Having lived my entire life in Mumbai, I decided to shift to Gurgaon to pursue my undergraduate life, more than how my course was going, or how the people around me were; everyone back home seemed concerned only about “How was Gurgaon”. “How is the city”, “How better or worse is it from Mumbai”. The first few days it seemed like a stupid question to be asked, as I felt how different could two metropolitan cities in the same country be? However, I was mistaken. Mumbai and Gurgaon though both maybe the most developed and financially stable cities in India, but the two are very distant. The people, roads, mall, food, architecture, commercial buildings to almost everything is different.
At one point of time, all that could be written about Gurgaon was about its Maruti plant, however when General Electric Director was invited by DLF chairman KP Singh to visit Gurgaon, it marked a change towards Gurgaon transforming from Guru Gram to becoming the millennium city, it was in 1996 when GE decided to set up Genpact in Gurgaon, this is what paved the way for many more MNCs’ entry into Gurgaon. When I came for the first time to Gurgaon in early 2000, everything was developing, it all seemed like a barren land, with a lot of construction going on, not many eateries, not many hotel properties, a few malls here and there. Never did I expect to see such a transformation in any city. Gurgaon which is less than two decades old, has witnessed one of the most prompt urbanization compared to any other city of India, and today comfortably sits as the third highest capital income city in the country.
When I came to Gurgaon four years ago it was extremely surprising to land at the well-planned, spacious and efficient Indira Gandhi International Airport as compared to the next to wretched domestic airport of Mumbai. One-step outside the airport and everything of what I had seen last of Gurgaon had changed. The city was a contradiction of my past experiences and also of the well-organized airport. From the silence inside the airport to the dust filled roads, the continuous honking, the shared tempo, which would fit in people till someone fell off, to the overcrowded bus, which makes it difficult to estimate how did so many people end up coming into this city, to the auto rickshaws drivers who surely drive as they own the city roads. From these public transports, to the plush and expensive Audis and the speeding Aston martins, the very first sight of Gurgaon will give you a feeling of it all.
The city today houses some of the biggest and best known companies from the corporate world such as Airtel and Micromax to MNCs like PWC and Sony Ericsson, which have buildings designed by the best architects in the world in the revolutionary commercial hub of the cyber city, to some of the best hotel properties. The city also has 15 plus outlets of shimmering luxury cars, alongside a well-connected, planned and easy to commute rapid metro, from the endless malls across MG Road to the never-ending Ambience Mall, and to the sprawling golf courses.
Gurgaon (located 20 miles south of New Delhi) indeed has everything that a city would need. At one time travelling to and fro Gurgaon was a hassle. However, with improved Metro routes it is as easy as it can get now. Gurgaon today is a portrayal of what ‘rising India’ is to be. But as every coin has two sides, so does Gurgaon, and as the flip side of everything good there is something bad. Gurgaon has a lot of everything, but is still missing a lot of something: from a proper drainage system, to decent roads, to public pavements, in short there is a severe lack in the city’s infrastructure.
Every morning is said to bring a new day and something to look forward to. However, when it comes to stepping out of our home onto the streets of Gurgaon not much seems to change. Even after four years, I still face the same problems I did then, 7 days a week the same story is repeated, the same horror that the residents of the “millennium city” have to go through, the same traffic that everyday travellers need to overcome. The city today has more than eight golf courses and 10 plus five star hotels that provide leisure experiences. However, the plan to make Gurgaon the Indian ‘Singapore’ by 2021 is still marred by severe problems in almost every aspect of infrastructure and the city is in severe need of some planning. Gurgaon at times seems like it’s just a place for glass buildings and skyscraping apartments but not for people to stay in.
Story 1: Gurgaon Special – ‘The sand storms’
In Gurgaon everything looks hunky-dory till one is on the main express highway, but the moment one enters into cyber city or leaves cyber city towards Sikanderpur you are welcomed by a storm of dust, no matter how outstanding the weather might be. The dusty air welcomes motorists and people using public vehicles covering their faces with scarves, and windows rolled up even in hottest of the days. This is something not new to Gurgaon residents but does posses serious harm not only to the health and well being of the residents, but also leads to bikers skidding on the dust piles causing threatening accidents. It’s not just the geographical location of Gurgaon, which is to be blamed for these dust storms, but it is also the never-ending construction that residents face which adds to the dry air.
Story 2: Never ending construction
For the last four years, one of the many things, which I have seen constantly in Gurgaon, is the construction. The large-scale non-stop construction not only disturbs the residents but also is polluting the air. Three-four locations within Gurgaon are always under some form of construction.
The current and seamlessly never ending construction at the Sikanderpur metro station and opposite Mega Mall has led to huge heaps of cement and the other materials needed for construction take up half the space of the roads narrowing the road down to such a level, that with difficulty two-three cars at a point can pass through leaving the commuters in a state of misery, making the area accident prone and also subjected to long lines of traffic. Construction is needed for development and this has been an important aspect in making Gurgaon what it is today. However, in this sudden need of excessive urbanization the construction is spoiling the soil and air further. This is where lack of action from the Government’s end can be seen, as no efforts are made to regulate healthy construction.
Story 3:The Craters (potholes)
The first thing about Gurgaon roads is that there are no roads. There is a lot of construction done to make the city stand out from the rest of the country; a lot of effort and money is put into making the flyovers, and rapid metro. Still beneath all the flyovers and the metros, lie the roads of Gurgaon, which are more of craters than functioning roads. Be it people of the affluent class or a common working man, all of them are faced with the same deplorable situation everyday. The roads of Gurgaon are nothing less than a disgrace to the tall and shining glass buildings, the sprawling concrete landscape and a bunch of residential buildings, spread across the city. These potholes, which are made worse with stones and dust, pose serious safety issues to regular commuters, being a torment especially for motorbike drivers whose safety is completely at risk.
The worst affected road for the long time continues to be the MG road towards Sikanderpur and the DLF road (where construction is underway) owing to the authorities halfhearted maintenance. Today there are many jokes doing the rounds like, ‘After having a heavy meal the best place to digest food would be the roads of Gurgaon’. Studies have shown that if the Gurgaon roads are improved, traffic can be reduced by a staggering 75 %, though till date nothing has still been done to give residents a relief from this situation.
Story 4: The unfriendly cattle and pigs
In a normal city one would expect to have people, buses, cars and building, and especially in a city like Gurgaon which is considered as the most modern and developed in the NCR region, with a beautiful landscape giving the city a world class look. However, the roads of Gurgaon have one more addition to them – the stray animals and the pigs!
The city of Gurgaon still seems to be missing the main concept of urban planning. If the potholes on the road weren’t an issue enough for the residents, they face another issue of stray cattle. The city is still home to a number of small villages lying in the heart of the city and also scattered throughout. Rearing of cattle is the only major source of income for these villages, and therefore you will be exposed to this in many places in the city. The most affected areas are those of sectors 10, 15, 22, 23 and 56, along with Sushant Lok 1 & 2 . However surprising this might sound to people from outside of Gurgaon, there are a lot of unruly and stinky pigs and cattle on the streets tampering the city’s image.
Story 5: Theka culture
What makes Gurgaon worse than Mumbai or even Delhi is the theka culture, which showcases no fear of law. One of the biggest reasons why women might feel unsafe in Gurgaon, is because of the no fear that people here have of the police, which has led to growing theka culture which has taken up the space on roads of Gurgaon. In the heart of MG road, outside the busy Sahara Mall, the wine and beer selling shops (in Gurgaon language the theka), adding to these thekas, are people who have set up their illegal food stalls near these thekas, making commuting even more difficult and next to impossible, to be anywhere close to that area post 10 pm. Be it a Friday or a Monday, these places are a hub where you will always find youngsters and many not so ethical people lined up blocking all roads, and portraying unruly behavior, indulging in drunk brawls and even eve-teasing. The theka outside Sahara Mall is just an example of the situation across the streets of Gurgaon post sun set, with thekas lined across the road. This is what makes it difficult for women to walk past those areas, since they are always subjected to some form of harassment. The surprising aspect though is that, there are always police vehicles stationed outside Sahara Mall, but that doesn’t seem to have any effect on these unruly men.
Story 6: Gurgaon nearing its ‘deathbed’
Has Gurgaon grown too much in too short a time? An article posted in the Times of India states that Gurgaon seems to be on its “deathbed”. The excess pressure and need for resources seems to make the city creak under its excessive growth. This is what further leads to poor power situation and appalling water and electricity problems. Acute electricity shortage is what residents of Gurgaon have been facing for long and adding to this is the water crisis, which makes everything worse during humid and hot summer conditions.
Though people staying in high rise building might not face water scarcity or electricity problems as regularly as the remaining 60% of the residents of the Gurgaon districts which have major dependency on groundwater and as groundwater seems to be drying up, residents now have hopes only on water tankers which cost nearly Rs 1,000 a day. The authorities need to start tapping in on the natural resource of rainwater and need to start having a process for recycling of water.
Story 7: Traffic woes
All the construction, the stray animals, dust storms and lack of infrastructure add up to the biggest and the most persistent problem on the broken roads of Gurgaon, the TRAFFIC Woes! The decrepit roads add to the traffic woes specially during the peak office and school hours in the morning, and during 5:30-9 in the evening, 6 days a week, seem to be a dismal situation in Gurgaon. The roads of Gurgaon are nothing less than a war to be fought. It’s also the poor road sense of people, the impatience, which adds to the woes of Gurgaon residents.
When one ventures onto MG road during peak hours, they are greeted by excessive disharmony of honking, overtaking by cars that causes excess congestion, and absence of policemen to retain some order making life a havoc during peak hours. A short distance of 5 minutes during these peak hours takes more than 20 minutes to be covered is a common experience. Adding to the traffic woes are the streetlights problems in Gurgaon. In the main cyber city area as well, it is the light from the buildings and headlights of cars, which provide brightness to the otherwise dim light street. Residence areas of Rajiv vihar and sector 46 and even areas also galleria market seem to be shadowed in darkness post sunset. Poor street lighting, no form of women-centred public transport, the thekas, undependable police makes a women handicapped in Gurgaon.
Gurgaon today stands as a model of growth but also as a model of caution. Many cities in India want to become the next Gurgaon; But Gurgaon today itself has a lot to learn before it becomes dysfunctional because of lack of planning and safety. The roads of Gurgaon can be dusty, dig up, narrow, endless, cluttered, wrecked but it can never be uninteresting. There is always something or the other happening around which catches your eye. In spite of all the problems and all shortcomings, once someone has settled into Gurgaon, the thought of leaving can be very unpleasing. For me on a personal level Gurgaon still is home to me, maybe now more of a home than Mumbai. There are still a lot of changes needed specially for women safety and to make roads more drivable and less accident prone. Every city has its problems, which the authorities and the people need to overcome together.