Having lived all my life in West Bengal, my family and I moved to the posh Greater Kailash I area of New Delhi in 1991. For some reason unbeknownst even to me and despite active discouragement from relatives, I booked a home in a jungle called Gurgaon the very next year. The roads were kuchcha, dusty and, most of the time, slushy, and as signboards were non-existent, every time we came we would discover new routes to our home. The only consolation was the house itself which, complete with a lawn in front and a courtyard in the back, seemed palatial to someone used to tiny flats in cramped Kolkata.
In the summer of 1998, when Greater Kailash was bereft of water and power, we decided to take the plunge into the big unknown. Our children’s schools and both our offices were in New Delhi and no one was looking forward to the commute. But there was little traffic on the highway and the lure of open spaces with squirrels,
barn owls and peacocks—which often alighted on our terrace—was irresistible.
As we settled down amid what can only be described as euphoria, we invested in a charming market called Galleria. We started Quill and Canvas, with a few hundred titles on mostly empty shelves and some works of art. Four-and-a-half years down the line, I find I have gained a vantage point over growing Gurgaon. In the nine years of my living here, I have witnessed a Jatland being rapidly overrun by highly urbane individuals from all parts of the country and, in many cases, even abroad. Gurgaon indeed is “Newfoundland”, and the natives have been run underground.
So what is the Gurgaonite like? At the risk of sounding arrogant, the Gurgaon ‘sort’ is a breed apart. People living here can only be described as global, cosmopolitan and liberal. Well-travelled and well-heeled, these men and women know their minds. While typically they may have moved into Gurgaon to join some hotshot MNC, they are, of course, ready to travel out at the drop of a hat. The profusion of malls indicates that the Gurgaonite seeks international standards in terms of shopping. That is entirely true.
But what is overlooked is that the malls have singularly failed to engage with the thinking Gurgaonite. They are no substitute for places for him to go and satisfy his cultural yearnings. Typically, he has to trudge to the Habitat, India International Centre, Triveni, British Council or the auditoriums in New Delhi. In some cases, Gurgaonites have actually sold their homes and shifted back to Delhi in sheer defeat because they seek entertainment with depth, a mental stimulation.
In order to make up somewhat for the paucity of mental satisfaction, the Gurgaonite needs some intellectual and cultural stimulation and more activities such as book reading, poetry sessions, book club meets and art exhibitions. The powers that be need to understand that the denizens of Jatland are more than mere mall rats.
Shobha Sengupta is the owner of Quill and Canvas, Bookstore and Art Gallery, in DLF City, Gurgaon.
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