efore the yuppies, there were landowners, and it was their way of life that transformed nearly overnight.
“Even the most inefficient man can make money in Gurgaon if he has the right instinct for buying land,” said Devender Singh, in his fifties now and a lifelong resident of Gurgaon. In the 1960s, Singh said, the government had given his father a land grant in Gurgaon. A career working for DLF completely changed his family’s prospects.
There are others who have seen their fortunes change dramatically within the generation. “There were only a few really famous food joints at that time—Sardar Jalebi Wala, a tikki wala and Rewari Sweets who made the best milk cake. Rewari were the kings of Gurgaon. And even today, their shops look the same, but they’ve made enough that each generation of that family has 500-gaj
kothis in HUDA sectors,” said Singh, referring to the sprawling mansions in the government-planned neighbourhoods that predated DLF’s entry.
Singh laughed, and pet his black Labrador Coco. “We barely had enough to feed ourselves growing up, pets weren’t even imaginable for us at that time.” We were in his twentieth-story apartment in DLF’s Magnolias. Nothing about the room suggested that it was one of several boxes in a concrete slot. The white furnishings and glass windows that ran the length of the room made it feel like we were in a child’s rendition of a cloud palace.
Downstairs, perfectly groomed purebreds—two curly-haired cocker spaniels, a chihuahua, two tiny terriers with perked-up ears and droopy whiskers—went about their evening walks with staff. Most were heading to or from the dog park, a scrap of land for dogs to wander off their leashes, and poop and pee in peace. Right by the entrance is a wide ground-level sink for washing paws. The whole thing is hidden behind well-trimmed bushes.
It is easy to see how a badly-behaved dog might upset the precarious balance between private and semi-public spaces in Gurgaon’s condominiums. Muddy paw prints in the elevator with copper-coloured fittings and poop on the tiled pavement outside are tell-tale signs. Hostile barks have been known to shatter the evening calm. So, Gurgaon’s residents have to ensure that the dogs are minded.
Khurshid, who goes by his first name, came to Gurgaon in 2010. Before he started walking an employer’s dog in Central Park 1 (CP1), he bounced around as a security guard, housekeeper and car-cleaner.
“It was much more fun than other work. So, I asked around and soon started walking about 8-10 dogs daily,” he said. In the six years since he started, Khurshid has gone from living in a jhuggi
with no proper access to a toilet, water or electricity, to a pukka room in a makeshift colony close to Paras Hospital in central Gurgaon.
Khurshid’s day is divided into three shifts—5:30 to 10am, 3:30 to 5pm, and a set of night-walks that conclude at 9.30pm. He cycles back and forth from his home throughout the day, leaving at five in the morning, returning only at ten in the night. The city does not accommodate him easily. The seven-kilometre stretch of Golf Course Road, lined by some of India’s most expensive commercial and private real estate, does not yet have its long-promised bicycle lane. Footpaths exist but only in spurts. Paved concrete is interspersed with packed dirt.
The Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon (MCG) first promised dedicated cycling tracks from HUDA City Centre to Golf Course Road in 2014. Five Rapid Metro stations and the contingent of auto-rickshaws that customarily line up outside seem to have put paid to the proposal. Last year, when recreational cyclists raised the issue of a track, the MCG commissioner blamed delays on a dispute with the Gurgaon Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA).
Pedestrians have it even worse. To avoid the swirling traffic of the roundabout, construction workers in orange vests and yellow hard-hats congregate in groups of 10-15 to cross the main road on which cars zip by at 70 kilometres an hour. There are no pedestrian underpasses or bridges on the entire seven-kilometre stretch. A study by Delhi’s School of Planning and Architecture found that 72% of Gurgaon’s roads have no footpath facilities, but nearly half the trips made in the city were completed on foot.
The Delhi Metro arrived in Gurgaon in 2010, but it was only in 2013 that the first phase of the Rapid Metro system started connecting commuters to and from the Cyber City corporate hub. (I met a dog groomer at CGS Pet Hospital in DLF Phase 1 who said the Metro changed his life, not by shortening his commute, but by making Delhi more accessible on his precious days off.)
The second phase, which started operations in March 2017, runs along the high-income stretch of the Golf Course Road. The lower- and middle-income residents of Old Gurgaon, cut off from the DLF-dominated parts by the NH48 expressway, remain woefully under serviced. According to news reports, the Detailed Project Report (DPR) to provide Metro connectivity to Old Gurgaon was only approved by the Haryana government in August this year.
A bus service was launched only in September 2018. It’s unfair to Gurgaon’s land-owning residents to accuse them of having built a city that requires personal vehicle ownership. But the best you can say for them is that they probably didn't do it intentionally.
Inside the condos, class boundaries are trickier to maintain, despite some obvious markers. In newer buildings, “service” lifts are hidden from the marbled, fragrant lobbies used by residents and visitors. Security guards are under strict instructions from Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) to monitor the use of parks, benches and swimming pools.
WhatsApp groups of dog-owners generate plenty of cute content but also function as a surveillance tool. Residents post insinuating images of canine excreta encountered on morning walks. From their balconies, they keep an eagle-eye on dog walkers, reporting on the misdemeanours of domestic staff, such as failure to pick up poop off the pavement, with alacrity.
Humans have fixed status here, but dogs resist categorisation. When Purnima Rai first moved to CP 1 from Darjeeling in 2017, she found that certain parts of the complex were out of bounds when she came down to walk her employer’s dog Gabru. “The guards used to tell us, ‘Don’t walk here, don’t sit there’, so we started asking them, ‘Why? Because we’re maids?’ They don’t do it anymore.”
Rai told me that her employer often stood up for her on the RWA WhatsApp groups, defending her right to access spaces, and speaking up when Rai was taken to task for carrying a stick while walking Gabru. This sort of egalitarianism is not a given. “It depends on the ma’am and sir of the house,” Rai explained.
She’s carved out moments in the day when she and her friends ride on their dogs’ privilege. They might not get time off for a mid-day walk, but taking the dog out is an easy way to have a short chat with a friend before popping back up to work. Rai is twenty-six years old, and lives away from her husband and seven-year-old son. One of the perks of the job is Gabru himself. “My heart feels lighter with him around,” she said, nudging his wagging bum with the side of her foot. “Other than the times he does badmaashi.”
Sometimes, late at night, you can see a group of women and the dogs they are minding sprawled out on a patch of grass that’s hidden from the road by a thicket of tall bamboo. They chat in low voices and listen to music on their phones. It’s one of the only times I’ve seen leisure in an open space in Gurgaon.