, I began to piece together a different picture of Shenzhen. Of spaces similar to the ones we work in here in Delhi where migrants and long-time residents squeeze together, feeding off the glitzy growing city and yet, strangely distanced from it. Of a city of hope and entrepreneurship but also struggle and despair.

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Our plans to visit Shenzhen began to crystallize over the month of May and I crammed as much reading about the city and its environs as I could. The picture became fuzzier with every paper I read. Facts and figures, strains of urban history and theory mingled together, shapeless and drifting. I stored as much as I could in a mental shelf labelled “Shenzhen, China”.

We landed in Hong Kong airport in late May and the mountains rising out the water greeted me like familiar friends. On the ferry across to Shenzhen, I finally allowed myself to give in to the excitement of anticipation coming to an end, of the relief of seeing and feeling a city that I’ve tried in vain to conjure out of mere words. Join me on my journey as I attempt to synthesize and interpret what we saw over an intense week of exploration in Shenzhen. Presenting, the Shenzhen Diaries.

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Of Gurgaon and Gurugram: Nay to shouting matches, yay to meaningful debate

Gurgaon’s renaming has come as a bolt from the blue for most people I know. I’ve been a resident of Gurgaon for over 12 years and many of my friends have lived here longer. It isn’t just shock, it  is also disappointment and anger at the government’s decision to focus on something cosmetic like a name change when so much meaningful action needed to take place. Others worry about the sheer cost incurred in changing an address. Still others are raising the issue of identity and the right of citizens to be consulted before such decisions are taken. But then that’s the thing….. who is considered a citizen worth consulting? how is the consulting done? The Devil is truly in the details. Even as an online petition is floated by a dear friend requesting the CM to hold widespread citizen consultations before the decision goes up the the State Cabinet and the Union Home Ministry (link to petition here, news item about it here), it comes to light that in 2014 a zealous Gurgaon councillor has already done the requisite consultation and got a slew of people to participate in a signature campaign to reclaim the honour of the city and call it Gurugram!

The resolution passed by the municipality in 2014 is the basis for the recent renaming and it is clear from social media feeds that people are divided on the issue. For every person who raises rational arguments related to cost or prioritization, there is someone sold on the idea of reclaiming a glorious past. In all this Veena Oldenburg’s argument about the symbolism of honouring Dronacharya is worth a mention. Dronacharya is infamous for demanding Eklavya’s right thumb as gurudakshina, thus ensuring the socially disadvantaged but talented Eklavya could not rival his royal protege, famous Mahabharata warrior Arjun.

And so, while I am all for taking pride in history, we must think about what that history implies. Whose history is important? What symbols are we glorifying and what do they say about us as a people today? What pains me is that no one is thinking and talking about the issues. There seems to be no space for an open and vibrant debate. Not even on social media, which should enable dialogue instead of becoming the site of abusive shouting matches. Unless we create and nurture spaces of discussion and debate, how do we raise a new generation of creative and enlightened individuals? I wonder….

‘Gurgaon’ by Nupur Chaturvedi #TheCityasMuse Special Mention

Nupur writes for a living, but doesn’t call herself a writer yet. She has written short stories and poems, and is convinced there is a novel inside her somewhere. But for now, she is focused on her content marketing job at a communications firm. Nupur is based in Gurgaon and blogs at http://nupurchaturvedi.wordpress.com/

Comment: Gurgaon has been praised and maligned in equal measure over the last decade or so. Contradiction is essential to its character and Nupur got it just right in this poem. The “gilt and guilt” especially, swung it for her!

Gurgaon

The wind brings in sand to scrape my eyes

When I open them again, the dust has settled

Powdered surfaces hiding the beauty that could have been

And then comes the rain

You would think it would wash everything clear

And the greens and oranges and reds would shine through.

But all the rain did was to drown everything in muck

And so, this is my city

Of expectations and disappointments

Gilt and guilt

Colours and desolation

Crowded roads and empty promises.

And yet, this is my city

My identity, my space, my future

So I must nurture this deep-set rot

In the hope that one day there will bloom

Hope, courage, beauty and love

In this, my city.

Experience the ‘moment’ by #walking in your city: The good, bad and ugly of Gurgaon

Exploring a city isn’t necessarily about visiting a heritage site, park, entertainment hub or any other place of tourist importance. It can also be about experiencing the everyday. In my (often unsuccessful) pursuit for opportunities to get in a little bit of exercise into my routine, I ventured out onto the streets of Gurgaon for a walk. I consciously decided not to drive up to a park and walk inside it, a decision I partly regretted when I tried to navigate a heap of pig-strewn rubbish that came my way!

My adventure, which I will shortly document in pictures, did not strike me as blog-worthy until I came across this piece in Guardian on walking in the city. The article refers to French poet Louis Aragon’s book Le Paysan de Paris in which he writes about the walker’s ability to experience a ‘moment’ if “sufficiently alive to the nuances of place and atmosphere.” A bit of a philosophical conflict, but also intermingling, between surrealism and rationalism here, I agree. But it is exactly what I felt and enjoyed, the ability to experience my city the way it was, without curation or choreography.

My walk started from Shikshantar School in South City 1, where I dropped my son Udai for a football match, and ambled across a major road, then through a city park, via a small slum and default dumping ground for construction waste, through an urban village and finally back to base. I won’t dwell on the gaps in infrastructure. Broken footpaths and traffic lights that do not program for pedestrians are business-as-usual in Gurgaon, as in most Indian cities.

I do want to talk about the joy of seeing the city wake up, in a leisurely fashion, between eight and ten on a Saturday morning. I enjoyed the lack of reaction to a lone female walker in deserted parks and less populous roads of the city. I reveled in the absence of pre-meditation, in taking turns that led God knows where. It’s a perfectly legitimate way to experience my city, I thought, and I should do this more!

Shutters down, but so colourful in Village Silokhra

Shutters down, but so colourful in Village Silokhra

It's green and relatively clean, but deserted. One of the smaller parks in Leisure Valley

It’s green and relatively clean, but deserted. One of the smaller parks in Leisure Valley

Some drama in the sky....

Some drama in the sky….

Trying to get out of the park without back tracking. I knew I was in for some adventure here...

Trying to get out of the park without back tracking. I knew I was in for some adventure here…

Not so much fun walking through a pile of smelly malba (construction waster) with pigs for company

Not so much fun walking through a pile of smelly malba (construction waster) with pigs for company

Back inside South City I, where there is a beautiful public edge designed to offer seating/interaction space for the community...

Back inside South City I, where there is a beautiful public edge designed to offer seating/interaction space for the community…

Unfortunately much of this well maintained seating and green edge is cordoned off by ugly fencing, presumably to prevent "unwanted" elements from entering and using these spaces

Unfortunately much of this well maintained seating and green edge is cordoned off by ugly fencing, presumably to prevent “unwanted” elements from entering and using these spaces

Curious to know if these pretty spaces get used at all with only one tiny entry in an obscure corner! Frustrating to observe how communities take steps that reinforce class bias and make a city less livable

Curious to know if these pretty spaces get used at all with only one tiny entry in an obscure corner! Frustrating to observe how communities take steps that reinforce class bias and make a city less livable

An hour later, Silokhra is busy and active

An hour later, Silokhra is busy and active

This paint store was so cheerfully over the top!

This paint store was so cheerfully over the top!

Peek into Silokhra's lanes!

Peek into Silokhra’s lanes!

Better design of city roads can and must deliver safety

My twitter feed and today’s newspapers are full of lament over the tragic death of Rural Development Minister Gopinath Munde, who is considered a rising star in the newly elected BJP government. Munde died of internal injuries sustained in a road accident caused by speeding and rash driving (it’s controversial who was the culprit, his own driver or the one who hit him).

The tone of the lament heavily leans towards the political implications of losing an important political persona. A few articles here and there talk about the issue that stares us in he face- If a Minister on the central government dies in a road accident in the central part of the capital, what hope is there for the millions who use this country’s roads everyday. Should we not use this incident to highlight and drive home the need to do something about killer roads?

India’s road safety record is perhaps the most dismal in the world- 140,000 ppl died in 2012 alone as per official records, one death in every 4 minutes! Often we consider only fatal motor accidents. Many pedestrians and cyclists die every day and many more are severely injured. The fact that the majority of those injured and killed are the urban poor, whom no one mourns except their families, is one of the reasons these issues never make it to the government’s priority list!

Mulling over the the press coverage and adding knowledge gleaned from friends and colleagues (Special thanks to Bharat Singh, Romi Roy, Nipesh P Narayanan, Monolita Chatterjee, Amit Bhatt and Sarika Panda Bhatt), I’d like to make a few points about the issue of road safety in India.

On policy: A revised Motor Vehicle Amendment Bill has been pending in Parliament for a decade, which will bring in stricter consequences for traffic violations like speeding and drunken driving. However, experts say that the provisions in this law are outdated already. The Hindu today carries a piece on how UN goals need to be actualized, in which Save LIFE Foundation founder Piyush Tewari says: “The sole statute governing road safety in India, the Motor Vehicles Act-1988 (MVA), has proved ineffective in addressing any of these issues decisively. Even the last tabled Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2012, which was passed by the Rajya Sabha in 2012, was archaic and contained recommendations which will not solve the current situation on Indian roads.” 

On road design: Of the three factors- human behavior, driving behavior and infrastructure- the third is the most easily fixable while the other two take time and a combination of awareness building as well as stringent policy formulation and implementation. The best way to fix transportation infrastructure is through improved road design. There is considerable evidence to show that flyovers and pedestrian foot overbridges are NOT the way forward for city roads. Rather, controlling speeds and offering cyclists and pedestrians at-grade crossings is the humane and intelligent way to design roads in the city. This means accepting that the automobile is one of many modes in the scheme of things and not all-important and this is a huge mindset change that needs to come in if we want safer cities to live in.

Let me use an example closest to home to explain what I mean. As mentioned in coverage in Hindustan Times today, one fatal accident happens every month on the road that I live in- Sohna road in Gurgaon. The road is designed as a highway instead of a city road, complete with crash barriers on the median, slip roads and minimum crossover points. The automobile is encouraged, by design, to speed up to 60-80 kms per hour and experts tell me the road is probably designed for over 100 km per hour speeds!

Stand on the road at any time and you will see pedestrians run across the road, climb over or under these ugly metallic barriers and then dart across the remaining stretch on the other side. There are no traffic signals for pedestrians to cross at all on the entire 4 km stretch despite heavy residential and commercial activity on the road. This is a complete design failure and therefore the roads deaths are also designed to happen. The authorities mus take cognizance that they are responsible for people dying and losing livelihoods owing to injuries every single day!

The HT Gurgaon edition carried a piece today on our citizen activism to make Sohna Road safer. Let's start with our own neighborhoods.

The HT Gurgaon edition carried a piece today on our citizen activism to make Sohna Road safer. Let’s start with our own neighborhoods.

Friends and acquaintances within the design community have started various initiatives to convince the government to involve both designers and citizens during the conceptualization of infrastructure projects. A failure to do this will only create more inhuman cities to the detriment of everyone.

On changing ourselves: I harp on this all the time, but I see merit in self-reflection on these issues as citizens. We all care for our own lives and the safety of our families, but do not do anything about it. Starting with changing our own behavior behind the wheel. So sensitizing ourselves to better road behavior and above all, including pedestrians and cyclists in our scheme of things, is important. We plan to take this up on Sohna Road through RWAs soon.

In another way, it is our reluctance to engage with local politics that allows government officials to get away with ad hoc decisions, poor planning and design resulting in unsafe neighborhoods. It is our duty to be aware of what is happening in our neighborhood and the more who involve themselves to raise a voice for improved governance, the better our lives will get!

Join us in our fight for better roads in Gurgaon by spreading the message that Better design is the most effective solution to safer roads and decreased casualties. By better design we mean roads designed to control speeds, proper at-grade crossover points for pedestrians and cyclists, footpaths and cycle paths to be included, properly designed speed brakers (not the poorly constructed car breakers we get), etc. There are guidelines available for urban roads with Ministry of Urban Development and UTTIPEC and we need to pressurize MCG and HUDA (and other local authorities wherever you are) to follow these and not bring in ad hoc designs that kill more people and make driving and walking a nightmare in our city.

An afternoon with the Traffic Police: Learning about citizen action

People like me, those who read a lot and write a lot and talk a lot, tend to be armchair activists. Especially when you work in the development sector, it’s hard to actually wear the hat of the citizen activist. I’ve put the tips of my fingers into several pies and then pulled out, feeling confused, under confident and sometimes just disillusioned.

Mine isn’t a novel story, I know. But last week,  I had the opportunity to take off my thinking & analysis cap and became a do-er. Inspired by Aparna, who lives in my community and believes in taking the bull by its horns, I joined a group approaching the Traffic Police to engage in a constructive conversation about specific traffic-related issues in our neighborhood.

To offer a background, I live in a housing condominium on Sohna Road. It is a significant six-lane highway that connects Gurgaon to the Sohna town and then further to Palwal, which lies on National Highway 2. The road sees huge amounts of traffic. In addition to inter-city traffic, Sohna Road has some of the densest residential developments in the city and the volume of local traffic generated is also a lot. Gurgaon’s infrastructure is patchy and constantly under development. After a painful few years in which the road was being upgraded, widened, dug for sewer lines and so on and so forth, we now more or less have the 6 lanes in place with service lanes on both sides. However, erroneous placement of cuts, wrong parking on service lanes, intersections without traffic lights and many such niggling issues make this stretch of the Gurgaon-Sohna road very dangerous for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.

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No traffic lights at this very busy junction. Result: Chaos and a huge strain on traffic police personnel

Video credit: Siddharth Chopra

Our demands

We (Aparna, Siddharth and me, who all live in the same condo) went in with a letter that Aparna had drafted to the Traffic Police asking for:

1-More effective traffic management at Subhash Chowk, a major intersection where a flyover is being constructed. The construction will go on for many months and there has been no temporary solution provided for managing traffic with the roads in very poor condition.

2-An erroneously designed pair of cuts on the divider and the opposite service lane on this stretch  because of which vehicles cut across and drive on the wrond side of the highway!

3-A solution for a poorly managed T-junction right outside our condo that is a traffic nightmare. The picture and video depict that point.

4-Removal of vehicles parked along the service lane that also causes traffic blockages at entry and exit points for residential and commercial complexes

Our experience

The officer we were to meet wasn’t available when we landed up at the Traffic Police office, but a junior policeman was kind enough to hear us out and advise us to catch hold of the Deputy Commissioner Police (DCP) for Traffic who was just about to head out with a pair of smug and smart looking men driving an expensive car! The DCP, upon learning we were residents of the city with a list of concerns, retreated into his office and heard us out. He was a bit high handed, but he did instruct the concerned Assistant Commissioner Police (ACP) to attend to our needs. This gentleman, who was newly posted to Gurgaon and barely familiar with its roads, called in the Traffic Inspector (TI) for our stretch and opened up his duty roster to us in a very transparent manner to discuss how we could delegate people more efficiently for smoother management of the traffic. Unfortunately, the police can’t do much to improve infrastructure and it has to petition the development authorities (HUDA- Haryana Urban Development Authority) or the local government (MCG- Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon) for making any physical improvements including improved street lights, traffic signals, road condition, speed breakers and even for cranes to carry away wrongly parked vehicles!

What we learnt OR  Things to remember while making requests to government departments

  • Government departments are restricted in terms of their jurisdiction, so we need to have a clear knowledge of who can do what
  • Writing letters is not in vain. Officers do get concerned when complaints come in, but follow up meetings and phone calls are important to drive home the points being made
  • A tone of consultation and partnership works better than one of confrontation; we do need to remember that officers are stressed and overworked. In this case, we felt bad pushing the TI Mr Jai Singh further because we all know how hard working and helpful he usually is. But we were upset by the casual attitude of the DCP, who seemed to want to deflect the blame for accidents rather than addressing the problems
  • Persistence is key. We now need to follow through on our requests and join forces with more concerned residents to place relentless pressure on the authorities till the important problems find solution

The real issue is one of poor road sense and attitude

While we pushed the police for solutions and while we are pushing the authorities for infrastructure, the real problem lies in the horrible way people drive in our city. There is a certain culture of driving each city has and in Gurgaon, that culture is aggression and a blatant flouting of traffic rules. We’re all in a blame game about who the offenders are, but the fact is everyone does- executives in big sedans, taxi drivers, young people, local villagers, drivers of public transportation, we are all to blame. We were, on our way back, talking about how we can change this in Gurgaon. How can we change the conversation from They drive badly to Let me not drive badly. Road attitude and etiquette, following traffic rules and thinking about safety for pedestrians and cyclists are important and it would be great to begin an awareness drive towards this.

Do write back if you have innovative ideas about such an awareness campaign or have seen something like this being done in your community, or elsewhere. Would love to hear from you.

Soaring like kites on a windless spring morning!

One weekday morning in mid-March, when the kids were enjoying Spring Break, Rachna came up with the brilliant idea of flying kites! None of us are experts at this clearly skilled job, but then Rachna owned some fancy Chinese kites sourced all the way from San Francisco. We were all delighted and we showed up in full strength at Gurgaon’s Tau Devi Lal Park- Mum (nani), Udai, Aadyaa, me, Rachna and Nupur, who was to get to work after this morning adventure.

IMG_5719IMG_5750As it happened, it was one of those lovely spring morning with a delightful nip in the air, BUT no breeze. Zilch! Not a leaf moved and we spent a few moments of despair, breathing in the scent of the roses, delighted with being out at dawn, but wondering how the hell we would fly these kites!

Not ones to give up, we found another way to do this. And get in some serious exercise at the same time! We taught ourselves to float the kite up in the air and then RUN. Run, run, run as fast as we can so the kite lifts into the air just as the wind rushes into our lungs! Oxygen rush coupled with the excitement of getting the lovely kites into the air- what a heady start to the day!

IMG_5723IMG_5733IMG_5731IMG_5737IMG_5748IMG_5769IMG_5774IMG_5778IMG_5779IMG_5784IMG_5785IMG_5787IMG_5788IMG_5802IMG_5804IMG_5856Of course, we were so tired in a bit that we call sort of crashed into one of the covered gazebo the park designers have obligingly built. Here we proceeded to eat a picnic breakfast, receiving indulgent and slightly mocking smiles from a few young men from nearby Wazirabad who were into a serious workout session in the same space! After a bit, we noticed a little boy, about the same age as Udai, curiously looking at our kites.

Finding an opportunity to sidle out of more running, we tired adults made the necessary introductions. Aman (he’s a village kid, same grade as Udai, studies in Scottish High where he claims the English is too tough!) , Udai and Aadyaa spent some more time running around with the kites till they too were tired out and the kites were too heavy from being dragged through the dewy grass! We promised to do this again, on a windy day.

IMG_5821IMG_5824We can’t thank Rachna (the kids call her Bausi!) enough for that wonderful morning! Looking forward to more bright ideas from the brilliant Bausi soon…

 

 

A sporty weekend [2]: Kids do Raahgiri on cycles

After a taste of the Raahgiri experience last Sunday [read about that here], the kids weren’t giving anybody any choice. In fact, the word had spread as it is wont to among the young ones and we had a larger group now. Udai was enthused about the idea of cycling around the Raahgiri route this time and I was requested to figure out the logistics. However, on Sunday morning, we were looking at a very flat front wheel and I was scurrying around in my head for a way to handle this. Our neighbor and friend Deepak came to my rescue, offering an adult’s bicycle from his home, but over and above that ensuring Udai test rode it at home before we loaded it on.

Despite Rahul not being around (and we all miss him sorely), the dads in the group Ananth and Deepak worked overtime as did the mums (Shruti, Preeti, me), dadis (Amma) and masis (Gauri) to ensure the kids had a lot of fun. Quite a bunch they were- Udai (9), Aadyaa (5), Avandeeta (6), Candy (3), Deepika (8) and Priyanka (not yet 1!!). All except the last one cycled the route, the rest of us running alongside in turns. Exhausting, but immensely satisfying, this past Sunday at Raahgiri, Gurgaon.

For those of you not in the know, Raahgiri is the name for a car free route designated for citizens to enjoy the streets in Gurgaon, otherwise known for its traffic congestion, pseudo glitzy mall culture, poor infrastructure and corporate prowess. It’s an effort spearheaded by dedicated citizens and supported by government, a win-win partnership that has inspired many of us to hope for a better world._DSC3863_DSC3873_DSC3876_DSC3883_DSC3886_DSC3888_DSC3892_DSC3896_DSC3907

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