By Gita Negi:
My parents shifted to Noida in the year 1985, from Delhi. Noida or New Okhla Industrial Development Authority – this full form was a very popular question in general knowledge tests in our schools and carried a prestigious one mark – was planned by the initiative of Sanjay Gandhi, a man who my mother feels had tremendous potential.
I have literally grown from a teething toddler to a self-assured woman in the folds of this city and seen it grow right in front of my eyes.
My earliest memories of Noida go back to the time when there were hardly any apartments except for the one built for defence personnel but only individual houses. The tallest building in the city was the N.T.P.C. office in Sector 24 which could be seen from anywhere you went. I still remember how as a child I thought that the N.T.P.C. building followed our car just like the moon.
Because some of the sectors were still developing, my mother would not let us go beyond Sector 56 as she thought that anything beyond that was too far or, in her words, a jungle. And now when we see people going to Sector 127 or other such triple digit sector for work or to live, we can wonder at how fast development has caught up with our once small city.
There were predominantly two kinds of people who lived in the city then, first the ones who were the original inhabitants and occupied the villages located just behind the well-planned sectors, and the others who had come down from other cities for work and chose Noida for its proximity to Delhi and a cheaper cost of living. The latter occupied the concrete houses in the well-planned sectors.
There were seldom any conflicts between the two groups and they more or less kept to themselves without crossing individual boundaries of any kinds. Sure there were cases of murder and theft, but not so rampant and people knew how to keep themselves safe. So, there were strict timings and hours to visit a particular place. Most of the city usually wore a solemn look past eight or nine o’clock and hardly anyone ventured out after that, except for a few drunkards or people working late in factories.
The only market that Noida boasted of was the Atta market which housed cheap quality stuff, right from clothes to kitchen utensils. But because malls had not made their entry yet, people only went to the market if it was really required as market hopping was not quite in vogue.
But if someone wanted quality products, they had to travel all the way to Delhi. In rickety private buses that were filled beyond capacity and whose conductors yelled “Naveda Naveda Baarah Baes Baarah Baes” in cracked voices on the return journey as they informed eager passengers that the bus was headed for Noida.
This was the time when there was no DND flyover and one had to take a longer Yamuna river route to enter the capital. And later, when there was talk of a road being built to directly connect Noida to Delhi, many people thought it was just a big lie or just one of those government schemes that never see the light of the day.
There were weekly markets that moved from sector to sector and were named after the day of the week on which they camped at a particular place. So, you had a Monday market or a Tuesday market and so on. Basically, the same sellers moved from one place to another as these markets fulfilled the demand of vegetables and other random stuff. All kinds of people came to these ad hoc markets where shiny sarees and baby frocks hung temptingly on wooden poles. The women haggled over vegetable prices as large plastic bags hung from their shoulders while some random men picked up a carrot or a cucumber and merrily walked past the stall. Unseen and uncaught. And it is in these markets that I learned to stealthily paste a sticker from the buckets or jars that my mother bought, on the backs of unsuspecting people.
And then it happened. The big event that was to change how Noida looked and how it was perceived.
The setting up of one BPO after another brought in massive changes and somewhere down the line, Noida as we knew it became a blurred memory.
Agricultural plots were sold to accommodate these money churning organisations. Simple and content villagers became owners of Jaguars and BMWs, overnight. The lazy Atta market became the hub of parties and aimless hanging out, where newly rich boys flashed their cars and Rayban glasses even during the night, while loud music blared from their law-defying beasts. Tinted glasses and thumping engines became the new mark of success and swag.
Sector 18 rapidly grew from a sleepy market to a glitzy urban mela. And with the setting up of Noida’s first mall – Sab Mall – which was nothing but a cluster of a few shops, the culture of mall hopping was firmly set forever.
McDonald’s became a prominent landmark, where hogging on a burger and gulping it down with icy cold Coke, became the easiest way to come close to the dream of an American life. And tiny stalls selling momos, rolls and other exotic sounding delicacies, became as common as corner pan shops.
After the BPOs took care of the land, they pulled in all kinds of people to work for them. When the city could not satiate their demand, new hires were lured from other cities, which in turn gave birth to the paying guest culture. Suddenly, one could see unknown people living with one’s neighbours, occupying their vacant rooms or floors. These new people brought with them a culture of late night shopping and eating out. Every sector became a mini hub for quick snacks and a quicker meetup.
When you visit Noida now, you see that the quiet and slumber has given way to an unexplained hurry and urgency. There is a melee of crowds almost everywhere and the incessant honking of cars at the oddest hours. The thin line that separates a small city from a big one has not only further slimmed but almost disappeared. This is not just the story of Noida, but of several other cities which have met the same fate. Where the new has completely replaced the old and stories of the immediate past resemble folklore. There were long power outages then as well that elongated our play time in open spaces. But the only thing that has changed is that now there is a fear of something unknown lurking in the dark.
As I write this piece, I am filled with an overwhelming nostalgia and feel as if a hundred years have passed since I once walked back home from school alone, without the fear of being harassed or run over by a speeding Mercedes.