A city outside Delhi but having a Delhiwalla heart.
[By Manika Dhama; picture by Rohit Dhama]
11 years ago when my father told an acquaintance that we had shifted to NOIDA, he thought it was a fancy exotic place in U.S.A. (he probably confused it with Nevada!).
Few would make that mistake today because NOIDA is now synonymous with kidnappings of children from wealthy families (Adobe CEO's son Anant Gupa Kidnapped!) and sexual abuse and murder of those from poor households (15 Child Skeletons Found in Nithari!). While these are grim reminders of what can happen in this 'Delhi suburb', it is also the place almost 7 lakh of us call home.
My first encounter with NOIDA happened some years before we settled in this city (I refuse to call it a town!). We were visiting a favorite Uncle here. My chronic amnesia only permits recollection of an almost barren landscape with a few leafless trees AND frequent power cuts. After that this place was erased from my memory till a few years later when my parents announced that we were shifting to NOIDA. I was thrilled! I had always lived in small towns and as a 10-year-old in boarding school I was tired of quizzical expressions when I told people where my parents lived. Now all that would change. Everybody had heard of Delhi and NOIDA was 'almost' in Delhi (what naiveté! NOIDA is in the unfashionable Uttar Pradesh.)
I will never forget the night in 1995 when I was coming home for winter vacations from my hostel in Nainital. I couldn't stop staring out of the car window. All I saw were the wide roads and bright lights but that was the defining image of a city in my mind. That was all that mattered. So what if the name 'NOIDA' was not even a 'real' name. NOIDA is an abbreviation for New Okhla Industrial Development Authority. I was going to have my very own 'City of Blinding Lights' (though U2 released the single only 9 years later).
11 years have passed since that night. NOIDA has changed. So have I. Perhaps I can get away with saying "I grew up here." Well okay, I already knew how to ride a bicycle when we came here. But there was a lot left to happen, for my city and me. The first 5-Star hotel, first crush, first shopping mall, first board exam, first multiplex, first driving lesson…
Superstitions dictate that any Chief Minister who visits this city loses the next election. (How convenient!) Considered by politicians to be the 'jewel' in the (dusty) U.P. Crown, politics in NOIDA is all about consensus. They all agree on the following:
Thou shalt not complete any project started by another party.
When in power, thou shalt appoint extended family members, friends, et al to key positions
Thou shalt purchase prime real estate property in NOIDA and build houses that look like Taj Mahal-gone-horribly-wrong.
But who cares about politics when you know that Vikram Seth lives in your city (at least for some months in a year I'm sure!).
And who cares if it takes a good 30 minutes through bad traffic to get out of NOIDA, when you needn't go to Delhi anymore to catch a movie?
Does it really matter that parking space around markets is grossly inadequate, when you can party till wee hours of the morning in watering holes like Sector 18's Elevate which stays open way past midnight (a deadline in Delhi)?
So what if almost every suspect for a crime in Delhi decides to hide in NOIDA. It is understandable since the number of sectors here is beyond your counting abilities (in Hindi). One can easily get lost while driving from Sector 1 to Sector 135.
Would it bother you if your car be stolen in broad daylight when in NOIDA you could lose weight in a branch of the same gym that your favorite film stars frequent in Mumbai?
Are power cuts such a big deal in a place where buying a square foot of land (just enough to stand on) could make you poorer by Rs. 45,000/-?
And would you cry when trees are cut to make way for the metro rail that would chop off the riding time to Delhi's Connaught Place by one hour!
It took me 11 years and a random search on Wikipedia to discover that I share my birth date with NOIDA (the city is only a few years older). If cities had destinies, NOIDA and I would have compared notes on how life was treating us. Now I just have to contend with witnessing the change here.
Big hoardings in the city announce Malls, Town Square, City Centre 'COMING SOON'. One is simultaneously excited and worried. I can enjoy the fabulous facilities but will concrete eat away the green? There will be a lot to choose from, but could the 'growth' be too much to handle? Would I still want to live in the city I was infatuated with on that night 11 years ago?
People have big plans for NOIDA. I have big plans for myself. The only difference is…while I can paint 'Coming Soon' signboards for my life, NOIDA will have to sit back and watch its life unfold.