The Govindpuri Blues

I need a better job.

You might think this pertains to the inherent need of all humans to better themselves. In my case, it is the inherent need to get my mother off my case. I like my extended vacation. Somewhere deep inside, I also know that my mother is right. I need to do something in this hiatus I find myself in – at the very least so all my potential universities and workplaces don’t ask me embarrassing questions like, “So, what have you been doing since you left college?”

This is why I found myself walking with a friend down toward the edge of civilization as we in South Delhi know it – the single city block that separates Bengali-infested Chittaranjan Park from the village-within-a-capital-city called Govindpuri. I was soon to discover why the entire locale of Chittaranjan Park closes up into a gated no-entrance community at night.

New Delhi is already an ocean of people that dub themselves, “Delhiites.” This flows well with similar trends of “New Yorkers” and “Hotlantans” in the United States. I don’t think the residents of Govindpuri deserve the title shared by all the other Delhiites. This is not someplace that reminds us of the rest of rapidly developing Delhi.

Yes, rapidly developing. The Indian economy is somewhat immune to the global recession – considering that India is a true dirigism and is not a completely credit-driven economy. I can’t use that phrase to describe Govindpuri.

You won’t find the stark yet-to-be-constructed pillars of concrete and iron feelers belonging to the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation reaching for the sky, promising a future of easier ways to get somewhere else in a city that is almost fifty square kilometers across. You won’t find the 6 lane wide roads and Rapid Transit bus corridors that upset so many commuters in Delhi, or the shining Vegas-esque light pollution hotspots that we call shopping malls. You won’t find the hip urbanites and pubgoers that have come under so much flak from conservative Indians. You won’t find the pretty girls who smell like Dolce and Gabbana wearing tight jeans and wide belts over their colorful tops.

The roads in Govindpuri are 4 lanes across – 3 and a half lanes being blocked by parked cars 4 deep, teeming multitudes of dhoti and cheap jean wearing Indians who earn less than minimum wage and vendors selling roasted peanuts and illegitemate cigarettes. There are Blue Line buses traversing the half lane of unoccupied road – running down anything in sight – be it humans, canines or the trash that can not find its way into the appropriate receptacle – owing to a lack of these receptacles. Those buses are followed by an army of small fuel-efficient cars and the even more efficient Indian-made steel bicycles ridden by Indians wearing cheap clothes and smelling like fermenting sweat. The girls are still pretty – but they wear the more conservative Salwars and Saris and smell like fresh talcum powder. This I found strangely arousing.

The sky was cloudy-gray. The clouds are pollution. These clouds settle back to earth in winter nights, cutting visibility down to 5 meters and smelling like you just put your head inside the exhaust pipe of a truck.This is the ghetto of South Delhi – much like the ghetto of St. Louis, Cleveland or Flint. This is chaos unleashed upon the world – the zombified masses walking to where they need to be without footpaths or jaywalking laws. The shops on the side were as seedy as the entire locale – contributing to the hellish feel of the entire place.

I don’t want to give you the wrong impression. Amidst this squalor, you find a very happy people. Other people I know go there all the time because of the ridiculously low prices on produce and handicrafts. I’m still getting used to India again after a few years in quiet America, and this is culture shock at its very finest. This is about getting used to change – that insipid condition that vexes so many people.

This is where I was sent by the Sunday Times Classifieds- to a publishing house who needed someone experienced with computers to deal with their layout problems. This advertisement I speak of didn’t specify a phone number. This was ominous. The address was quite detailed – but if you look up Govindpuri on Google! Maps, you won’t find it. That was even more ominous, as though saying, “The world ends here, venture no further.” This is the place the seafaring adventurers of the 15th century were looking for when they set out to verify that the world was indeed not flat.

This was Saturday, and the place in question wasn’t even guaranteed to be open. Still, Rana and I set out on this trek – vehicleless with cause, for who would want to drive in such a guttural place? When we got to the main road in question, I said, “Dude, this does not look promising.”

“Gotta do what you gotta do.”

We found the street in question about an hour later, after enquiring with question to its whereabouts from about 6 different people that couldn’t possibly have been more different from one another. This is a tribute to the diversity of India, or perhaps it is a tribute to the schizophrenia one is likely to contract by living here.

“Uh, I’m looking for Street 6?”

“English nahi malum hai.” I don’t speak your lingo.

“Ummmm….Gali number chheh?” Street 6?

“Ek par karke, us taraf.” The one after the next cross-street. That way.

Standing outside the gates and looking into the street, I was reminded of one of those optical illusions I saw in haunted houses on Halloween. The street stretched out to infinity and the four to five storied houses assembled in staccato side by side like it were constructed by a child building with different colored legos – blocked out the sky.

“Shit, man. This is scary.”

“Should we go home?”

“And endure another lecture from my mother berating me for my purposeless, scheduleless life? No way, man. Let’s go.”

This is how I live my life. With incentive – much like at the gym when I bunch up my paunch and continue with more vigor than ever at my crunches.

“Maybe you should take your sunglasses off before someone kills you for them.”

“Yeah man, these are too nice for this place.”

I took them off, hid them in my jacket and took a brave step forward. I felt like an enema, creeping his way up the bowels of India.

“457-B.”

Looking for 458-B, we asked another man, equally different from all the other men we asked for its location.

“Waha par.” Over there.

The building was – forgive my repetition – reminiscent of a haunted house. Unpainted, not even white-washed, splattered with the red-spit of pan-chewing villagers, the wall had a slanted 458-B scrawled across it in red paint that looked eerily like blood – or more spit.I looked up the stairs of this building with dying hope that this was not going to be my last living day. It looked clean enough on the inside – and then I actually looked at the place. I saw four Pentium 2 computers running an ancient version of Adobe Pagemaker in the corner. I then saw the tattered stacks of paper and a printing press from Gutenberg’s era – and a man working very hard at…something to do with these tattered stacks of yellowing paper. Maybe he was killing rats.

“Rana, I think we should go. This isn’t worth it. I’m not going to kill my self-esteem today. I don’t want to die today.”

“You’re here, might as well ask them about what’s up with this whole job and stuff.”

“EXCUSE ME, I’m here about your ad in the Times?”

“Vacancy ke liye?” About the vacancy?

No, about cleaning up and painting your building, “sir.”

Just so you guys know, I actually did go through with the entire charade. I asked them about the responsibilities and the pay package, we talked about my skill-set and how I could bring so much good to the god-forsaken place.

This isn’t verbatim.

The point is, this isn’t the better job I’m looking for. I’m not busting my ass for 60 bucks a month only to find out at the end of the month that the “company,” and I use that word in the loosest sense possible, doesn’t have enough funds to pay me that 60 bucks. I might be desperate for a better job, but I am not that desperate.The guy at the Publishing House wanted me to come back after closing to talk to the main boss. I didn’t bother. Rana and I escaped from Govindpuri with self-respect unharmed, sunglasses safe in my pocket and a better idea of what to look for in an Indian job so I can actually gain something from the experience.

More importantly, I discovered another facet of this diamond in the rough – India – on Saturday.

I went home and told my mother, “I’m going to keep looking.”

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