Expecting that the metro will improve connectivity to Greater Noida, all the prominent builders of NCR have a finger in the Greater Noida pie, except DLF, Gurgaon’s monarch. Ansals, Unitech, Supertech, Amrapali ATS, Eldeco and Parsvanath are all developing large residential projects in Noida and Greater Noida. Everyone has built or is building a gated community with high rises, low rises and in some cases villas, which allow the pleasures of a bungalow but with the facilities of a building society. The vanilla offer consists of 24×7 power backup, security, an in-house shop for basic daily groceries, a plant to soften the region’s hard water, swimming pool, gym, tennis court and club house. Then, with soaring prices, there are additions like a clinic, an outlet of a retail chain within the complex or a play school. Or there could be intangible extras like security staff who are not clueless, sleepy villagers who won’t be able to stop a fly, but well-trained guards. In ATS Greens on the Noida–Greater Noida Expressway, where the rates are Rs. 5,000/square foot, as soon as school buses come to the gate, the guards take position, surrounding the children who are alighting. This is western UP, where kidnappings are common, so such service is valued.

M]ahatma Gandhi once said that every construction should be built with materials brought from five miles around the site. It’s a characteristically simple but eternally true idea, way ahead of the cries for sustainable development by the present-day ecologists. However, local materials, local architectural styles, low-energy-using options, designs suitable to Delhi’s desert climate, a confidence to incorporate a regional touch in the design—no one has the time for all this talk. The builder is in a hurry to recover the price he paid to the government to acquire the land. He has to construct quickly and sell quickly to hustle around and acquire more land for the next project.

I seem to have got my sequence wrong in the previous sentence—it should be sell quickly and construct quickly, because all developers sell a house in the blue sky, some start even when the project is a mere gleam in the owner’s eye. The money they get as down payment is used to begin construction. In this scenario, there is no room for a different strain of thought. So, everyone uses lots of glass to make French windows even if they trap heat in a tropical country. Modern architectural thinking shuns glass as it traps heat and requires more air conditioning, which consumes more power in an energy-starved country. However, developers are obsessed with glass facades. Gurgaon too is an eye-straining panorama of glass and chrome.

Other materials sourced from the far corners of the world include Malaysian plywood for wardrobes, Italian marble for floors, Chinese modular kitchens and German bathroom fittings. The aesthetics are also driven by new materials now available as international firms have ventured into the Indian market to sell double-glazed glass, Italian marble and other construction materials. Fundermax, for example, is a weather-resistant laminate that can mimic the look of wood. It has become very popular for exteriors in new buildings, replacing the red brick of earlier eras. Gandhi’s quote could be modified to “All construction should use material from at least five thousand miles around the site”.

In Greater Noida, power is generated by the Noida Power Corporation Limited (NPCL), a joint venture with a private company of the RP–Sanjiv Goenka group in which the Greater Noida Authority has a 25 per cent stake. The power it generates is short of the requirements of the town by about 30–40 MW because of an impasse with the UP state electricity board that has lasted more than fifteen years.

In my driver Tejpal’s village of Bhogpur near Dadri, there is power supply only for a couple of hours in the daytime. There never has been more than that. I learnt this from him on what the newspapers said was the hottest day in a decade.

There are power cuts for four to six hours every single day in Greater Noida’s urban parts. Even within these urban sectors of Greater Noida, there are smaller islets that are only marginally cognizant of the power crisis in the town. These are the residents of gated communities with second names like Vista, Panorama, Springfield, Boulevard, Silvercity, Heights, etc. For whom the phrase “load shedding” doesn’t exist. The builder provides a 24-hour common generator. If the generator doesn’t work for five minutes, residents appear on their balconies yelling for the guard or fiercely calling up the main gate on intercom. The reality that in a better-run world, there would be no reason for a tax-paying citizen to shell out Rs. 13–14 per unit when the generator is on, instead of getting the main supply at Rs. 3.5 per unit, is never fully absorbed.

I visited Jaypee Greens, an ultra-luxurious complex that typifies the phenomenon of urban islands. The Jaypee Group is an infrastructure monarch of Greater Noida whose writ runs large in this territory. The methods of land acquisition may be questionable and criticised by the locals and the tales of political gratification are an open secret. However, Jaypee Infratech, which is headed by its 83-year-old patriarch Jaiprakash Gaur and has interests in cement, power and hospitality, is impervious to these noises. It is a juggernaut that has been unleashed on Greater Noida having tasted success in 2001, after the Authority invited the company to make its first foray into real estate by creating a golf course. Since then it has pushed its way through various governments and transformed the skyline of Greater Noida and its surroundings.

The Group’s prime property along the perimeter of the golf course is called Jaypee Greens and a visit there erases any assumptions one might have had of Greater Noida being a bucolic town. The world of Jaypee Greens is a 452-acre expanse of rolling fairways, bordered by low-rise and high-rise apartments, villas, commercial spaces, sports complex, spas and even a nature reserve. When I visit the place, a cheerful girl named Meena—who must be in her late twenties—drives me aroundthe golf course in a golf cart. The gold course itself is the longest in India at 7,347 yards. We pass by several water bodies. Along the course stands the low rises—the golf residences and more villas—which are called estate homes. They are the height of luxury even within these plush environs. An estate home is an independent house spread over 7,200 square feet with a gazebo, landscaped courtyards and options of lift well and private lap pool. The brochure I get in the sales office rightly describes them as a “private and personal sanctuary”. There is no need to even go to the spa that is in the commercial complex inside Jaypee Greens. Even that is within the home in the form of a spa suite. In fact, you don’t need to meet the world outside at all.

Having paid Rs. 10 crores for the house, I guess it makes sense to be inside as much as possible.

Many villas are empty and unoccupied because the owners are abroad in Dubai or London and this little hovel is just one more investment for them. There is a couplet in the publicity material to encapsulate what these villas are. “Folding ideas into souls, these homes weave an ethereal, seamless world of happiness.” You bet.

I asked Meena where she lived. She told me she lived in the Alpha sector, the oldest in Greater Noida. Her father was in the army and had since passed away. She now lived with her mother and grandmother. She had been with Jaypee Greens for six years. I wondered how it was for her to be surrounded for six years by these outliers in Indian homes, these Gardens of Eden in the middle of Hades, as it were, and go back to her regular house in Alpha sector with its power cuts and other civic woes that the rest of India faces all the time.

As we got down from the golf cart, a group of noisy Koreans who worked with either LG or Samsung arrived with their golf kits. Meena greeted some of them and later told me that the Koreans and Japanese were the most avid users of the golf course. None of them lived in Greater Noida; they only came to play golf and drove back to their homes in south Delhi amidst other expatriates.

There was a resort-like, serene ambience in Jaypee Greens, which made the city seem very far away. A clubhouse contained a restaurant and a small, clear aqua blue swimming pool, snuggling amidst greenery. It was for kids to frolic in, while Papa played golf and Mamma sipped a drink at the restaurant.

I learnt from the girls in the sales office that there are three hundred families living in Jaypee Greens in homes of all sizes. Some are really slumming that it is the studio apartments which start at a little less than Rs. 82 lakh.

Many villas are empty and unoccupied because the owners are abroad in Dubai or London and this little hovel is just one more investment for them. There is a couplet in the publicity material to encapsulate what these villas are. ‘Folding ideas into souls, these homes weave an ethereal, seamless world of happiness.’ You bet.

What you get for forking out that much, says the developer, is a world unto itself. “Multiple social clubs, boutiques, café, restaurants, jogging and cycling tracks, yoga centre, conferencing and banquet facilities …” I am quoting from … I don’t know what to call these marketing collaterals that I received. “Brochures” is too plain a word to describe them because there was an entire kit that a prospective customer got, including a beautifully photographed coffee table book expounding the virtues of the township. “We give you more” is its theme. There was a poem in the first page with lines like “You think comfort. We think luxury. You think relaxation. We think rejuvenation. You think home. We think more.” If nothing else, a new genre of property-poetry has been created.

I visited Jaypee Greens again a few months later, on a grey winter morning. Walking along the pristine pathways, I stopped to admire a beautiful villa that had a creeper with lilac flowers cascading over the wooden trellis on the front porch. A young man was watering the garden. I smiled at him and said “It’s a beautiful house. Can I take a look?”

“Actually, it’s not allowed…,” he murmured. But he was already walking towards the gate to open it.

The young man was Assamese. He belonged to Tezpur and his name was Uttam. He was the caretaker of this house, which belonged to a Marwari businessman with interests in biscuits, pharmaceuticals, textiles and real estate. The owner stayed there once a month when he came to play golf; otherwise, he stayed in a plush south Delhi enclave. He had a lot of choice though as he owned houses and farmhouses in Gurgaon, Rajasthan and other parts of Delhi. Uttam landed this job because his cousin worked in the owner’s biscuit-making factory in Assam.

The house was stunning. I learnt that the furniture had been imported from Hong Kong. Three sitting areas had been created in the sprawling hall, so that if there was a party, three different groups could hold independent conversations. The French windows of the living room opened out into a back lawn with a gazebo. There were six bedrooms in the house, each one of them like a suite in the Taj Hotel. The attached bathroom was half the size of the bedroom. The shower area was not just a glass-encased enclosure but like a cabin. Thick slabs of polished teakwood served as shelves to place towels. Only a sexy, water-dripping Daniel Craig or Halle Berry in a bikini-ready body could do justice to that setting. For the average, paunchy Indian it would be a travesty to step out of such a bathroom.

Uttam’s servant quarters were on the terrace, as big as a Mumbai 1 BHK. After I had expressed my appreciation for the house, I asked him how much they paid him for being a caretaker here.

“Seven thousand per month,” he said a little abashed.

“Another place. Another world” is the tagline for Jaypee Greens. It was an apt description that conveyed its exclusion.

The land on which Jaypee Greens stands once belonged to the village of Navada. Navada lies about a kilometre from Jaypee Greens, just behind the huge City Park, which is a proud landmark of Greater Noida. The village was hidden from the view of the clean, broad avenue on which City Park stands and could only be approached by a narrow gully adjoining the park, which curved inwards and revealed the village. It was a dirty village, like any other here. Yet again, gutters flowed freely, garbage lay uncleared and narrow streets evoked themedieval era. Buffaloes were tied within the house, flies feasting on their dung. Men sat bored on charpoys.

The villagers pointed out the lack of conveniences and civic facilities. “The Authority said they would build a shed for our buffaloes, which didn’t happen. There’s no proper school. The one here is only till class five. There is no hospital. Just look at the state of the village,” said Brahm Singh, a farmer turned milkman.

Excerpted with permission from 
Urban Villager: Life in an Indian Satellite Town
by Vandana Vasudevan.
(SAGE Publications, 296 pages, Rs. 625)