Losing Kindness, a City at a Time

Her changing relationship with domestic helps over the years and across cities, leads this writer to question her own understanding of class, hierarchy, and compassion.

A decade ago, after a nearly 14-year stay in Bombay—the city’s name changed to Mumbai when we were still living there, but in many ways, it remained Bombay to me—our move to Gurgaon (now Gurugram) began with a search for an apartment. It was a transition in many ways, not merely to another city—Gurgaon laid claim to being one, being part of the National Capital Region—but, as I’d soon learn, old ways of thinking wouldn’t work anymore.

From a distance, most apartment complexes that ran along Gurgaon’s main MG Road, or on branch roads leading away, resembled towering, tight-knit hives; square glass windows orderly along walls of white or grey. But, unlike the matchbox-sized Mumbai apartments, the ones in Gurgaon were spacious inside. In Gurgaon, I saw bedrooms with huge walk-in closets; most rooms came with adjoining bathrooms and balconies. In several cases, there were two living rooms, bathrooms came equipped with a jacuzzi, and all the apartments had the new modular kitchens that would in a year or so become the rage. Last of all—for we were shown this always at the very end of our tour—was a tiny room, no bigger than a closet, tucked away usually behind the kitchen. The realtor perfunctorily called it “the servants’ quarters.” It had a bathroom so very small that to use the toilet bowl, one would have to lean right back against the opposite wall to shut the door.

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Updated On : 16th Nov, 2019

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