The first day of Diwali sees residents come together to light thousands of lamps along the streets with electric lights turned off. The ten-day Ganesha festival, I’m told, is particularly spectacular, with daily performances by residents.
The largest gathering of Magarpatta Citizens is the Foundation Day celebration, held on December 3, when 20,000 people gather on the Laxmi lawns for a performance. This time it is a concert by the singer Shreya Ghoshal.
That afternoon, Rahul and I stand in line outside the Marketing Office to collect our free passes, which are for some reason being issued at an excruciatingly slow rate. The sun is fierce and there is no shade.
A young woman and man examine the queue with some dismay. The woman then goes to the head of the line and picks a fight with the security guard who is allowing people into the office. “Why aren’t there more counters?” she wants to know.
The guard, exasperated after a few minutes of argument, finally says, “Will you sit at the counter?”
“Yes,” she says. The fact that she is upset and has won a battle of words with the guard is somehow justification for her to barge in ahead of all those in the queue. No one protests. She emerges with two passes and smiles at her partner waiting outside.
Laxmi Lawns is a sea of white chairs that evening. There is one entrance for gold passes and another for the regular ones. Rahul and I are among the commoners and our section starts easily 50 metres from the stage.
There seem to be plenty of vacant chairs towards the front of our section, but this proves deceptive. Entire rows of chairs are being “reserved” by one or two representatives of families or groups of friends. We watch the show on the helpfully provided screens, but it is a joyless affair. Shreya Ghoshal’s attempts to get the audience to sing along or clap fizzle out pretty quickly.
In the interval, the MC announces Satish Magar’s arrival on stage to no response from the crowd around us. Magar mentions the passing of B G Deshmukh, former Union cabinet secretary and principal secretary to three prime ministers, an early friend of the Magarpatta City project, and a resident as well. The Pride of Magarpatta City award is posthumously awarded to him.
The audience around us seems completely indifferent: there is zero applause, most people are chatting or involved with their phones or eating the combo-meals being sold.
When this listlessness in the air is brought up it is commonly attributed to those who live here as tenants—60 per cent of all residents. They tend to be young and as KM says, “They treat the place like a hostel. Many tenants have never participated in any of the activities despite living here for a long time. Most people are bankrupt to a life outside work.”
A former resident of Magarpatta City, Shweta Agrawal, who herself works in the IT sector, says, “Software people tend to be a little one-dimensional. And Magarpatta has a lot of them.”
And something that most residents seem to ignore, independent of occupation or tenant status, is the walk-to-work, walk-to-shop vision of Magarpatta City. I had expected to see many bicycles in use, a perfect mode of transport for a place the size of Magarpatta City, but it is only children and support staff who are seen riding them.
“Initially, we hadn’t thought of providing parking in Destination Centre,” Satish Magar says. “We thought people would walk and use cycles. But it’s a big story to expect people to walk 1 km. It’s all part of the baggage… In a developing country owning a car is a matter of pride.”
The idea of home and office seem somewhat fluid to those who live and work in Magarpatta City. It is common to see residents everywhere—in restaurants, streets, the garden, leaving or entering their homes—with their office ID cards hanging from a lanyard or clipped to their belts.
Shweta, when she lived and worked here, was bothered by the fact that her office and home were so close: “I couldn’t relax. I’d feel I was in office even when I was at home.”
But the same aspect is perceived differently by others, for instance, Vijay Patil. “In some flats,” he tells me, eyes lighting up as he illustrates the convenience, “people can shout from their balcony to someone in their office.”
Almost everyone I speak to, though, agrees that Magarpatta City is an ideal place to bring up children. There is space to play in each apartment block, high quality sports facilities at an accessible distance, a wide range of cultural activities and classes offered for children. Cameras and security guards keep watch even while children play truant in the streets. Satish Magar points out a flipside to this idyll: “The children are in such a protected environment that it is difficult for them to survive outside.” He recounts the instance of a couple who moved to Noida from Magarpatta City. “Their small kid had to undergo psychiatric treatment. He would get paranoid about the traffic and cars honking and all that.”
The few times I leave Magarpatta City to go into Pune I feel not very unlike that kid. One evening at rush hour I wait at Swargate for an hour, unwilling to hurl myself into the hive of people at the door of bus after bus that pulls up. I end up taking an auto-rickshaw back. As I stay longer, the prospect of travelling outside, especially using public transport, comes to feels like an ordeal. I schedule back-to-back meetings when I foray into town, and am always relieved to return to the blank tranquility of Magarpatta City. Still, the two experiences from that month that I recall most vividly happened outside: one involves a beggar coming along while I eat vada-pav on the street, invoking a touch of moral dyspepsia; the other involves passing by a woman squatting on the footpath outside a hospital, curled into herself, crying soundlessly and with such abjection that no one dared look at her.
Even while I’m reluctant to leave Magarpatta City, I feel a mild sense of unease while staying here. The world somehow feels watered down, and maybe all this uniformity and convenience is something that takes getting used to. But there’s also a hint of desolation about the place that may have something to do with its topography. It takes effort to find a visual landmark here. Walking down a street that has the same species of tree planted by the road at regular intervals gets monotonous quite quickly. On the road that surrounds Aditi Gardens, all the towers of Cybercity look the same, one junction is the same as another. There are the advertisements on the bus-stop-like benches and lamp-posts— Ferrero Rocher, Heels Dance Academy, Iken Braingym—but they too tend to recur. The security guards and landscapers usually blend into the background as generic uniforms. (One of the residents tells me that moving to Magarpatta City virtually finished off his hobby: street photography). More than the size of Magarpatta City, it is the featurelessness that creates an impression of vastness and isolation. Maybe that is the reason more people aren’t walking.
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