Is the Modern Gated-Community Turning Us Into Brown Sahibs


            What is emerging, where once the bungalows sprawled, is the densely-packed high-rise which, at the pretentious upper end, even as it replicates the postwar model of cheap housing, disguises its humble origins in fancy names redolent of California and other glamorous locations. After all, Gurgaon Heights does not have the same cachet as Malibu Mansions, even if the nearest beach is a million miles away…The gated community is a hybrid between the memory of the colonial Civil Lines and American suburbia – well-kept lawns, tree-lined avenues, tasteful and discreet individual houses that are secure enough in their privileged community not to need high walls, except at the margins. This anxiety is intrinsic to the idea of the gated community..

            Of course, the colonial bungalow and the gated community are both mutations of the one apartheid model. In the post-colonial gated community, the “whites” and the “blacks” both wear the same skin tone. But for the rest, the relationship between the bearers of privilege and their ‘bearers’ is essentially one of apartheid.

            What is new, however, is the fear that underlies the greedy embrace of glamour. For an improbably long time – I adduce the Bombay cinema of the 1950s and early-60s as evidence – there was an amorphous social-democratic aspiration, a Naya-Daurish longing, which softened the bitterness of stark inequality. A Kishore Kumar could still sing “chhota sa ghar hoga, baadalon ki chaaon mein” (Naukri, 1954), and sound plausible. Well, something happened on the way to the present and that hope disintegrated. There were those who warned, even back then, that this social democratic promise was deception, was a fraud – “yeh azaadi jhoothi hai, iss desh ki janta bhookhi hai” – but for all that, the hope was real.

            But for all that, the emergence of the gated community is proof of the realisation that that tide of anger building up outside the gates will soon be too turbulent to be casually excluded. Elite imaginations are, traditionally, slow to notice it.

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