On my first visit back to my neighbourhood street after a long stint of living abroad, I felt l was plunging headfirst into the Great Indian melting pot.
An offshoot of a major artery of an indefatigable city, this road stretches hardly five kilometers but provides a versatile range of residential, commercial and recreational avenues to suit the tastes and pockets of all the residents living here.
The first striking aspect that hits as one travels down the street is the multitude of people; some driving down the road, some sleeping by the roadside, a few peddling their goods, a few sweeping the roads and the numerous ones inadvertently darting through the traffic. The sheer number of people on the street maybe daunting, but the wide assortment that comprises this population is simply astounding. The people of all the different states and ethnicities of the nation figure in the daily life of this street in their vivid and distinctive attire, like a pageant on national integration.
This small slice of road plays host to myriad institutions like a temple, a military cantonment, a college with a hostel, an integrated township, three high rise apartment complexes, five pre-schools, a multi-sport and recreation center, a few slums, more than a handful of speed bumps, and miles of scaffolding heralding more buildings and construction. Quite an impressive feat for an area that consisted mainly of wide open spacesuntila few years back. A few antiquated houses dispersed around the community bravely weather the construction craze, remnants of the old city.
As we turn into this street from the busy main road, we are drawn into the midst of a chaotic commotion. Right by the turn of the road, sits an unpretentious temple; its miniscule size belying the hordes of devotees that throng to it and the lucrative businesses it generates near its premises, like the flower sellers and the coconut vendors. Motorists slow down during peak rush hour to make a reverent gesture to the deity ensuring a prosperous work day for themselves, but also creating more agony to the hapless traffic cop who ends up flaying his hands like a hyperactive windmill.
The roadside shops and commercial establishments are as varied as the inhabitants of the street. Dime a dozen eateries, ranging from fine dining to casual Chinese to 99 varieties of dosas on a street cart, feed all the masses and the classes. A tiny hole in the wall store provides us with all our iPhone and Blackberry accessories and the minute corner by this store's entrance is also utilized by the astrologer and his psychic parrot.
Those who run out of affordable retail space take their wares to the streets, be it vegetables, clothes, pots and pans or panipuri. The fish vendor and his gleaming stock of fish, strategically located next to the garbage dump tests the endurance of our lungs as we pass that spot. Summer brings out watermelon sellers with their temptingly juicy pyramids of fruit stacked behind thin glass panes; not exactly a foolproof protection from the flies or the exhaust fumes of the vehicles.
The most novel spectacle of the street is a battered old minivan that makes an occasional appearance by the roadside. A torn signboard hung on its side reads, Himalaya Ayurvedic guarantee clinic camp. This self-professed super-specialty mobile hospital claims to cure the likes of Cansar, aids, hart attak, Piles, and a host of other maladies with the help of miraculous herbs and potions. The back of the van, concealed by a tie-and-dye curtain,s erves as the esteemed doctor's consulting area/living quarters and research lab!
The mega housing projects that dot the ever changing skyline, promise an oasis of amenities and luxuries, all neatly packaged for a premium price. The Sports Center offers, apart from the usual basketball, football and squash courts, newfangled attractions like paint ball arenas, zip-lining and go karting to lure in the foreigners and the just-returned NRIs.
The paradox here is that these multi-crore ventures share their walls (topped with barbed wire netting) with slums. For some of us, these slums are an eyesore, for others a steady source of cheap labour. For me the tarpaulin tents, the corrugated sheet shelters, the semi naked children and the long queues for the water trickling from the community hand pump, is a constant reminder of the blessings of my upper middle-class existence.
Come evening, out comes the nanny brigade, shuttling their wards to and fro to play dates, karate classes, math tuitions and music lessons. The nannies ensure that the child's time is spent constructively in the two-hour window between the end of the school day and the parents' arrival from work. The community park is a study of the economic divide in itself. The children from the megaplexes play Basketball and ride in Ben 10 and Barbie bikes, under the watchful eyes of nannies while outside the park gates, the kids from the slums run along discarded cycle tyres. Suffice to say, the two groups never mingle.
The variety of fauna in the area is more proof of the ample diversity of the neighbourhood. From beautiful white cranes that stopover enroute migration, to the ugly slimy swine that's omnipresent; and the cows, goats, chicken and dogs in between, all kinds of beasts and birds thrive in this ecosystem.
Around noon, the neighborhood cowherds driving their huge herds to forage clog the road. Bikes, school vans, luxury cars, construction vehicles, lorries, and street carts impatiently wait and honk, while the intrepid auto drivers try to jostle past the sauntering cows and buffaloes. An Indianized version of the running of the bulls' scene from the Bollywood movie, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara.
The grim poverty amidst the promise of prosperity, the spectacular diversity of the population, the roots of tradition fitting hand in glove with the dreams of future, my neighbourhood road portrays today's India in a nutshell; the smooth ride, the speed bumps, the potholes and all! (Global India Newswire)