My conversations with local shopkeepers, artisans and workers in the Khirki area enabled me to understand how the locality was changing. Over the past one year the rents have escalated, and the available space – small rooms shared by tenants – are mostly occupied by people working at Max Hospital or Select Citywalk Mall.
The locals accept the change but have dissatisfactions too, though they are profiting overall. Some people remarked that the area was becoming cosmopolitan, and consequently people were more open in behaviour and more expansive in outlook. Women walked around the lanes more freely, disregarding whistles and catcalls. Earlier, the youth were more repressed.
I went to Max Hospital to meet a nurse who lives in Hauz Rani and works in the Emergency Department at Max. I waited till late in the evening in the hospital lounge till she ended her shift. The lounge was almost as luxurious as a 5-star hotel, a surreal contrast to the grimy environs of Hauz Rani that tenaciously nudge the manicured grounds of the huge corporate entity.
The young nurse was quite exhausted when she finally came to me, having struggled all evening with a complicated case. It was late, but she insisted that I visit her home and meet her three roommates, all nurses at Max. As we walked through Hauz Rani, she narrated her daily routine. We reached her place, rented quarters in a small muddy lane. It would have been very difficult for me to find it on my own. Each time I visited the nurses during this project, I invariably lost my way in the cluttered warren of Khirki.
The day I forced myself to visit the Mall, I didn’t really know where to begin and where to end. I went through a security check and entered, immediately seduced by the central air-conditioning that felt like a celestial breeze after the sultry heat of Hauz Rani.
Constantly bright lights, escalators and the sophisticated décor of branded shops merged into a hallucinatory vista of unremitting allure as well as perennial satiation. I avoided looking at the extravagant prices as I persistently went into store after grandly designed store to try and find Khirki residents who worked in the mall.
I did find a few who had successfully modified themselves to their jobs and were willing to describe this transformation.