When I moved to Delhi, I chose an accommodation that was closed to office. My parents chose, to be precise. I was ready to pack my bags and head back home when I heard the house rents here. I don’t know why people keep saying Bombay is expensive. Delhi isn’t much better either. After round 4 (or was it 6?) of discussions on where to stay, it was decided I’d stay close to work and pay a steep, steep house rent. It would save me time, I would tire less and would have time and energy to pursue hobbies, cook for myself, manage the house and occasionally socialize. Getting back home after sitting late at work would be easy. I wouldn’t need to invest in a car, an asset that demands a fair amount of investment, not to mention maintenance and a parking space. Living close to office would thus be the perfect solution to my housing woes.
The only decent residential location that could be found close to office happened to be a part of Delhi that most people define as posh. Posh in a way that is well beyond your and my imagination of posh. Sprawling bunglows with chawkidars and dogs on guard. Six cars and five full- time servants for a family of four. Ladies dripping with diamonds, enveloped in an air of perfume. Toddles playing under the supervision of the maids, no mother or father in sight. Teenagers driving CR-Vs at neck breaking speed honking loudly at unsuspecting pedestrians and deriving some strange thrill out of this exercise. Men with more money than they or their accountants can count. To say I was, and continue to be, maladjusted here is an understatement.
I come from the middle class family. God’s been kind and we have always had enough to have all the necessities in place with enough surplus to indulge when we’ve felt like it. We have always had help around the house, but as far back as I can remember, it’s been part time. It’s more a matter of choice than anything else. We want our privacy; we are not comfortable with a full-time maid hearing every conversation, knowing every detail of our lives. We experimented with full- time house help and didn’t adjust well to it. We are also a family that likes to do our household chores together. We like to cook our own food. We enjoy the weekly trip to the mandi to hand- pick up our vegetables and we don’t have a problem in carrying back a bag or two. We don’t mind driving around town and if its long distance we have no qualms about ditching the car and taking the local train. Sure, we take help when we need it, but its supplementary help. The drivers and maids and malis and dhobis don’t run our house. So this place, with its upper-upper end living, makes me feel like a fish out of water.
It’s not the abundance of material wealth that makes me uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with people having so much material wealth. I am sure they’ve worked really hard to acquire it. And I don’t undermine the importance of material comforts either. They have their place in life and I understand that. What I do have a problem with is when people are so involved with themselves and their material wealth that other people cease to exist for them. When people are no longer seen as people but as a means to acquire some material or physical comfort, it just doesn’t seem right to me. But I guess when you have too much of everything good in life, you forget that basic values that are significant no matter where you live, how much you earn and who you break bread with.
People here never cease to surprise me. While the bejeweled lady talks to her friend perfectly properly, she turns into a different person altogether when talking to her maid. Suddenly all the sophistication vanishes, ordered are yelled out and immediate attention and action demanded. Drivers, who lug around large shopping bags and run errands, never hear a thank you and no one from the family offers to carry a bag, no matter how over loaded the poor man is. Salespersons at the shop are snapped at. Currency notes are slapped rudely on the counter.
I also wonder what people who have others to do everything for them, do with their time. There is the cook, the gardener, the driver, the home tutor for the children, the part-time maid, the full time maids, the ballet teacher. When you don’t do any of the mundane chores, what do you do with all the time you have at hand? When you don’t wake up in the morning with a ready list of things to do at home and work, how do you fill the hours? Of course there is socialising and shopping, but I would assume it gets to a point when it becomes mind-numbingly boring. Even if it doesn’t, I can’t understand why being rich should automatically turn you into a thoughtless person. I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t mention that I have met the odd kind, considerate person here, but the numbers are so few that I could count them all on one hand. Wealth really does affect people in strange ways. I only wish that while everyone enjoyed their material abundance, they would also realise just how fortunate they are to have so much, and that a little humility, kindness and generosity never hurt anyone.