Fast times in India
“Change,” she said, letting out a deep sigh, “just happens so fast.”
My fellow wedding guest wore a disappointed expression as we looked out across Gurgaon, a city about 24km from Delhi.
From the rooftop bar of our hotel, we saw a strange mix of dusty spaces with shiny buildings clustered about.
Directly across from us a Bollywood theme park had been built among commercial offices and hotels.
“It was all desert last time I was here,” she said.
She explained she left India for Australia when she was just a girl. I did not ask, but I’d guess it was at least 30 years ago.
Gurgaon has been touted the “Millennium city”, after speedy development over 10 years saw many multinational companies set up there.
While far from the home she once knew, she was still concerned about its residents.
At the forefront of her mind was the plight of farmers set to suffer under a new law change by the Indian government.
That day, the government had passed laws allowing foreign supermarkets to operate in the economy.
There was no way for farmers and small business owners to survive once chains such as Wal-mart moved in, she feared.
However her husband pointed out at the same time, India’s economy needed proper supply chain management.
He believed 40% of India’s produce was going to waste and foreign companies – their money and investment in cold storage – could help solve the problem.
A figure like this did not surprise me given we experienced power cuts several times each day during our stay. And this was in the third most affluent area in India.
Cellphone coverage was equally unreliable – but cheap as chips.
The 200 rupees (less than $NZ5) on a prepaid simcard lasted five nights including data – and I am quite the social media enthusiast.
As was our designated concierge at the hotel – 24-year-old Asish – who created a Twitter account for guests of the wedding to follow.
By the end of our short trip, he had friended half the group on Facebook.
Asish’s main job was to organise all our transport from wedding venues and tourist attractions. As a woman, I was forbidden from using the metro train service.
I laughed off safety fears until I noticed billboards for taxi companies promoting female drivers and panic buttons as aspects of their service.
Private cars were the way to go despite the roads being choked most of the time.
Once when our car stopped at an intersection, I saw a passenger in the car next to ours get out and relieve himself on the side of a bridge. He must have known we knew we weren’t going anywhere fast.
Along with seeing many men urinate on the side of the road – I saw rubbish being dumped on the street and pigs, donkeys and many oxen roaming the region.
I couldn’t figure out why so many people stood on the road until I realised there were no public footpaths.
From the view of our comfortable rooftop bar it was amazing to see what had risen from the dust, a juxtapostion of shiny corporates amongst slums.
After the wedding, she said, she would get out of the city and visit family in the countryside, where the real India she once knew was still waiting.