An urban village in the heart of the city

An urban village in the heart of the city

Karmic Progress

A board stating that cars will not be allowed inside greets visitors when they enter Hauz Khas. But a gridlock of cars is seen just beside it.

The road ahead is dotted with vehicles and the traffic – which includes buffaloes, tractors and cycles – that can choke the turns. A narrow street, lined by shops, boutiques and eating joints leads to the Hauz Khas fort which provides a beautiful yet ruinous slice of history.

But the fort is not an isolated structure. Shops and houses are so close to it that they appear to grow on it. Walk ahead and small homes, decrepit buildings and extremely narrow alleys welcome you. They are populated by locals, tourists (both Indian and foreigners), businessmen and visitors. Life here represents a conflict of sorts where different cultures exist as separate islands in the same place.

School teacher Amarjeet, 43, sits outside her home chatting with other ladies of the neighbourhood.

 She has spent almost her entire life in this village and is among those who witnessed the transformation of a sleepy urban village into a haven for the hip and bohemian. “Everything has changed here. Well-off people have come here now and everyone wants to be like them.”

 The tenants here used to be “mostly labourers from Bihar or Uttar Pradesh,” Amarjeet adds, “but now nobody rents them rooms anymore. They are simpletons who cook on chulhas (traditional earthen wood-ired ovens) whereas the foreigners pay so much more and expect us to not bother them.”

Amarjeet’s 22-year-old daughter Simmi says that the freedom the outsiders enjoy hasn’t really crept into the locals’ lifestyle. “My parents won’t ever allow me to dress like these foreigners. Nor do we go out at night lest our neighbours say we are like them.” 

RP Singh, 26, a lawyer and a local resident, points out that this multicultural environment has led to a different subculture.

 “The pubs and cafes that have developed here are the jamming spots of different people. These outsiders bring alcoholism and drugs with them which is contrary to our traditions and ethos.” 

School student Vishwajeet, 18, is even more critical. “I hate these pubs and I never go there because I don’t want such things in this place.”But whether the locals like it or not, the outsiders have contributed to changing the Hauz Khas way of life. 

Sociologist Susan Vishvan­athan calls it a karmic pro­gress. “The history of India is of co-existence between different cultures. This is a logical phenomenon which depends upon certain equilibrium.”

Shamsher Khan is a gaunt 60-year-old landowner whose only source of income is the rent from his multi-storeyed building in Hauz Khas, and he has a simpler view.

“What is wrong if people come here looking for things which are only available in Hauz Khas?” he says. “Foreigners and even well-heeled Indians come here to seek a calm, serene place to live in. So if we want to earn by charging them for rent and services, we shouldn’t feel threatened by their lifestyle.”