Saturday, July 26, 2008

City Life - Demolishing the Unwanted

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Two Ladies

This ain't no city for the poor.

[Text and picture by Mayank Austen Soofi]

The day when Delhi's cosmopolitan gay community was flaunting its existence in a parade, I was in a settlement that has ceased to exist.

Walking past my old office in Kailash Colony's L block, I took a turn to the right, and reached an open yard. Once a jhuggi cluster of south Indians lived here. The husbands worked as rickshaw-wallas, wives as kaam-waalis, and children lolled around in filth.

But now a graveyard-like stillness lurked. In 2006, under the orders of the Delhi High Court, MCD's demolition squad had cleaned up the slum in the course of a single afternoon. That morning I crossed the park, adjacent to that jhuggi, on my way to work, and stopped by an aunty's breakfast cart. Each morning she would sell her idli-sambar to the fellow jhuggiwallas. I didn't know it then but I had my idli sambar for the last time there.

The bulldozer arrived in the afternoon while I had a window seat view of the spectacle from my air-conditioned office.

But let's not be sentimental: facts first. The jhuggiwallas knew that their homes, more than 30-years-old, were illegal and that the authorities would be demolishing them. They had already been served a notice. However, when you are used to something as real as home, you feel — How can they destroy my home? But nothing stopped the bulldozer.

The slum-dwellers cursed and cried in Tamil, hurled stones at the cops while their houses were razed down — bedrooms, terraces, courtyards — everything. However, they soon surrendered their intifada and hurriedly rushed to salvage whatever they could — a bed sheet, a pressure cooker, a transistor. Later, they stood by and helplessly watched the demolition carried out by the MCD staff with a been-there-done-that look.

Where have those people gone? Who would parade for their right to live in the city?

The day I was there, the empty space looked squeaky clean. There were no unclean children, no squabbling women and no cursing men. Even the pavement temple had disappeared. Moss-green grass has sprung up everywhere. The former slum looked like a garden where 'People Like Us' could go for a stroll with our pomeranians. Kailash Colony had reclaimed its beauty and our aspiration for a slum-free city has grown a little more real.

5 comments:

kisha said...

well...and what is that supposed to convey..?..
amean..it is ironical...no doubt about that...but it's our own decision..
this is what we want....isn't it?...
it's a choice...it's a developed city..or pity on poor people....

Anonymous said...

exactly - they have my empathy, but they really ought to go sell their sambar somewhere else! if we fancy it, we'll commute to their neighbourhoods, they needn't come and shower their festering slums down on our barely-held-together 'posh' areas. Or is it?

kisha said...

.i dont think any of us would like to commute to their neighborhoods.....hmm..temme how many times do you visit a JJ colony in delhi?....may it be for any reason?...not even more than 10 times in ur life...

Anonymous said...

i said 'if'. give me a good enough reason to, and i shall.
cholera isn't good enough, not for me, no, thank you.

kisha said...

exactly my point dude/duddete (wateva)