Saturday, March 24, 2012

A tale of two melting pots

India's cities are so different, and yet so similar. While extensive ethnic differences exist across the country, inter-migrations have made our cities melting pots of cultures with growing similarities.

Take Gurgaon and Bangalore. Two cities at the two ends of the country.

Gurgaon, is unarguably one of our dust-bowls. On a normal day, one would be hard-pressed to not get covered with an inch of dust while taking a trip outside. Roads, trees, houses, cars - everything is covered with dust. On 'special' days, dust-storms rule the roost. And yet, beautiful green oases have begun to sprout across the city - the Leisure Valley park and Tao Devi Lal park - to name two.

In contrast, my perception of Bangalore from outside was that of a verdant park, with a few roads thrown in for people to walk and ride bikes. Now I know that's far from the truth. Yes Bangalore has more green cover than any Indian city I have seen, but with all the Metro construction and new buildings coming up, there are many parts of the city which are no less dust-filled than Gurgaon. 

So different, and yet so similar. 

Once upon a time, people used to make fun of Gurgaon as the 'malled' city. Where the cold, impersonal 'mall' was the only measure of the shopping experience. They used to contrast it with other parts of the country where the neighborhood 'kirana' store was the shopping format with a personal experience. 

Today, Gurgaon has mellowed. Regional shopping markets in each area have become preferred everyday shopping areas, with 'kirana' store equivalents present in each apartment complex.

Contrast that with Bangalore. Today the talk is about the new malls which are mushrooming in every part of the city. Malls have become the new crowd pullers. Yes the 'kirana' store format does exist everywhere, but where do you think are all the new stores opening up?

So different, and yet so similar.

Gurgaon is a town of immigrants. People come from all over the country to work in the contact centers, the retail hubs, (now) the e-commerce setups, or to work as maids / helpers. As a result you hear a medley of languages. From the neighborhood UP 'bhaiya', to the Haryanwi 'jat', to the bongs who call me 'Basant' and the smattering of Tams who whistle in the Tamil movies which play in PVR, Gurgaon is India's multi-cultural melting point. 

Now I am surprised to find Bangalore is no different. Everyone here seems to be multi-lingual. Apart from speaking at least all the south Indian languages (and there are 5+ of that), Hindi is increasingly becoming the lingua-franca. The maids, carpentars, auto drivers,... everyone starts conversing in Hindi first. Besides that, of course are the Biharis and the Bongs, who seem omnipresent. 

So different, and yet so similar.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

To register, with love.

Registering a marriage in Gurgaon is a little understood process. It is also amongst the most convoluted ones I have ever come across. This post is meant to guide other frustrated souls who choose to follow this path.

Recent Supreme Court legislation makes the registration of all marriages compulsory. While my wife and I were married in Delhi, we are residents of Gurgaon, having lived here for over four years.

The first person we approached in Delhi quoted us a fee in double-digit thousands, without battering an eyelid to 'facilitate' the process. Looking at our stumped faces, he quoted a rule that mandates a 6-month Delhi residence for a registration. Much later, we realized that Cabinet mandates make it possible for non-residents married in Delhi to register without the 6-month requirement (here's the Gazette notification), but no one in the ADM's office has a clue that this is possible yet.

So we tried Gurgaon next. The new Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon's website claims that it is possible to register the marriage online (!) with a fee of just Rs. 100. But mind you, that service doesn't work, as yet. So we had to take the offline route.

As registration is a state subject,  local governments adopt their own rules. Haryana has one of the more retrograde ones in this matter, which among others, requires a blood relative from either side to be present as witness (why? aren't we adults yet?). For itinerant's like us, with no blood relatives lounging around in Gurgaon, this was a pain to manage.

Still more painful was the process itself. Despite the presence of a tech-savvy Citizen Facilitation Center (CFC), it takes a total for 2+ months and and infinite patience to complete.

Why? Consider the 8-step process below that requires one to shuttle between the CFC (which is in front of the Civil Hospital), the Court (near Rajiv Chowk) and the MCG Office (at Civil Lines).

1. Go to the citizen facilitation center (CFC) of the Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon (MCG) and collect the registration forms and the process checklist. The CFC works 9am-5pm, 7 days a week. 
2. Fill the registration forms and affidavits (one each from either blood-relative and witness, with photograph and id, address proofs)
3. Go to the State Bank office at the Gurgaon Court at pay Rs. 100/- and collect the challan.
4. At the Court, get the Court Fees and Stamps done on documents provided as part of the registration forms, and get everything notarized.
5. Go to the MCG office and get the challan stamped.
6. Submit the filled forms at the CFC, and obtain the witness certification date.
7. Complete the witness formalities at the MCG office at the appointed.
8. Collect the registration certificate from the MCG office at a subsequent date.

For those who choose to follow this path: (a) The CFC is very helpful, but make sure you clarify all process requirements clearly at this office. Or you would be left shuttling between the offices for the smallest of issues. Ask me about it. (b) Court stamps and fees are not the same, despite looking deceptively similar! (c) Folks at the MCG office are very helpful, but overloaded too. But make them your friends, for the process to work with ease. (d) 'Facilitators' at each place will scare you with the complexity of the process, but a patient and thorough approach will ensure that you can get the registration done by spending a few hundreds instead of double-digit thousands.