I live in a crazy city called Mallgaon. It wasn’t always called Mallgaon though.
A long time ago, in a land unfortunately not far far away from me, there lived an old man. This fellow happened to be the head-coach of the Pandava and Kaurava princes, entrusted with the responsibility of grooming them into fine, princely princes. He was called Dronacharya (Drona was his name, Acharya means head-coach. Like how Jose Mourinho is the Acharya of Inter).
After years of education, the Pandavas and the Kauravas became proficient in most curricular (Vedas, Upanishads, Archery etc.) and extra-curricular (Cousin-burning, princess-sharing, demon-killing etc.) activities thanks to Guru Dronacharya. This meant that they could rule the land in peace and fight with each other, without having to worry about more talented people coming along and generally shaming them. Well, it wasn’t that big a deal actually since if some boy did turn up who could shoot better than Arjuna, that boy’s finger can always be cut off.
So as I was saying, the Pandava and Kaurava kids became the most talented archers around and they decided to honour their Acharya for making them so. That was how they gifted him this decent-sized village in Haryana, to do as he pleased.
A chuffed Drona settled down at the village and went on to become quite popular among the natives. Mostly due to his thick, flowing beard, but also for his several neat tricks which he used to regularly display to the crowd assembled outside the village pub. Like there was this one time when he did something nifty with a blade of grass and retrieved the village headman’s daughter’s bangle from the village well.
That was how, faced with substantial pressure from his daughter, the village headman announced the renaming of the village – To Gurugram – in honour of Guru Dronacharya.
And eventually, Gurugram became Gurgaon.
Centuries later, the world changed. Automobiles arrived, Airplanes flew, Computers crashed, Mobiles buzzed – but Gurgaon remained the same. Except for Drona. He was dead of course.
It might advantage us at this point, to take this narrative forward from the perspective of one Mister Jagdip Singh Chaudhary, farmer belonging to Gurgaon. Chaudhary had a son, whom he affectionately called Lalu. Lalu was raised with as much comfort as poor Jagdip could afford to provide, but like every other farmer in Gurgaon, his income was meager and means restricted. Therefore, Lalu could only get a rifle for his 15th birthday, and no AK-47. The poor boy cried for days.
But one fine day, a stranger cloaked in black turned up outside Jagdip’s door.
“Singur se nikal diya. Isliye Gurgaon aa gaya.”
With these enigmatic words, Mr. Singh, chairman of the largest construction company in the country entered Jagdip Singh Chaudhary’s humble abode. He carried a waft of cheerleaders upon him.
And promised him enough money to last for generations, in return of his farmland, his ass and other assorted assets.
Jagdip Chaudhary cried out of happiness, out of dreamy visions of the life that he would be now be able to provide to dear Lalu. Thus, he accepted Mr. Singh’s offer and immediately oopsed out (Forgive me – IIMA context comment).
Mr. Singh proceeded to do the same to every farmer in the area. Farmlands which belonged to the same family for generations were bought by the construction baron. The methodical purchase of farmlands was so precise and calculated that observers were stunned at Mr. Singh’s acumen. They knew not that several hours of diligently playing Farmville in Facebook had honed Mr. Singh’s farmland-accumulation skills to perfection.
Several minor construction types followed in his wake and bought out any leftover land in Gurgaon. These construction types always attack in flocks. Like vultures.
And once they had all the land they wanted, they started to build. But not houses. Not roads. Not power stations. Hell, not even shelters for poor lonely black sheep which wandered into their farms.
They built Monsters.
Monsters which stood hundred metres tall and eclipsed the Sun. Monsters which stared down at their creators and seemed to smirk in arrogance. The city belonged to the monsters now.
Most of these monsters were taken over from Mr. Singh and the other builders by Multi-National Corporate behemoths, thereby creating a curious synergy. It was perhaps fitting that the controllers of our modern world did their controlling from inside these monsters, with their strange smiles and lonely horns.
Some monsters became apartments where the worker bees of these MNCs lived. These worker bees were paid well of course, and had a substantial amount of disposable income.
Mr. Singh duly smelled this extra money, rubbed his hands together, winked at his colleagues and started building malls. They didn’t stop at 1 or 2 though. They covered an entire road with malls and very cleverly named it Mall Road. And then they started competing in size.
One builder created the biggest mall in India called ‘The Great India Place’ in nearby Noida (a town with a similar history), which immediately led to the retaliatory construction of ‘Ambience Mall’ in Gurgaon. This spurred on Mr. Singh who is currently constructing the BIGGEST mall in India wittily titled ‘Mall of India’. They had paid lakhs to one of the MNCs in the monsters to come up with that name. True Story.
Thus, the city became Mallgaon.
With these insane developments, we seem to have forgotten our Lalu, whom we abandoned so casually while following Mr. Singh’s ambitious trail.
Jagdip Choudhary had used his money to shower Lalu with every available luxury. A fleet of BMW cars, servants who catered to his smallest whims, a cool wardrobe. And of course, that AK-47 which the 15-year Lalu had so badly wanted.
With their fancy guns and in their fancy cars, Lalu and his mates roamed around Mallgaon, from one pub to another. Sometimes they chased rickshaws carrying single girls, overtaking them in their BMWs and flaunting their weaponry.
Lalu even acted in Channel V’s Dare To Date reality show, which featured him and a girl brought up in South Delhi on an ‘incompatible’ date. This can be viewed here.
Meanwhile, some of the occupants of Mallgaon were frustrated at the poor public transportation (cycle rickshaws) and the extremely poor power situation in the city.
“How can you live in this city! There is no power! No Thattukada serving Porotta and Chicken Fry! There are no autorickshaws!”, a visibly agitated S. Unnikrishnan (B.Tech, Software Engineering) shouted and proceeded to dream fondly of the several tuk-tuks back home in Aluva. “And that too, they used to charge only per meter and not a rupee more”, he grumbled, and subsequently broke down in tears.
“Yaar, the malls here are so awesome! Every weekend, I drive my new Chevrolet Spark through the Mall Road and shop till I exhaust my credit cards!”, chortled advertising executive Neha Chopra, as she fondly fondled her bright green Spark. “Credit Card crisis? Arre, the recession is over I tell you. And anyway, we Indians rarely get affected by these crisis-vaisis!”, she drove off in a blast of exhaust fumes.
“There was a time when there used to be trees here”, mumbled 231-year old government employee Mohan Rastogi, out on his morning walk. “They ruined it all! These bloody builders. All I can see now are these stupid malls. Supposed to sell everything, ha! They don’t even have Divya Dant Manjan tooth powder! But my teeth are still strong, you know. We used good products back in my time.” To illustrate his point, Rastogiji grabbed a nearby tree trunk and bit it off with his bare teeth.
Mallgaon seems to be least bothered by the Unnikrishnans and the Mohan Rastogis though. The spirit of the city surges on, hell-bent on its unique top-down development model. Mr. Singh and his minions continue to build monsters and malls, and these entities keep smirking at all that they survey.
One actually seemed to flip me off recently, while I was on my way to my MNC’s office. I took a quick snap and rapidly moved away, content just to be a worker bee in Mallgaon, under the watchful eyes of the Monsters..