(Usha Alexander's periodic musings on her life in India. She moved there in mid-2013.)
So here I am living in Gurgaon for the last four months. We arrived in the hottest days of the year and to summer’s sweet deluge of fruits—mangos, lychees, jamun, watermelon—which we enjoyed daily. Within three days of arrival, we found a furnished rental with adequate water and power backup, and we lucked upon the services of an excellent cook and a cleaning woman, both recent migrants from West Bengal. We soon identified some take-out places, a barber, dairy outlet, and other services in the small bazaar two streets over. And we found a gleaming mall with a modern gym, theater, grocery stores, bookstores, and electronics, just a 15-minute walk from our door, across lots filled with cows, stray dogs, mansions, and shanties.
In our earliest weeks, we spent a lot of time reconnecting with old friends and family in the area. We had to relearn how to get around Gurgaon, which has reconfigured itself in the grand makeover this so-called Millennium City has undergone during the seven years since our previous stay here. Most of these changes have been very useful, from our perspective: the completion of the Delhi Metro line serving Gurgaon; the impending completion of Gurgaon’s own Rapid Metro; improved roads (apart from those still under reconstruction); and the easy availability of familiar international products, like fresh basil and avocados in the grocery store, and hummus and falafel takeaway. So in many respects, our landing has been soft and picking up new rhythms of life has been easy.
The most difficult part was the fair amount of officialdom and red tape to untangle, which Namit took on single-handedly. I was useless in these tasks, being both unable to drive and unsure with my Hindi, let alone entirely ignorant about how these things work in India. So armed with his parents’ insider advice, Namit made his way around to the various agencies and businesses to set things up, including health insurance, phone and internet service, cooking gas permit, electrical billing, ID cards, police verification, tax filing, bank accounts, and other essential mundanities. None of these things are to be had as straightforwardly as in the States: one must produce official documents, various proofs of identity and residency, forms in triplicate procured from one office and stamped by the clerks in another, multiple properly framed and sized headshots, and the names of dead ancestors. All this for a cylinder of propane for the kitchen.
The adjustment might have been more difficult, though. Happily, we have no children, which means, among other things, we aren’t agonizing about their health with each sip of water and every mosquito bite, nor are we selecting schools and private tutors to ensure the right college admissions, as we see other middle-class parents doing. This alone collapses our risks and costs immeasurably and increases our freedom. Just as much, we are fortunate to not have to seek conventional employment—provided we live modestly—which means we avoid the grind of daily commutes, workaday insults, and the weariness of mounting the career ladder. The upwardly mobile, family-oriented lifestyle emerging in India seems even more of a rat-race than it is in the US, and a good part of our secret to gladness in being here is that we are not pursuing it.