Shorts In The Dark
Life in a small town and big city in India
There is no room for ‘infrastructural complacency’ in smaller places, one always has a plan B.
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The divide between cities and small towns is an old one. In recent times though, Indian metros have built on their advantages and pulled ahead.
Life in a small town has its peculiarities and problems. Visitors from Delhi are initially charmed, then irritated by it. Partly, this is because cities like Delhi have grown up and out of these civic hand-me-downs. For Delhiites, it reminds them of the 1980s. It’s like stepping into a time warp.
As someone who divides his time between Dehradun and GK-1 in Delhi, it takes me time to adjust even for me. Here’s what I learnt: there is no room for what I call "infrastructural complacency" in smaller places. It keeps you on your toes. One always has a plan B.
First, the erratic electricity supply. The power comes and goes at will, several times a day. This need not follow a pattern — that would, by definition, be called load shedding. "Mann mauji" would be the more appropriate word. There’s also the "fluctuation" problem, where the voltage fluctuates wildly like disco lights.
One wakes up and drops a slice of bread into the toaster and the power goes. One mutters: "Oh no!" and switches to a bowl of cornflakes.
One is getting ready in the morning for work, and has switched on the geyser, and the power goes. Best to skip the bath, unless you want to be boiling kettles of water in the kitchen and filling up your bucket pebble by pebble, like the proverbial crow.
Most days one has to choose between bath and breakfast.
Two, the BSNL linesman is alive and kicking. Mine is called Hukum Singh. Back in the 1990s, resident author Irwin Allan Sealy would try and scare the linesman with a Russian camera sans a film roll. The idea was to catch him up on the pole, when he was fiddling with your connection.
All the world’s brands have established themselves in the country, but in small town India, you will get only strong beer. Photo: Reuters
Even now, it’s a polite opening question when visiting someone’s house: is your internet working? If your internet conks out on a Saturday morning, then you have to wait till Monday. To avoid this lack of connectivity, small town folks usually keep and pay for two full-fledged internet connections.
When I went to the BSNL office to find out about slow internet speed, an official there illustrated the problem with dry east UP humour. For slow speed, he opened his mouth in a gaping "O", and kept it like that for fifteen seconds. To illustrate a fast internet connection, he opened and shut his lips rapidly like a Muppet on a talk show. If I wanted the latter, he sagely advised, take the Shatabdi to Delhi.
Third, beer. All the world’s brands, from Heineken to Carlsberg, have established themselves in the country, but in small town India, you will get only strong beer. You might get Bira in Indore because their brewery is nearby, otherwise Bira remains a big city phenomenon.
Now that Bira has launched a strong variant, it’ll most certainly make its way into the interior. "Bubaijer" is the only light beer that is sometimes available. All beer sells at a mark-up of Rs 20 on the cost price. This at different times has been called the "Mayawati tax" or the "Ponty tax". The mark-up though has remained constant through all political dispensations, saffron or socialist.
Four, garbage dumps. Political parties come and go but the garbage dumps remain intact, like stubborn hapless citizens. I have observed one such dump for more than a decade. The family living opposite it has tried everything from getting the dumpster removed, to plastering the boundary wall behind the dumpster with bathroom tiles sporting pictures of Indian gods, but with no result. The dumpster always returns.
The neighbourhood will throw the garbage outside, never inside the dumpster, a bit like chucking the basket ball into the crowd instead of the hoop. The dumpster is a volcano that never stops spewing rubbish lava. By now, this dump has become a local landmark, much like the statue of a venerable leader: "Gurudwara se thoda aagey jo kudadaan hai, vahan se right." One feels disrespectful saying it, but what to do, people have to find one’s house.
Fifth come taxi apps and ordering out. The Ola app works intermittently in the day time, but packs up at night, after 7 pm. If you have one too many at a restaurant, best to park your car there; the friendly manager will drop you home on his motorcycle.
Forget about all-night delivery, home-delivery of food is non-existent at any hour. Eat before ten. The intrepid locals are those who have developed a relationship with that one autorickshaw driver whose number only you have, and whom you use for emergencies.
This, dear reader, is the reality of unchanging, eternal small town India. One good reason why I haven’t bothered getting a new voting card after I lost my previous one.
But, always, there’s a silver lining. According to the latest National Crime Records Bureau data, Uttarakhand, a state of small towns and villages, is the second safest state in the country. Rarely does one hear of maid-stabbing-memsahib and vice versa, as I do in Greater Kailash.
(Courtesy of Mail Today)