Sunday, October 26, 2008

No Country for Young Men

His name was Jasbeer. He was from Gurgaon.

We had gone to a Sardarji's shop to figure out the cheapest place for getting a haircut. We were chatting about the fallen bridge at the Metro construction site in Delhi when he entered. The Sardarji pointed out to him and said, "Yeh lafanga le jayega tum ko". We left for a coiffure.

I told him I had been in Gurgaon for the last two years. That got him started:

"Where in Gurgaon were you living?"

"DLF Phase V"

"That's the one near the malls, or is it DLF Phase III"

He asked me the usual stuff around girlfriends, had I had any action, how the city had changed and so on.

"Tujhe pata, hai, aane se pehle main teen mahine tak roz Convergys ke paas mein jo dhaba hai wahan jaya karta tha. Jo ladkiyan aati thi, unhe chhedta tha, nahi aati thi to doston ke saath maggi khaake wapas aa jaya karta tha. Maa bhi kuch nahi kehti thi, kehti thi bas abhi to bahar jaa hi raha hai, thodi masti kar le"

And, what happened then?

"Main study visa pe aane ke chakkar mein tha. England jaana tha mujhko. Visa pe UKraine likha tha, mujhe laga UK ja rahe hain, wahan pe raine kar ke koi shahar hoga. Woh to jab Russia mein goron ki jutiyan padi to mujhe samajh mein aaya"

He was in a Ukraine prison for a year, and then slipped over to Poland, then to Germany and Netherlands. He had spent almost a year in a Dutch prison before slipping over to here.

"Jail walon ne pahadi pe le jake chhod diya, aur kaha bhag. Maine do din tak bin kuch khaye piye do pahadiyan chad kar Ukraine paar kiya"

He was working on a construction site here, work he had seen labourers do when he rode his scooter on the Gurgaon streets. Says, he knows the in and out of construction work now, would be very useful in Gurgaon, once he is able to get back.

And when is that, I asked.

"Yaar, abhi to do saal lagenge. Kaafi karza hai sardaarji ka. Woh chukaunga aur plane ki ticket lunga. Phir jaunga. UNO/Red Cross papers ka intezaam kar dete hain"

There were tears in his eyes,

"Yaar, main 21 ka tha jab main nikla tha, ab 26 ka ho gaya hoon. Ek saal tak ghar walon se phone pe baat bhi nahi ho payi thi. Main to zyada ke chakkar mein bilkul diwaliya ho gaya. Ab bas ghar wapas jaana hai, aur aaram se apne bistar pe sona hai."

"Yeh desh apne liye theek nahi hai. Apan to wahin pe achhe hain"

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Trois Couleurs

The Good

I was walking down the street looking for an electronics repair shop. The malls are probably not the best part of town to look for one but that's the only market I knew. I had been walking for the better part of an hour and my feet were beginning to drag. I was also very hungry; breakfast had been bread with jam and it was now 2 in the afternoon. I saw a waffle shop on the street to my right and decided to try one. It was only an euro and a half. The first bite burnt my upper lip, but I didn't notice - the taste was exquisite. I devoured the entire thing as quickly as my lips would allow. Then, I got up; there was a spring in my step. I did manage to find the shop eventually :)

My flatmate came home early and we decided to cook dinner (I mean he did, I mostly stood and watched). Rice was no major issue, and we cooked dal too (procured from a Punjabi shopkeeper at ridiculous prices). And then he said, "Chal tadka lagate hain". I peeled and sliced the onion and tomato and we got the spices and the entire mixture on the frying pan, smelling heavenly. It was amazing - the best dal-chawal I have ever eaten. Today, it'll be my turn - I plan to have a pretty heavy lunch :D

The Bad

We haven't gotten an internet connection at home yet. We are getting unsecured wireless from some office near our home - but it is unreliable and erratic. I went to a center of the the office-approved ISP. After waiting for an hour and a half, I was told that it'll take 6-8 weeks to get the connection. Why this delay? Due to backlog of orders, unavailability of staff etc. Till then, unsecured wireless it is!

One would imagine that in times of the credit crunch, banks would be more than willing to accept new savings a/c. But no! I can't open an account till I get a rental agreement made. What about the fact that my flatmate has the rental agreement and my office is willing to furnish a letter saying I live where I live. That'll not do. So until then, I am getting my money transferred to my friend's account.

One would have it so much easier with these things back in desh. Am really surprised by the bureaucracy - didn't expect it.

The Ugly

It is next to impossible to have savings of the kind we have in India, in the West. The ratio of expenses required to maintain a certain standard of living to salaries is very high here. E.g. - Rent is upto 30% of salaries in many cases. And of course, people can't afford domestic help. Therefore, it is completely understandable why shorter working hours are required. When a guy gets back from work, he needs to cook his food, clean his house, get repairs etc that are needed around. There is no khana bananewale bhaiya or kaamwali bai here. Also, there are no 5 Rs. paranthes, or 10 Rs. DTC bus ticket, or 150 Rs. shirt you can get here. I mean the variation in living standards is very low and there are no low cost alternatives to many things.

We got some (actually a lot) of furniture from IKEA and fixed most of it over the weekend - 2 cupboards, 2 beds, 2 tables, 2 sofas, 1 shoe-rack, and a couple of chairs. We have 3 chairs remaining, which I guess I'll do over today and tomorrow. Having not worked with my hands in a long while, it was pretty tiring. I made many errors, cut my finger once, and broke a chair. Also, tried cooking and burnt the khichdi (and ate it nevertheless).

Am having the truly authentic firangi experience, I guess :)

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Been away from this space for 4 months now. Didn't have much to say - little of the earlier angst is there.

Meanwhile, some cosmetic changes - I have changed the title of the blog as well as the tagline. More in reflection of my current state of being.

Hopefully, will have more to say from now on.