Moving to Gurgaon mustn’t have been easy for my grandparents, to leave their life behind, everyone and everything they knew and had learnt, to now do it all over again. Many people would describe it as a geographically perfect location at the time, close to the heart of India, a developing city – but there still lay in Gurgaon, a sense of community, far enough from Delhi to avoid bustling city life, yet close enough to prevent total isolation from the nation’s capital.
In the early hours, the local sounds of the dhol beating in a parade could be heard from afar, the high-pitched tumbi, like the call of a peacock, and poultry in the garden is often what would be the waking call for the majority of residents, most of them being farmers and field workers. The familiar sound of the shepherd tooting on his horn announced the start of the day. The smell of strong chai, the first thing anyone ate or drank when they woke up – right after daily prayers.
The clean waters, the smell of the earth when it rained, the acres of mustard fields, like a sheet of yellow undulating through the land. It was a time of weekly community festivals and village functions; everyone seemed to know everyone else, people remembered names and memorised landline numbers to stay in touch. The beautiful side of India, the side where nature still flourished, where there was no pollution, dirty politics or corruption. All that remained was friendship, community and safety.
I remember my youth like it was yesterday. Coming from a small town, on the outskirts of what is now known on the map as Gurugram, as a young girl, every day for me was exciting. Ahead, there would always lay a new adventure. Perhaps I’d get to go to the railway station with Baba, sit in the control room and pretend to be in charge. Maybe Maa Ji would take me to the bazaar with her, let me pick between the identical vegetables lying on tarps in the scorching sun.
With my mother and father working tirelessly, six days a week – sometimes seven, all to give me a good life, only seeing them in the evenings and some very lucky weekends, of course I spent almost all of my time with my best friends – my grandparents.
However, the Hindustan I remember growing up in, playing in, learning in – it has all changed now. Ten years later I’d go back, back to the streets where I’d frequently fall and scrape my knees. Back to the park across the road where my Maa Ji would teach me to sing and dance, back to the same tired old bus stop where Baba would walk me to every morning before school; mounting me and my backpack onto his own back when the monsoon rain flooded the dirt road.
Our flight landed midday, the barely visible sun still burning every inch of bare skin on our bodies. Moving away from the airport and into the towns, brought sounds of wailing car horns and the high-pitched screeching of tires. Barking street dogs wove between the cars and buses which stood amongst the standstill traffic, packed to a bursting point with children and luggage atop, braced precariously within railings. Flat land, scalding skies, large distances and so much dust. Dust seemed to have a way of always being be everywhere. The buses don’t have windows here, just metal bars on the sides, allowing the hot wind to freely blow through, bringing with it, dirt that choked passenger’s mouths, noses, eyes and anywhere else it could reach.
It could be seen everywhere when we finally arrived in our little town of Chakkarpur, and even the rest of the country – women no longer walking to the market place alone, travelling in groups; to avoid any possible assault or confrontation. No longer taking their children to the park after school either, that job had now also been reserved for the men. This of course resulted in no more interaction with other parents, just quietly keeping a sharp eye out for their children, and glancing at the folded newspaper in their hand every so often. One man on each bench of the park, this is the way it is now. Never sitting next to anyone else; and if no benches were free, then they resorted to standing. Essentially everything was done alone at this time. It seemed as though there was no more room for trust.
What happened? What happened to the sense of community that only a mere decade ago echoed through our streets? Trusting the streets with your children at night? Did we choose to ignore the magical morning mist when it slowly disappeared and was replaced with smog instead? Why was the park across the road now empty, the grass begging for water, much like the homeless sleeping upon it – both victims of a cruel and corrupt world. Is it the pollution? Will that solve all the problems our dearly loved country faces today – are there more?
The pollution struggle however, isn’t a blame game. It isn’t a matter of who did what, who needs to stop what, and who can do better: it’s a matter of working together. With a national population of 1.324 billion , it becomes difficult at times for a country of our size to work together, and support one another even if it be for the sake of the country – nevertheless, it can be done.
Or… can it?
With record rates of population growth, and the ever-increasing inequality gap between the countries top 1% and the remaining population, optimism in this regard tends to plummet. Those who once had hope and believed, no longer try. If a large majority of the population isn’t educated, how can you expect them to work towards emissions goals they have never even heard of?
India’s problems don’t merely end with pollution however, many believe that a mere ten letter word can perfectly describe the root of the problem: corruption. Like everything that needs to be fixed is weaved into a web so complexly intertwined, with corruption at its heart, buried in its roots.
But corruption, what does it mean?
The dictionary describes it as:
Dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery.
Synonyms: dishonesty, deceit, deception, malpractice, fraud.
You get the idea.
So, is this true? Does corruption lead to everything ‘wrong’ with the country?
To straighten out the country once again, to make it as pure as our grandparents and those who came before them remember it – the entire complex must be broken, piece by piece and in time, India will finally be rid of the disease which has troubled her for so long.
Without corruption, no doubt, fear would be abolished, a sense of trust would be weaved back into society. “Sure, that’s great,” you say… but the unanswered question arises once again, like it has been for years: what about the pollution?
The issue of India’s population, pollution and corruption goes far beyond the likes of a singular individual. Although the problem seems unsolvable, it isn’t – no problem ever is. As long as the priorities of the nation are kept aligned, in retrospect, with government reforms and new policies being implemented, our country too has the full potential to strive.
There’s no one in the world I love more than my Maa Ji, and I don’t think there’s anything in the world Maa Ji loves more than her country. And why shouldn’t she? India is a beautiful place, a place which deserves to be as pure as it once was – before the complexities of life and the modern world wore it down and tired the land out. It can be a pure haven once again, just the way our grandparents and ancestors remember it to be – as long as everyone who cares nudges it along. I know I sure will try.