Though changing Gurgaon’s name to Gurugram will make no difference to my life, I’m going to pronounce it American-style: ‘gram’ to rhyme with ‘Sam’, not ‘aam’. Haryana’s government is changing ‘Gurgaon’ because it’s the modern-day site of Guru Dronacharya’s warfare-ashram, attended by the Mahabharata’s Pandavas and Kauravas. The one-gram-Guru, a friend sniggers, citing Dronacharya’s casteism, favouritism and nepotism. The only archery in Gurgaon these days are cupid’s bow-and-arrows, starting in the morning when the Guru Dronacharya Metro station (another artifice, telling you nothing geographically of where the train has reached) disgorges boys and girls rushing to the tech sweatshops in DLF’s cyberhub and to the corporate offices along the Golf Course road, which have contributed to making Gurgaon the ‘ATM of Haryana’; and continuing till night, when yuppies throng the micro-breweries that reportedly outnumber Bengaluru’s.
The RSS had already been using ‘Gurugram’ instead of Gurgaon in its address for a long time, and the Haryana government has now followed suit. Pic/PTI
Gurgaon already had several names to reflect its myriad identities: north of NH-8 is called ‘New Gurgaon’ or ‘Millenium City’, while the cyberhub is known as ‘Cybercity’. Ironically, the name ‘Gurugram’ never actually appears in the Mahabharata, as octogenarian-historian KC Yadav, formerly of Kurukshetra University, told journalist Sanjeev Ahuja. Two, ‘Gurgaon’ was itself a desi name, whichever way you looked at it — as a modification of Guru’s Gaon, or as an alteration to Gur Mandi, the jaggery market the area was earlier famous for, as some claim. Why Indianise what is already Indianised?
Presumably, Chief Minister ML Khattar is robotically carrying out RSS orders since his cabinet’s Jat ministers have him under siege. One of them expected to be the BJP CM until Prime Minister Narendra Modi selected trusted comrade Khattar, a non-Jat; the Jats had till then always had their own as CM, being Haryana’s dominant community. Disgruntled, these ministers may have egged on the agitating Jats who were demanding reservations back in February. That agitation, remember, included a mass rape in the fields of Murthal just off of NH-1 that the Khattar administration initially pooh-poohed. Three women recently came forward with their harrowing accounts, so there may be bumps in the highway ahead for the known-misogynist, Khattar.
As it is, Gurgaon was anyway seeing much change, thanks to union ministers like Nitin Gadkari (roads) and Piyush Goyal (power). When I moved here 17 years ago, the only name that really needed change was the main roundabout on NH-8, Rajiv Chowk, where stood a statue of Guru Dronacharya with favoured shishya Arjun. ‘Rajiv Chowk’ was also the despised new name of Delhi’s central vista, Connaught Place aka CP. ‘Rajiv’ conveys neither glorious heritage nor modern aspirations. On the Metro, you wince on hearing that ‘Rajiv Chowk’ is the next stop and wonder why it can’t be renamed back to CP. Maybe in the spirit of the Mahabharata, it can be Chakravyuha Place (also an apt metaphor for Delhi’s political labyrinth).
‘Gurugram’ doesn’t begin to convey the multiple universes co-existing in this microcosm of the new India. When I drove back from Mumbai, past Cyberhub, my first thought was: “Las Vegas”. It’s a showcase for unwitting foreigners, the way China showcases Shanghai to wide-eyed business journalists. So much unnecessary glass-and-lighting. On the other side of NH-8 is the old town, preserving old world culture and manners that you won’t find in the great big magnet Chakravyuha to the north.
Near my house is the urban village Sikanderpur, which apparently has 60,000 residents living cheek-by-jowl, many of them economic migrants from the Northeast, cramped three or four a room, all working in the hospitality or retail sector. A bulk of this sector sits on ‘mall mile’ on MG Road — where, last year, there was a gang shoot-out (with overturned cars) at high noon. We’ve come to regard this wildness as the norm in Gurgaon — as we do with the all-night cabs ferrying youngsters to the tech sweatshops or the micro-breweries; new construction, despite the sustained real estate slowdown, continuing towards Sohna (a long-ago picnic spot where I long-ago took a date); rave parties in rural Gurgaon; and the ubiquity of beauty parlours against a lack of art galleries and cultural centres.
But there is also Chhath puja in Gurgaon. Last winter, you could hear early morning Sun worship reverberating all around New Gurgaon — such is the labour migration from Bihar. And next month, House Spirit: Drinking in India, an anthology with 26-odd pieces, is published; three are by pseudo-alcoholics in Gurgaon (including me).
Gurugram as a signifier does no justice to the multiplicity of Gurgaon. “Where is the Dronacharya in this city?” an architecture professor at one of the proliferating private universities asks. The name change is no big deal, despite all the grumbling. It does illustrate, however, how in our fast-forward nation we get prehistory-nostalgic rulers who don’t seem to understand a basic lesson of Guru Dronacharya: that the arrow of time moves forward, not back.
Senior journalist Aditya Sinha is a contributor to the anthology House Spirit: Drinking in India, to be published in May. He tweets @autumnshade. Send your feedback to email@example.com