The city of Gurgaon, where I’m staying, is a satellite of Delhi, fifteen miles or so from the centre of the capital. Twenty-five years ago it was mainly green fields. Today it’s the sixth largest city in the state of Haryana, home to many global names in the financial services, telecoms, automotive and outsourcing industries, one of whom is my client.
It’s a city literally springing up before one’s eyes, and full of the kind of contrasts you see only in India. Pigs rootle in the rubbish at the gates of towering new corporate HQs. Rajasthani labourers and their brightly-dressed wives live in plastic-sheeting shelters on the construction sites where they work. Bamboo scaffolding clings to high-rise apartment blocks. Cows amble down the centre of the Delhi-Gurgaon expressway.
Yesterday Gurgaon was paralysed by its worst-ever traffic jam. Why? Because the authorities were testing the dedicated lanes that will bring Commonwealth Games traffic to Delhi from outlying areas when the games start in October. In the ensuing chaos of blocked access and exit roads, hundreds of thousands of people (luckily not including us) were stuck on the expressway for up to six hours. Add to that the fact that a late and particularly vicious monsoon has wrecked the surfaces of many of the main roads – the result of cost-cutting and corruption among contractors and officials – and you start to get a sense of what the daily commute for Gurgaon residents may be like in coming weeks.
But this is India. People just shrug and try their best to get to work. If they can’t, they take a day off. Most people that is. Not the Indian national cycle team, though, according to a sad little story on the front of yesterday’s Hindustan Times. The cyclists were brought to Delhi from their training base in Patiala to get in some early practice on the routes where they will compete next month. But things didn’t go quite according to plan.
Despite leaving their accommodation at 4.00am, the state of the roads meant that it took the team two hours to get to the local expressway where they were going to train. They then had just two hours’ cycling before having to stop for fear of being mown down by rush-hour traffic. Then there’s the near-epidemic of mosquito-borne dengue fever, a direct result of standing water from the monsoon, which is hitting Delhi. With no team doctor present to tell them what precautions to take, three of them were immediately struck down with the fever. Another six caught viral infections, leaving only seven of the 18-man squad fit for training, and now – unsurprisingly – they’re back in Patiala again.
What’s this go to do with kind words? Nothing at all. I’ve had enough of language this week with my students. Occasionally it’s good just to write about whatever you feel like – in this case the continuously extraordinary experience of being in India. And it’s my twenty-second wedding anniversary today. So there.