‘I felt fatalistic and helpless. As usual, I chose flight over fight.’

Illustration: Samia Singh

WHEN THE bulldozers came to our colony threatening to reduce our homes to rubble — or so we residents feared — the shock was like a near-death experience. My entire life flashed before my eyes, or at least the relevant parts that had led the family into this real estate adventure. There was no point consoling myself that it was not my fault, that the colony’s denotification had been announced six months ago, meaning the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) was no longer interested in acquiring the land. We had scoffed at the idea that a colony on the outskirts of the city could still be listed as agricultural land in government files, deeming it a hypocritical tribute to the dusty photograph of Gandhi up on the walls. I had been determined that my family live the simple village life as a counterfoil to the city’s frenetic lifestyle.

I had grown up in a hill station with no cars and many horses, allowed to roam the hills for hours at a stretch, with no worried parent trying to trace me. For me, nature was not to be bonsaied in neat little flower pots strung on the balcony. I wanted to be surrounded by wild shrubs, shapeless boulders and trees that shed leaves copiously. I wanted to take walks down wild, little winding roads untouched by tar. Of course, after moving to Delhi, I had also learnt to live in tiny private flats and ugly DDA constructions. But I continued to dream of my own plot of land, with a front yard where creepers grew in wild abandon, a grandmother (me?) would spread out red chillies to dry and a backyard where coolers, kids’ toys and the junk of sloppy Indian life could be consigned.

I vowed never again to take a decision that would put the family at risk. Now I dream smaller dreams

So we bought a plot based on half-knowledge of the ways of the government and the half-lies of property dealers, who cleverly showed us how the colony was on the list of 1,653 ‘regularised unauthorised’ colonies but conveniently forgot to mention that there was a stay order on construction. Not that we did our homework properly — when you have a dream, you believe in it despite oodles of evidence to the contrary. I clung onto it despite trying schizophrenically to live an American Dream in the Indo-Gangetic plains and to grow hill plants in the heat and dust of the plains.

Now my world was falling apart, just because some notification, whatever that was, had not actually reached the Gazette, a quaint publication introduced by the British which I mistakenly presumed had become a relic of the Raj. Which is why we were witness to the half-hearted efforts of bulldozer operators who punching big holes in builder flats but leaving them standing. The man at the wheel, too, is a family man and is not too happy with the work he is doing. A few doublestorey houses that obstructed the way were reduced to rubble — others were saved by a group of housewives standing at the gate, daring the police to remove them. I admired those women, whose survival instinct caused them to fight for home and hearth in the blazing sun. Like a coward, I went to office as usual, sitting there in air-conditioned comfort, thinking that if the house has to go, it goes. I should have removed the valuables, at least, I thought fitfully, suddenly feeling like a Partition refugee, imagining myself fleeing with a small bundle on my shoulder, containing a laptop and earrings. I felt fatalistic, helpless in the hands of fate, not like an adult who had to take the consequences of my actions.

Finally, I didn’t have to raise a finger: somebody else out there took care of the problem. I realised that I still had the psychological attitude that I was supposed to shed: that of choosing flight over fight. I vowed never again to take a decision that would put the family at risk. And now that I’ve been to hell and back, and come to terms with who I am, and dream smaller dreams. For, in the debris of a demolished house, your spirit can be crushed as well.

Anonymous is 50. She is a journalist living in Delhi.


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