Hamilton Court: Gurgaon, the New York Times, and us (again)

For the second time since we’ve arrived, the New York Times has profiled a part of India that is also part of our lives. The first time was when the Times discussed the power and infrastructure issues facing Gurgaon, the tech hub to the southwest of Delhi, illustrating their story with photos of the building in which I worked. Today the Times has done another report on Gurgaon, this time exploring the gap between the rich and the poor by showcasing the high-rise monstrosity in which we lived for our first six nights in the country. (Pics here, here, and here.)

It only took one evening for us to realize we didn’t want to live in the company apartment in Hamilton Court. (It took us five more nights to find a flat in Delhi, which is why we stayed so long.) Gurgaon itself is a miserable cancer of construction dust, gleaming shopping malls, and failed infrastructure. Private industry has operated on full throttle here in a governmental vacuum — absent both regulation to check growth and infrastructure to support it. The group of a dozen skyscrapers in which I worked until last week (we moved) is served by a single four-lane road that is a parking lot for eight hours a day. During my time at the office, the landscape was torn up to build overhead power lines — either the city hadn’t built underground cables, or had built cables with no thought for expansion.

Hamilton Court itself was, to us, a parody of what striving Indians must imagine Western success to be like: tall, impersonal, impressive from the outside but soulless on the inside. My company had leased and hastily furnished a four-bedroom, 4,500 square foot duplex on the top floor of one of the Hamilton Court towers in anticipation of a regular stream of expat workers that didn’t materialize. The master bedroom, where we stayed, was an 800-square-foot echo chamber that was completely empty save a bed, two chairs, a television, and the stench of car exhaust. The building’s elaborate lobby was completely empty, lacking even a token couch. Outside, children would periodically play on the lawn and healthy-minded Indians would walk laps around the building, but the smell of pollution was too overwhelming to enjoy the great outdoors for long.

The New York Times rightfully acknowledges that for many Indians, this is paradise: a sign of success that has been achieved for the first time in a hundred generations. I don’t think it’s fair for the Times to dramatize the fact that the slums lie just outside the building — this is the case for every neighborhood in India. In fact, I think it’s one of India’s strengths that the rich can’t remain ignorant of the poor, unlike America where our poorest live out of sight and out of mind. (Although seeing dire poverty every day DOES quickly desensitize one to it.)

Moreover, I don’t think it’s fair for the Times to criticize the pockets of wealth that are springing up around the country without providing some positive context for it. “But today a landscape dotted with Hamilton Courts, pressed up against the slums that serve them, has underscored more than ever the stark gulf between those worlds, raising uncomfortable questions for a democratically elected government about whether India can enable all its citizens to scale the golden ladders of the new economy.” The flipside of the equation is this: look how many more people can now afford to live in comfort! In spite of a government that fails at providing infrastructure for the single most visible symbol of the country’s future, the city is still attracting people and business and creating vast pockets of wealth. Imagine what India could do if the government actually supported its own growth.

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7 responses to “Hamilton Court: Gurgaon, the New York Times, and us (again)

  1. i agree with your observations. my family and i recently moved to mumbai, and the situation described — glittering buildings (at least on the outside) right next to swaths of unspeakable poverty — abounds in Mumbai. I am always torn over what is worse: being up close and personal with abject poverty while enjoying relative opulence, or remaining physically and emotionally distant from the reality of most people’s lives. I have come to think that it does not matter much, as one can become inured to the situation or fired up about regardless of proximity. It depends largely on perspective, though I do fear that one remains sane in that situation, by blocking out the many horrors witnessed on a regular basis.

  2. One good thing about India is poverty is not hidden in certain inner city neighborhoods like in US. The downtrodden areas in US are not much different than the slums. One other good thing about India is there is not much of gun related crime considering the 1 billion population.

  3. Pingback: Tomorrow Museum » Archive » Hamilton Court, another Indian Gated Community

  4. You know, I read this entire article on my train ride this afternoon. And a year ago I probably would have skipped it, thinking I didn’t need to read about India’s poverty problem. But today I decided to learn more about the home of Dave & Jenny–completely unaware that it was, literally, their home.

    This site has helped me understand a great deal about India’s culture, its charms and its failings. Thank you for that.

  5. Thanks for commenting on my blog post! I don’t know technology well so I am a little amazed you found it… there must be some way to search for pages linking to that NYTimes story.

    Your points are well taken, and I think the case of Gurgaon is a bit tougher than São Paulo, where the government has a lot of money to work with. It is easier to summon righteous indignation and claim failures of democratic redistribution when there is plenty of publicly-funded advanced infrastructure going up, just mostly to serve the needs of richer citizens. And in fact, lots of investments are being made into upgrading slum services here, but it is being done with a heavy hand that requires a lot of evictions.

    But if private industry is so far ahead of the public sector that it must depend on itself for basic infrastructure (roads, power lines) without the checks of regulation and health codes… well where do you start?! Tough indeed. Start taxing those businesses I guess, and when they are foreign owned, find ways to skim off the top as the profits leave the country.

  6. Pingback: the stench of winter delhi « Our Delhi Struggle

  7. Couldn’t agree more the following lines:

    In fact, I think it’s one of India’s strengths that the rich can’t remain ignorant of the poor, unlike America where our poorest live out of sight and out of mind. (Although seeing dire poverty every day DOES quickly desensitize one to it.)

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