By Renaming Gurgaon To Gurugram, Khattar Government Is Reminding Us About A Dusty Reality

13/04/2016 4:16 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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Parivartan Sharma / Reuters
A general view of the residential apartments is pictured at Gurgaon, on the outskirts of New Delhi June 19, 2012. Welcome to Gurgaon, a city of wealthy urban professionals with gleaming shopping malls, five-star hotels and sprawling golf courses on the southern outskirts of New Delhi that is a symbol of newly affluent India. But crippling power and water shortages, crater-riddled roads and open sewage drains have made it an extreme example of the poor infrastructure that is constraining growth in Asia's third-largest economy. To match feature INDIA-INFRASTRUCTURE/GURGAON REUTERS/Parivartan Sharma (INDIA - Tags: BUSINESS CONSTRUCTION SOCIETY)

There is no earth-shattering reason why Gurgaon district should not be renamed Gurugram even though the latter sounds a bit like a rumbling stomach.

Those who think it turns the very concept of a Millennium City of the future on its head by harkening back to a Mahabharata past are being churlish. A gram versus a gaon sounds like six of one and half a dozen of the other. It’s led to a slew of internet jokes. Which town will now be named Instagram? Or Congress proposing Gurgaon be renamed Jamaica because most of the land is “Jamai ka” anyway.

More intriguing is why renaming Gurgaon to Gurugram was even a poll promise of the Mahohar Lal Khattar government.

More intriguing is why renaming Gurgaon to Gurugram was even a poll promise of the Mahohar Lal Khattar government. It clearly falls under the list of poll promises that are easier to keep than, as numerous people have pointed out on Twitter, improving roads, power supply, law and order, public services, water supply etc.

There’s also no reason to say Gurgaon or any other city for that matter cannot be renamed until all those items have been checked off the list. On the other hand it is perfectly valid to wonder what purpose is served by it and the expense that comes in its wake.

If it’s about honouring Dronacharya, the guru who was gifted villages in the area, why not come out and say it? Dronagram or Dronakul? Or is the Khattar government which once wanted to confer cabinet status to Baba Ramdev and whose minister once described himself as that guru’s “charno ki dhool” just laying out the yoga welcome mat for gurus in general?

gurgaon

It’s about a demand from the long term residents of the area says the government. They clearly have to be supernaturally long term residents to remember it being called Gurgaon. Gurgaon is a perfectly desi word, not some Anglicized imperial corruption imposed on the area either. What’s closer to the mark is the Haryana government’s statement that “Haryana is a historic land of the Bhagavad Gita and Gurgaon has been a centre of learning… Gurgaon was a great centre of education where the princes used to be provided education.” This is part of the great reclamation of the Glorious India project.

Now those princes wear ties and jackets and work in the some 250 odd Fortune 500 companies located there. It is the name Gurugram which feels like an artificial imposition at complete odds with what Gurgaon has become, a city that has resolutely and deliberately tried to appear as one without roots, a city that seemed to have sprung out of immaculate conception from the blueprints of mega-builders. The Mahabharata past seems an invention for a city which exists not on IST but on World Standard Time. It’s a city of towering gated housing complexes with azure pools and names like Belvedere and Palm Meadows. An Amex executive told me when he moved back to India from the US in 1999, all this was grazing land. Now he says from his 19th floor apartment it looks like Manhattan at night. And the DLF Golf Club charged over $3000 a year in membership and asked for a two year commitment. We've come a long way from Dronacharya and his gurudakshina.

The rest of India also views it as a bubble of California Dreamin’ another resident told me. She said when there was an epidemic of dengue her cousins in Agra would wonder how they could get sick, living in such a nice apartment on the eighth floor. She laughed that while three levels of security guarded against any unauthorized person entering or leaving the bubble the mosquitos got in with stinging reminders that ultimately they were still living in India.

In a way the Haryana government has inadvertently reiterated that point. No matter what fancy names it calls its gated communities, this is Gurugram land. We keep hearing stories of violent clashes between local youths and its new gatekeepers in its pubs and bars. After a 2012 gangrape of a young woman who worked in a pub in Sahara Mall in Gurgaon, Srijana Mitra-Das wrote about the two Gurgaons that had sprung up there.

While one part of Gurgaon thus got sewn into a global economy of software companies, financial organisations and technical groups — the district's cluster of malls, multinationals and BPOs nicknamed India's 'Millennium City' — another part remained cloistered in rural hamlets, awash suddenly in big money, with no deeper education or wider sensitisation about what caused its arrival. The money existed uncomfortably alongside highly conservative social attitudes — expressing themselves, as historian Nonica Dutta describes, in veiling women and providing khap justice to infringers.

That other Gurgaon is usually kept out of sight, only popping into the national consciousness when the story of some horrific gang-rape pricks that bubble. While Murthal where horrific gang rapes are supposed to have occurred during the Jat agitation is not Gurgaon, it’s not far from there either and seeing the beginning of some of those same tensions between an older rural populace and a sudden influx of urbanites in the shiny Education Cities, largely inaccessible to locals, springing up all over the landscape like alien pods.

If anything the Khattar government, by putting the gram back in Gurgaon, has accidentally punctured that expensive layer of exclusive insulation.

Gurgaon’s reputation was a city that lived, wrote Avirook Sen “by the idea of insulation. It is what Gurgaon is all about. Gates, guards, tinted glass, air-conditioners run by private power supply (24-hour back-up!), toilets flushed by private water, no thoroughfare, rights of admission reserved. If there isn't an insulator for something, it will be invented pretty quickly.” It was about checking out from the headaches of India in a way. It encouraged you to have your Tavera and discouraged you from worrying about public transit.

Gurgaon, writes Sen, “is where the village comes into the town. It’s where the limits of insulation are tested.”

If anything the Khattar government, by putting the gram back in Gurgaon, has accidentally punctured that expensive layer of exclusive insulation. Khattar wants to remind the residents of mythological guru Dronacharya and his gurukuls. Instead the government is inadvertently reminding us about a far more dusty reality, one that the new Gurgaon does not want to remember – villages with name like Nathupur, Sikanderpur and Chakkarpur out of which it was fashioned and which it is now perfectly happy to keep out.

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