Saturday, 26 November 2016

Stranger In MY City

Eighteen days ago, the one thousand rupee and the five hundred rupee notes were declared invalid in India, by our honourable Prime Minister, from the stroke of midnight, on that day itself. While the world woke to a mundane Wednesday morning, we woke up to worthless pieces of paper in our pockets and purses. In order to flush out Black Money from the bank lockers, bedrooms and boudoirs of unscrupulous businessmen and women, these two denominations of notes had been demonetized, that is, they were no longer legal tender. This meant that all those fake notes floating around, (it is said our various neighbours print more of our currency than we do), were suddenly worthless too. So it was the proverbial killing of two birds with one stone, a master stroke indeed.
Anyone who has bought or sold property in India knows that we have two components while paying for property, the Black and the White. A lower value is shown on documents and the difference between the actual higher value and the on paper value changes hands in cold, hard, cash. Or, if you are a Non Resident Indian and do not have Black cash lying around, the builder asks you to issue a 'Self' cheque, so his henchman can go and withdraw the money from your perfectly legal Non Resident Account and pocket it, without paying a paisa in tax. Now, of course, all such unscrupulously earned money isn't worth the paper it is printed on. The government and the banks are asking some hard questions to those depositing unaccounted for, high amounts, overnight in their accounts.
A predictable fallout of all this is that real estate prices are set to come down in most major cities of India, as builders can no longer bank on Black cash coming in. This, in turn, means that there is a barrage of mails in my mail box from builders I have contacted in the past, while scouting around for property. And my city, Pune, is being touted as one of the destinations to invest in, as it is already on the government's list of 'Smart City' development plan.
From being a cliched pensioner's paradise just a couple of decades ago to a software hub, my city has come a long way. Real estate prices have already hit the very costly roof and there seems to be no limit to development, which is a euphemism for construction and more construction. I go home once a year, after nine months, and so I am always particularly struck by the ever changing landscape of the city, more so than my parents, for example, who live there all year round.
Even my own micro environment in Pune is changing. Our bungalow society is now around fifty years old and every time I go back, I am informed of yet another bungalow being purchased by a super rich entity, (I'm even told about the black and white components!), then demolished and an ostentatious monstrosity being constructed, where once a simple, middle class bungalow stood. These were houses where we spent large parts of our childhood. Summer days were spent playing cards on the carpet of a no longer in existence living room, those were the kitchens we raided for chilly powder to go with the staple summer snack of raw mango, those bookshelves that were pulled down were the ones we ransacked in our search for that one unread book, after our grandmothers and mothers had chased us away to borrow books, because we had finished reading everything we had!
We no longer even know the names of the new inhabitants. This point was driven home to me last June, when the business manager of the folks we rented out my husband's office space to, on seeing our residential address, asked if we knew Mr.X, who was his friend and lived in our society. I was forced to say no as I  really had no clue about this family... Time was when I could recite every inhabitant's name, from the ancient great grand father to the new born babe, birth dates included!
The mails from builders are now pushing what were once far flung areas of my city as well connected, centralized locations! It actually makes me laugh. Those narrow highways, which are now being miraculously transformed into multi lane ring roads, are the ones where my driving instructor took me to practice highway driving, when I learned to drive nearly seventeen years ago. We would be surrounded by rolling green fields and ancient trees, by deep, stone ringed wells, with the labourers, farmers and their wives actually stopping work, to stare askance, at what was then a novelty for them, a car and a girl behind the wheel. Today, less than twenty years later, those same farmers have sold all those fields to builders and yes, cash, both black and white, has changed hands, and they now own cars flashier and much more expensive than my own Mercedes. And as far as the eye can see, there are buildings and more buildings, with scarcely an ancient tree in sight. One might see some saplings planted as mere tokenism...
I belong to a Pune Moms FaceBook group. It amuses me to read about Mothers who have just moved to Pune and who ask each other about the best creche or the best pre school in that particular area and then they share the name of their area. I feel like telling them, "I knew your area when it was scrub land!" Or, I feel like saying, "We used to picnic every weekend where your flashy river side residence now stands..." Time was when there were only a handful of reputed preschools in Pune and another handful of regular schools, which we would even consider getting our children admitted to. Today, a pre school mushrooms in every lane and by lane of the city and beyond and international schools sell themselves through their websites, to folks the world over who might be considering making Pune their home. For, where builders build, schools follow.
At times, I feel slightly resentful of these strangers invading my city and changing its horizons beyond belief. Where once water pumped by the Municipal Corporation gushed right up to our third floor water tank, today it cannot reach our first floor bathroom, without the aid of a pump. Where once a visit to Main Street in Cantonment Area or a food halt at Vaishali on Ferguson College road, meant bumping into at least a dozen people you knew, today unknown people brush past you or unknown faces stare at you, as you wait impatiently for a free table...
What ARE all these strangers doing in my city?...Or wait a minute. Is it that now I am a Stranger in MY city?

                             May be we don't want a smart city? Maybe we were happy with what we had? But who's asking us? Progress, relentlessly marches on...aided by money, both black and white. 


  1. Clean and clear writing, though about black money and monstrous construction!

    1. Thank you Mom!If I feel the change in the city so deeply,cannot even imagine what your generation must be going through...


The Nuances And Nitty-Gritties Of Being Neighbourly

6:05 pm : I am walking in our front garden, free in the evening, on a week day, after many months, as the academic year comes to a close in...