I live in Gurgaon, the dusty town adjoining Delhi, that’s proudly referred to as the Millennium City. By one estimate, at least 300 of the Fortune 500 companies have offices here, many of which are their India headquarters. In fact, at least 50 of those offices are within a kilometre or so from my home. The building that I see straight across from mine, from my study’s balcony, used to be the planet’s biggest single-site call centre. Maybe it still is. Two-and-a-half thousand people work eight-hour shifts there, three shifts a day.
Earlier this week, the state of Haryana celebrated its 46th birthday—government offices were closed, schools enjoyed a holiday. Three days before that, a group of angry young men vandalized the stage and destroyed expensive sound equipment when they learnt that the American heavy metal band Metallica was cancelling its show.
I have been a Millennium City resident for seven years now, and trust me, it’s the weirdest urban agglomeration in India.
The numbers, quickly. In 2009-10, Gurgaon accounted for nearly 71% of Haryana’s total exports, and about 60% of entertainment tax. Around 80% of all foreign direct investment that came to Haryana between April 2005 and December 2010 came to Gurgaon, which today accounts for 65% of all the state’s industrial production.
An industry body official recently told the press: “Gurgaon…can be easily transformed into India’s global financial centre…(like) Manhattan in New York, Ginza in Tokyo and the Square Mile in London.”
It was a dinner guest from Delhi who pointed out that Gurgaon has no pavements. I had never noticed, because I had never walked in Gurgaon, except from the parking area to mall/multiplex/home. But, of course, he was right.
I also then noticed that Gurgaon believes that street lights were strictly a last-millennium thing. As for homes and offices, the state is struggling to provide just 40% of our electricity needs. Yet, almost every commercial building around is glass-and-steel, the highest-power-consumption choice possible. About 60,000 cars and buses come and park every day within a radius of one kilometre around me. Rush-hour traffic gridlock? I live inside one.
But as I drive down the Delhi-Jaipur superhighway on my way home at night, and look to my left or right, it looks like Tokyo—all those buildings like neon spaceships, betraying no sign of the dust and potholes and rabid dogs, and sheer darkness that assaults you the moment you stray outside.
Above all, the Millennium City straddles—and increasingly uncomfortably—a deep and widening cultural divide. On the one hand, you have thousands of white-collar workers—from young call-centre crowds to stylishly greying multinational corporation executives. On the other, young Jat men from villages nearby, whose families have made humongous sums of money selling their farmlands to builders. They have cash, they are aggressive, and they want an entry into the posh hang-outs and night clubs with fake wooden dance floors and strobe lights. They wear the same fashion labels, drive the same cars, carry the same smartphones, and they have black rage simmering just below the surface. Some of them carry guns. They know that all this used to be their land, where these namby-pamby MBAs and their girlfriends are now koochi-kooing to Enrique Iglesias. They have very strong clan unity. If there’s a brawl in a nightclub, all the able men from an entire village turn up to barricade the place, demanding abject apologies or that the offenders be handed over to their brand of rough justice.
Some nightclubs assess every man or group of men unaccompanied by women trying to enter, and decide on the spot whether to let them in or turn them politely away. This of course makes the class divide even wider, and the bitterness stronger. Other nightclubs let everyone in, but insist on a high cover charge. By nine pm, the bouncers take up their positions in every bar—men with wrists as thick as my thighs. Young Jat men.
Watch the video clips on YouTube of the rioting crowds at the cancelled Metallica concert. The shouted exhortations to destroy everything in sight is both scary and clearly indicative that these are not your usual rock music fans. They are men who want an entry into this so-called globalized fun scene, they want to be a part of that vibe, and are willing to pay good money for that. But when they are deprived, the rage of exclusion boils over. Here, the anger is focused and targeted. The door, shut on them again, has to be beaten down—smugness to fear, a simple enough progression. But it’s just one overheated point, the cauldron bubbles on.
It’s their land, and they want to be equal partners in the lifestyle and rituals that the immigrants have brought with them. They have the cash, and they want the pride that should be accorded to them naturally on that basis. They want inclusion on their terms in the new games in town. While in the tony condominiums, with 24-hour power back-ups and private security, the Millennials live their lives in a delusion of the First World, a delusion with an absurdly thin protective membrane. For the streets are all dark, the only light comes from those sham-glorious electricity-guzzling edifices, synthetic to the core.
Sandipan Deb is a senior journalist and editor who is interested in puzzles of all forms.
Comments are welcome at email@example.com