Gurgaon Glossaries: Prasad Shetty, Rupali Gupte and Prasad Khandolkar

This guest post by PRASAD SHETTY, RUPALI GUPTE and PRASAD KHANDOLKAR is research work in progress for Sarai Reader 09 @ Devi Arts Foundation, Gurgaon

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When a new city settles, new systems are made, new vocabularies get invented, new relations are formed, new methods are devised, new networks are forged, new enterprises are produced, and new life is led to settle the ruffles. This work is a compilation of such systems, vocabularies, relations, methods, enterprises and networks that get formed to shape and settle the city.


‘Change of Land Use’ is a town planning provision that is generally a part of town planning acts of various states across India. This provision allows land use changes in the statutory plan. This provision is made to allow governments to respond to unforeseen requirements of the future, where some lands need to be used differently from the planned use.

For example, if during the plan making process, the city appears to be growing as an industrial place, then the planners would demarcate a substantial amount of land as ‘industrial use’. However, if there is a decline in the industry some years later, the lands need to be used differently. The provision of Change of Land Use allows for changing the use of land from industrial to another use in such cases. In Gurgaon, this term seems to be very popular and has been used in its acronym form – CLU. It is used almost as a part of the routine approval process. The familiarity and frequency of use of the term ‘CLU’ not only indicates the rate of unforeseen activities, but also the malleability of the plan and high number of actors involved in the planning process. In a strange way, Gurgaon’s planning seems to be most participatory, with most owners, developers, architects, contractors, and others using the CLU to shape the plan as they want it. In fact, the copy of the statutory master-plan is circulated mostly through real-estate agents and photo-copy vendors reinstating the participatory nature of the planning process.

Pahalwan Broker:

With large number of businesses locating themselves in Gurgaon, there is a constant need of staff at all levels, which come to Gurgaon for work. The higher-level staff generally come from metropolitan areas of the country. They are paid quite well and rent apartments in the exclusive apartments of Gurgaon. The apartments however are owned by either local farmers who have made their money by selling lands to the developers or investors from Delhi or other metropolitan cities. A breed of young brokers has grown to facilitate the meeting of the owners and the tenants. The higher-level staff, familiar with legal processes in their own cities, try to get well-drafted agreements made between them and the owners. These agreements however do not seem to have much meaning in Gurgaon and disputes generally get resolved through pahalwans (musclemen), who specialize in ‘conflict management’. While the owners hire some local goons, the only support for the tenant during such disputes is the broker who had arranged his/her accommodation. In Gurgoan, these brokers are either pahalwans themselves, or have access to other musclemen who then provide a counter to the goons of the owner and help the tenant out. The lower-level staff on the other hand, do not live in the exclusive apartments. They rent rooms in the villages. The connections with the potential landlord are made through friends and relatives who have settled earlier. Here there are no agreements, nor the security of the pahalwan brokers – the landlord dominates. In the event of a dispute, the youngsters of the village are called. In most cases they simply throw the tenant out.

The Project:

Contradictions arise when the condition of absent centralized infrastructure and governance collide with aspirations, desires and fears of the young professionals who come to work for the big companies located in Gurgaon. These contradictions are resolved through the idea of the ‘project’ taking care. Developers promise a ‘project’ instead of a house. Effort is made to provide all facilities that are available in any first world condition within these gated projects. Clubs, gardens, parking, security systems, 24X7 water and electricity are provided by the project along with one-button services – an exclusive service where one has to simply push a button on the intercom system and ask for any service. One has access to plumbers, cable TV guys, electricians, pest control services, etc. And some projects also provide services like day-care, drivers on hire, laundry, food from different restaurants.

Gurgaon Chawls:

Gurgaon’s call centers, offices, malls and apartments provide opportunities for large numbers of people to provide different kinds of services and support – security guards, office assistants, drivers, helpers, cooks, food suppliers, etc. These are generally migrants from different parts of the country who come to the city and settle here through their kinship and friendship networks. They live in the villages of Gurgaon. Their housing is provided by local villagers who build small rooms either as extensions to their houses or as one or two storied chawl-like structures (like Mumbai) with small rooms, common corridors and toilets, and sometimes courtyards. The rooms in the Gurgaon chawls, like in early twentieth century Mumbai, are predominantly occupied by a group of men. Sometimes, a large corporate office or institution like a hospital hires an entire chawl of about twenty to thirty rooms for its employees.


During the early 2000s when the call centers were just settling in Gurgaon, workers were lured from Delhi to work in Gurgaon. They had to be ferried between their workplaces and homes and also provided with food, emergency medical aid, security etc. The villagers who had sold off their lands to the developers of Gurgaon provided these services. They became food contractors, security contractors, transport contractors, etc. With more kinds of businesses settling in Gurgaon and with the growth of the city, newer and different kinds of services were required. For example, the requirement of transporting people from Delhi decreased and requirements of services such as pest-control, generator repairs, building maintenance etc. shot up. The older contractors also transformed their occupations and responded to the new needs.

Communication Agents:

Ram Kumar came from Bihar some six years ago and settled at Sikandarpur village of Gurgaon. When he came, he lived with his brother-in-law for a few days. The brother-in- law was himself sharing a room with five others. He worked as an office aid for Airtel, one of the mobile phone companies and made friends with all kinds of agents connected with Airtel. After a month of working he rented a room nearby. The owner had extended his house and had rented different parts to different tenants. While living at Sikandarpur, he noticed that there were a large number of migrants who had come from different places and each one carried a mobile phone. There was a high demand for small-sum prepaid mobile phone cards that were actually quite expensive. But the migrant workers preferred these as they could mobilize small amounts on a daily basis as required and not a large amount every month. Moreover, the prepaid connections came with no documentation hassles. Ram started retailing the prepaid cards. Everyday after work, he would sit near the chai shop below his room and sell prepaid cards. Working at Airtel, he knew how to become a retail agent for prepaid cards. Later, with his owner’s permission he put up a sign board ‘R K Communications’ on one of the walls of the chai-shop. RK – as he is now called – started another business – of money transfer – transferring money for migrants to their native places. The State Bank of India had centralized its information system so that transactions could be made from anywhere in the country and they started special services for migrant workers through intermediatary agents who would use their accounts to transfer funds at a small commission. Coupled with mobile phones, this service has become extremely popular in Gurgaon.

Lizards and Jaipur Nets:

Rudra is an air conditioning engineer and had to move to Gurgaon from Mumbai after his company decided to relocate their business to Gurgaon. After staying for a week at the company guest house he rented a three bed room apartment at Paradise Phase I, one of the posh neighborhoods with the exclusive one-button service, where he could push a button from his home and ask for anything.  Like a genie, someone would always fulfill his demands. Coming from Mumbai, the lavish three bed-room apartment felt like a palace. He wanted to get his wife and children as soon as possible. But there was one problem – lizards. While no one was allowed into Paradise without the permission of the occupants, the lizards entered everywhere, every floor, every room. Rudra would come home from work in the evening and find his walls full of lizards – large brown, black and grey ones. Twice he went back to his company’s guest house and slept there. Later he gathered courage and waged a war on the lizards. He would drive them away with brooms, shoes, sticks and sometimes even manage to kill a few. He resorted to keeping all his windows closed and used artificial ventilation through air conditioning. But the lizards never stopped, they seeped in through the cracks between the windows and the walls. Rudra started taping all the cracks. The spaces under the doors were filled with newspapers. The lizards had taken over his life and he discussed every detail of his adventures with them with his friends and relatives. He also used the services of a pest controller who came and applied some chemicals on the doors and windows. The lizards did not turn up for a couple of days, but after that they returned. There was one pest control service that advertised themselves as specialists in lizard control. They came to Rudra’s place and measured his windows. They were to get nets cut to size from Jaipur. The nets came after a week and Rudra was getting impatient. But when they came, one of them was a little shorter. After lambasting the pest control guys, Rudra decided to live with the shorter net and not to reorder it, as it would mean another week with the lizards. The portion where the net was short, he completed with a newspaper extension.


Every high-rise apartment, commercial office, mall and call centre has chimneys on their terrace, which keep spewing smoke throughout the day. The smoke comes from diesel generators that run in the basements of these buildings to provide a constant supply of electricity to the controlled environments in side them. Every building also has deep bore wells, which pull water. This is then filtered with reverse osmosis and supplied to the inhabitants. There is still no clarity on where the used water goes – sometimes it is treated within the buildings and then left into the drains, sometimes, the waste water is simply left without treatment. Unlike cities of similar wealth, Gurgaon is not connected / networked with underground systems – it floats and the ‘projects’ are like floating islands.  The inhabitants of these islands move from one island to another. The only connection to the ground, are the people who service these apartments and are called upon to empty the septic tanks.


They say that Gurgaon’s economy has leaped. It is no longer a city of call centers, but a city of Mercedes, Dell, Nokia, Wipro, Ranbaxy, and hundreds of large corporate companies. The emerging work-scapes of China, Taiwan and other Asian and African countries will not affect it any more. Moreover Gurgaon is also a place where everything looks possible, gets executed fast, and gets ready to take off very soon. Businesses from large cities like Mumbai and Delhi are relocating themselves in Gurgoan. Gurgaon will not fall soon.

(Prasad Shetty, Rupali Gupte and Prasad Khanolkar are urbanists based in Mumbai and members of the urban research collective, CRIT.)

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