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OP-ED: Welcome to Bucolia

  • Published at 07:17 am April 26th, 2021
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Take the first step on a journey of self-reflection BIGSTOCK

The musings, observations, and revelations derived from a walk around the colony

The functional definition of the word “religion” would have this phenomenon be a unified system of beliefs and practices with regard to sacred things, meaning such things that are set apart and forbidden, the beliefs and practices which unite, into one single moral community, and includes all those who adhere to them.

Thus spoke the founder of the modern discipline of sociology. And if this is a reasonably acceptable definition for a “way of life” originating from no less a person than Emile Durkheim, that includes within its ambit the baffling questions of the existence and significance of human civilization, then, dear reader, I am constrained to admit with not a little self-consciousness that I have found religion.

Musings

My newly-discovered regimen consumes me with the fervour of the newly converted. I have eventually succumbed to the allure of the huge perimeter encircling the life of our residential complex, and set out for the now customary daily walk with a spring in my step. 

There is something strangely satisfying about thundering through the first round. Circulation powers the limbs, and the momentum carries me, puffing and panting and happy, through at least four more energetic perambulations. 

The sense of accomplishment defines the agenda for tomorrow, and no sooner do I eat up the miles for the day than I am raring to go again. Goodness, I can hardly wait for the morning!

But this is merely the physical aspect of the experience, for the journey of discovery has only now commenced. 

The new-found energy is exhilarating, and each burst of exercise enhances consciousness and offers a further glimpse into a universe so far unknown but now gradually revealed in all its peculiar and amusing facets.

The heat of the impending summer is creeping, and insinuates itself but gradually. The South Asian sun becomes more intense with each passing day. It seems only a short while ago that the elderly were basking in the rays of a wintry sun in one of the many public spaces which offer themselves in the compound. 

One is always reminded by an alert society of the frailty of old men and women, of how helpless, dependent, and vulnerable they are, and therefore the overriding need to handle them with a care becoming of their age. 

Amazingly, they appear to dispel all traditional notions and shed all vestiges of this supposed timidity in search of personal comfort. Behold their transformation, their determined steps, their dogged pursuit of the travelling sun, how they elbowed out the competition in an aggressive quest to capture the last gentle rays playing so tantalizingly on the edge of the lawn. 

Maid or man-servant, sometimes both, in perpetual attendance, they would retire only once the last traces of sunlight drained from the sky and the slate grey of impending darkness drove them reluctantly into their homes.

Observations

Heritage City is an oasis in the bustling urban sprawl of Gurugram. The residential complex was conceived, designed, and executed as a haven for the urban dweller, a town within a city, self-sufficient, compact, clean, ordered, organized and, above all, cozy. 

The ziggurats, housing the resident population, lend a sense of comfortable timelessness as they squat on their enormous plinths, rearing up from the green canopy like the pyramids of civilizations long past, soaking in the warm rays like gigantic animals sprawled on a beach. Five murmuring men are suddenly spied gently jostling for a slice of cool ledge which would otherwise accommodate two. 

The terse mutter of a guard, watchful for both resident and female, accompanied by the spontaneous trill of laughter from the passing maid, informs one that romance and flirtation hangs light in the air. 

A love affair is conducted between a young man and a woman on the benches normally occupied by the “Satsangi Aunties” of the complex, the coven of the elderly who congregate when the weather accommodates to discuss the happenings of the day, the daughter-in-law, and God. 

Her happy laugh is cut short by the hissed warning of her embarrassed beau. Two rounds later, and the couple is now joined by what appears to be a mediator of sorts. Alas, in the agony of effort to coordinate footstep with eves-dropping, the heady ferment of gossip has eluded me. Well, better luck next time!

In our corner of the world, the few short weeks of spring are mannah from a heaven otherwise occupied and dominated by Apollo. These precious moments are to be enjoyed with every fibre. The compound is today a riot of color. The pansies are in full bloom, monochromatic and speckled, smiling from every nook and cranny and garden bed. 

I round the corner, to be greeted with a vision of pure fire. A huge cluster of bougainvillea, deeply pink and dense, joyously flows over the boundary wall and cascades almost down to the road. For the security guard of the building in front, who is faced with the prospect of completing a twelve-hour shift in a heat increasingly sticky and unbearable, the beautiful canopy forms a deep pool of shade in which the brooding sentinel gratefully places himself. 

A semicircle of pink petals, the colorful debris of the daily shedding of a tree eager to send forth bloom after unending bloom, throws a protective ring around the seated and uniformed man ruminating on the latest crises of his life.

Colour is the theme and motif. The next delightful shock is afforded by the solid and multilayered wall of flashing hues which make up the personal flower garden of the old Bengali aunty. A word about her, for she is archetypal, she is diminutive, always nattily dressed, properly coiffured, and surveys the world fiercely through old-fashioned glasses which magnify her stern demeanor. 

Her garden is her love, and dare anyone touch a petal unheeded out of innocent admiration or pleasure. She barks instructions to the gardener, who worships her, in the staccato “Aata hai! Jaata hai! Kyaa karta hai?” of the version of the Hindi language so quaintly delivered by some members of the Bengali Nation. 

With her daughter, who pops by occasionally and hails her through the ground-floor window, she speaks the “one-quarter Bengali and three-quarters English’’ patois that distinguishes the suave and lettered Bengali of the city.

Revelations

The daily walk reveals the cogs and wheels of the local economy. Its uniqueness lies in its organization on ethnic lines. All members of the security fraternity, standing sentry in their blue-combination uniforms, are with few exceptions drawn from the rural districts of Uttar Pradesh, and are upper caste and twice-born. 

The occasional resident of the state of Bihar can, however, be thrown in for diversity. They are all urbane to a fault, and unerringly address grumpy residents in chaste and unpolluted Hindi, always emphasized by the polite form of expression.

The washing of cars is the monopoly of the Bengalis. You will chance upon the lithe and mobile men, for the most part small in stature and young in years, darting between the cars, shuffling along with heavy pails of sloshing water suspended from thin muscular arms, trousers rolled up to the knee, and cleaning rag folded over one shoulder. Theirs is an arduous task, to be executed at the crack of dawn to enable an increasingly larger stream of office-goers to clamber into their freshly-cleaned cars. 

Then there is the horticultural and cleaning staff of the compound, without exception selected from the Bengali nation. 

Dressed in their ill-fitting uniforms with caps sliding comically over the nose, they are the custodians of the beauty and order of the compound. For the legion of gardeners, the labour of a year bears fruit in the variety of colours on display. 

But what about the legion of cleaners, cursed with the task of Sisyphus? No sooner have they swept the grounds than a fresh gust of wind loosens another load of dry leaves and twigs from the waving trees. Surely, this must foster mountain-like patience in this group of hapless men.

And the engine which runs the complex, the mechanics, the logistics of it all. The estate manager, recognizable from 400 metres by his standard chocolate-brown shirt, also small and energetic, fulfills his profile with aplomb. The nature of his job requires him to be a careful combination of technical expert and agony aunt. 

He commands and directs those responsible for the plant with the ease of years of accumulated experience, is ever prompt in responding on a mobile phone which appears attached as if by magic to one ear, while forever prepared to lend the other ear to an irate citizen, invariably senior, who appears to seek him out for the sole purpose of delivering the all-too-predictable rant about the state of the colony. His is also not an easy task.

Spare a thought for the population of female house-helps, the invisible generation, whose dusky hue, upturned cheekbone, and unfamiliar language betray the long and heartrending journey made from a home where affection abounds but livelihood is scarce. 

Silent, uncomplaining, at the perpetual beck and call of the mistress, with little or no personal life, one feels for the young woman hanging over the balcony for better mobile connectivity, to snatch precious moments of laughter-filled conversation with the family left behind, to cajole the infant to say the magic word – “Mama!” 

And all this only because the means of livelihood are not sufficiently distributed to enable a citizen to be gainfully employed in close proximity to loved ones.

 After all, it is only a miniscule number of people who are bitten by wanderlust; most are content with home and family. What a tragedy.

How strange the reaction provoked by the sight of clothes hung out to dry in a gentle semi-circle suspended from the balcony of an eighth-floor apartment. It triggers the feeling of permanence and a gentle consistency in life. How ironic that the great majority appear to abhor the routine of everyday existence and, yet, unwittingly revel in the permanence that it brings.

There are many members in the church that has become mine. I see them on my daily journey, and smile and exchange pleasantries with a few. For those other adherents of the religion of the restless, they mostly walk at their pace of comfort, and a few of the more intrepid run. Whatever may be the path, all tread it with devotion. That, I realize, is what is so sacred about the moment.

Dear reader, come and join me in the religion of the restless. For, you will agree, much can be revealed along the way. 

Go ahead, put one foot in front of the other, take the first step. You will find it most instructive.

Sumit Basu is a corporate lawyer based in India, and is a freelance contributor.

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