My husband and I first came to live in Gurgaon in early 1999. We had two little girls then, one three years old and one just a few months short of her first birthday. We had been living with my in-laws earlier, in a big lonely bungalow on Delhi’s Ashoka Road with virtually no neighbours, so we were really excited about the fact that our children would now have Friends (most definitely capital F!) to play with.
We stayed in one of those cottagey little houses in the very charming National Media Centre, and enthusiastically invited every child we met in the park to Nayantara’s first birthday party.
Everybody came. And brought friends. Who brought their friends. And their didi-bhaiyas. The party was a total rager. By the time the century turned, we’d had lots more parties and I was pregnant with my third child. Yeah, NMC totally rocked.
I find it so funny, when I look back now, that Eppa (our cook, nanny, conscience-keeper and confidante) used to grumble that “you have bought me to a village, Anuja, there is nothing here, no bright lights, no cinema, no shops, not even a bhikari-ki-dukaan.”
Today, the National Media Centre is still right where it was, holding out against the insane commercial sprawl that surrounds it with the stubbornness of the little Gaulish village holding out against the Roman empire. But the rest of Gurgaon has changed completely.
In 2002, we moved into our own little bit of Gurgaon-in-the-sky, in what rickshaw-wallahs still insist on calling either Embassy apartments or MBNC apartments.
Ambience Apartments, flanked by the Rajokri greens on one side and the Ambience Mall on the other, was a great place to bring up our children. And as they grew, so did Gurgaon, like a weird, suburban subversion of the Midnight’s Children device, children and city experiencing growth pains together, one sprouting fancily named townships (Beverly! Belvedere! Magnolia!) and flyovers and overflowing manholes, the other breaking out into long, coltish limbs, acne and angst.
But no matter how fancy our shopping options grew (and they did grow fancy, with Fitness First and Frozen Yoghurt and Accessorize now blooming where earlier there used to be a swamp filled with crickets and jugnu and nilgai), we never stopped shopping at the little U-block market in DLF Phase 3. Our tailors were there, and our toy shop and our kirana store—we bought our Diwali crackers there and our Holi pichkaaris too. Simple joy was all about driving down to the U-block Market on a sunny winter afternoon, looking forward to picking up a newly stitched katori-cut sari blouse and maybe eating a plate of (sadly erratic) aloo tikki.
And then Haldiram came to Ambience (or MBNC or Embassy) Mall and our joy was complete. From that year on my NRI mother stopped hankering after the “old Delhi” of CP and Sarojini and Bengali Market and grew content with visiting me at 122002.
Shopping was (and still is) great in Gurgaon. For furniture there’s the very Amar-Colony-like furniture market, right there on the road in Sikandarpur. I love the bookshelves and the desks and the armchairs they sell—all made from sheesham (rosewood), which I suspect is mostly mango. I once watched a pivotal India-Pakistan match with the dudes from one shop there (they came home to deliver a dining table, started watching the match and didn’t leave till it was over. India won). Oh, and on either side of the furniture shops, there are nurseries from which I bought gloriously flowering potted plants every year, with so much hope and optimism, only to watch them be abused by pigeons in my balconies and then wither and die. But how much joy they gave me while they lasted!
What else? Vikram Seth once described A Suitable Boy as “that monstrous book which gouged out my thirties”. Well, the Jaipur highway toll gate was my Suitable Boy, I spent most of my 30s waiting for the traffic at the damn thing to clear.
There are memories of the morning run from home to school (Vasant Valley School in Vasant Kunj) with my eldest, a very picky eater—coaxing her to swallow her first bite of omelette before the Shiv Murti, her second bite of omelette before Radisson Hotel, her third bite before the Indian Spinal Injuries Centre and dropping her off at the school gate with the fourth and final bite still in her mouth.
There are Diwali nights spent sitting on the roof of the bathroom of the Ambience swimming pool, watching fireworks explode over the NCR, there are karate classes on hot summer evenings in the shade of the kachnar trees, there is the stink of sewage and the scent of harsingar, there is Somvir Driver (who lost two whole lakhs playing teen patti with the other drivers) and Ravindar Driver (my husband’s BFF till date), there is plotting and scheming and triumphing and weeping as I trotted my daily mullah-ki-daud from JWT, where I worked, to Pepsi and back to JWT.
Basically, there is my children’s entire childhood and my entire youth.
Anuja Chauhan is the author of, most recently, The House That BJ Built.
This is a fortnightly column on writers and their connection with a home they left behind.