Moving from the ordered, tree-lined
avenues of Khel Gaon to the Jamuna-paar colony of Patparganj was not easy. In
part because an address on the wrong side of the river does little to add to
status. Back in the early ’90s, Patparganj —the societies not the
village—had a small town feel, what my fellow residents described as
experiencing the frontier. The Maharajgunj border was next door. And since the
capital had still to be gifted its Assembly, civil amenities—power, water and
sewerage—were scarce. The area, however, had a charm of its own. True, the
constant din of construction, mushrooming shanties, vendors crowding the near
invisible roads, rickshaws and cows—most absent in one’s earlier life—were
aggravating but the easy availability of daily conveniences, basic street food,
weekly haats and maids and presswalas in plenty was a compensation. We,
the upwardly mobile middle classes, were pushed into close proximity with the
city’s underclass—the urban villagers whose lands had been taken over and
developed for our housing, the service providers residing in slums and on
pavements, the labouring poor colonising all available spaces in their struggle
for survival. To the theory classes— media hacks, TV experts, ‘politically
correct’ radicals, many op-ed writers— it was a constant reminder of Indian
reality. It forced us to humanise ourselves. We could call ourselves the
residents of the Left Bank.
IP Extension is currently experiencing a massive makeover. Our numbers count in a democracy. It helps, of course, that the chief minister’s son is the local MP. But more than that, it is the anticipation of the Commonwealth Games, the proposed Metro extension, not to forget the inauguration of the Akshardham Temple that has pushed up property values in the neighbourhood and attracted capital for upgrading infrastructure. As we get our parks and flyovers, malls and multiplexes, we are ready to join the ranks of the privileged. Our time has come. No longer will we have to describe ourselves as the ‘low infrastructure, high ID’ ghetto.
The sanitising of the neighbourhood has come accompanied by the squeezing out of the underclass. But even as we debate the questionable merits of the demolition drives, episodically smirk at the humiliation of the rich and powerful, valourise the upholding of the law and praise the courts, there is little discussion of the chosen mode of cleansing the city. The breaking down of MG 1 and MG 2 crowds the news, not so the uprooting of the slum and pavement dwellings, many painfully constructed over the years after regular genuflections to the political masters and haftas to the petty officialdom. And since they have been deemed illegal, and numbers count for little with courts, they are also denied compensation or alternative sites.
Soon the IP Extension I moved into all those years ago will be a hazy memory. As Delhi moves towards its goal of approximating Singapore, our Left Bank will join the ranks of Delhi’s more privileged colonies—gated and aseptic. Bereft of support from the op-ed writers, our low-cost services are being squeezed out. And somewhere we are also losing a bit of our soul.
This article originally appeared in Delhi City Limits, March15, 2006