Though it’s late evening by the time you meet Ruchita Gour at her home in Hamilton Court, you have a sense that the spotlessly clean apartment—with the sheer curtains screening a balcony full of potted plants— is filled with light. Among the tasteful knick-knacks scattered on the living room table, is a faux stained glass tissue holder crafted by Ruchita herself. A graduate of the JJ School of Art in Mumbai, she also paints—as the easel in the dining room indicates—apart from channelling her creativity into running the popular Pikniks at Galleria Market. While the eatery, named after Ruchita’s daughters Priyanka (10) and Nikita (17), is just four years old, the family has been living in Gurgaon for about 15 years now.
“When we first went on our scooter to see the house that we’d booked in Sushant Lok, there was nothing after Mehrauli Road. Sushant Lok itself was a bed of sarson ke khet (mustard fields)!” she reminisces; adding that at the time, acquaintances were shocked that they were buying property in the back of beyond.
Ruchita and her husband Prashant, however, were captivated by the beauty and tranquillity of turn-of-the-century Gurgaon. The cry of peacocks filled the air, and a general sense of calm prevailed. “We used to go for long walks with our dachschund Jojo; and the villagers would look at him—wondering what sort of creature he was!” she laughs. She especially misses the fresh vegetables she used to buy from the village folk. Needless to add, all those villagers have since sold their land and moved away, into the bourgeoning ranks of the nouveau riche. Then, since homes were few and far between, children’s play dates had to be elaborately planned; but that, Ruchita says, was not really a hassle, as traffic was so minimal that she could move fearlessly around Gurgaon on a flimsy Sunny moped.
It’s not something she would even contemplate doing now. “The roads have become totally unsafe. One of my uncles went for a morning walk, and never came back. He was the victim of a hit and run,” she says. In a sense, Ruchita believes all
of Gurgaon has become a victim of speed—a consequence of its rapid transformation, and its rush to be a centre of growth and dynamism.
“Things started changing around 2001, the year my younger daughter was born. The mustard fields disappeared; things began vanishing before our eyes. More people started coming in, traffic increased outside our gate, and our dog was once hit by a speeding scooter,” she says. However, she concedes that the growth had its good points too. “Earlier, we had to go to Delhi or to Sadar Bazar for everything,” she says, recounting a frightening drive back from the capital with her elder daughter, then aged two. “It was 7.30 pm, and pitch dark, because there were no lights on the road. It was raining heavily too. I felt like I was driving through some nowhere land, and kept wondering what I’d do if I had a sudden puncture or breakdown. Thankfully, nothing happened,” she says, sounding relieved even after all these years!
The rapid pace of change that was transforming Gurgaon from a sleepy outpost of the capital to a thriving exurb, also brought with it many unpleasant things. “The city started filling up with lots of people, and there was construction everywhere. There were frequent power cuts, and summers became unbearable. The sound of birds was drowned out by the sound of generators and traffic; leisure living was taken over by gyms and fitness centres—and security too became a big issue,” she says.
Another uncle’s home was burgled twice; which prompted him to sell his property, and move to a gated complex. The family then realised that thefts and robberies were becoming a common occurrence, and put up a huge grill around their home. This was obviously not enough; as, eventually, it was their concern for security that pushed the Gours to move to an apartment, within a well maintained condominium complex.
Though Ruchita has now made her peace with modern Gurgaon, and understands that the success of Pikniks too is a result of the city’s hustle and bustle, she still occasionally yearns for the vanished simplicity and silence.
“Now, people are always running against time. That peaceful scenic beauty has been lost in our whole so-called development,” she says. But flashes of that old beauty still manage to appear. “I miss seeing peacocks, and hearing their cries. But sometimes, very early in the morning—before the cars take over the roads—I can still hear temple bells, and the sound of peacocks crying in the distance. They are still out there somewhere,” she says wistfully as she walks you out.