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.
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