How Not to Do Things in India

#4 – Build environment-appropriate housing
(aka The Outsider’s Guide to Dillistan: New-new Housing)

1.  Take a vague agglomeration of sleepy, patriarchy-driven villages and connect them by long stretches of roads. Plonk it in the middle of the hot dust-plains of northern India, and call it a city.  When people start laughing, use those lathis you’ve been stockpiling. Let it remain in this state (ha!) for a few decades.  Then,

2. Watch as it partakes in the heady euphoria of a nationwide economic boom. Allow it to host a couple of international sporting events.  Watch as it begins to morph into a thriving, connected metropolis.  Sigh as it remains just as dusty, while becoming even hotter and more patriarchy-driven.  Then,

3. Relax the rules which prevented home owners from building too vertically.  Cite the pressures of a growing-growing-why-aren’t-you-slowing population.  Ignore all aspersions of all the money set to be made by greasing palms at all the various levels of permits and licenses.

4. Let loose a bunch of builders and architects whose sole aim is to make a quick profit, and whose sole inspiration is a photograph of a modern flat in a northern European nation.

5. Watch as the decades-old, sturdily-built, individualistic one-storey houses get demolished and converted into couldn’t-pick-them-apart-in-a-lineup four storey apartment buildings within 10 months.

6. Note the single layer of bricks, the thin coating of cement, the low (false) ceilings, the highly compact and totally anodyne rooms, the giant sheet of glass that’s used to split up the main room into a ‘dining area’, the lack of any substantially-large windows that can be opened, the absence of a utility room, the non-existent storage area, the replacement of front- and back-facing walls by a giant sheet of glass, the split ACs in every room, the massive underground tanks and automatic pumps that function day and night, the non-double-glazed non-soundproofed nature of the giant sheets of glass, the teeny-tiny balconies that don’t offer enough space for plants to be grown, and the giant sheets of glass glass and more glass everyghelchodiawhere.

7.  Consider that this city has an average daytime temperature of 40C for four months of the year, an average night-time temperature of 7C for another three months, has a modest rainy season which precludes grey skies for most of another two months, bears the periodic brunt of winds rasping across the western and northern plains which bring in mounds of dust, is constantly alive to the sounds of endless traffic snarls (and the attendant honking) because of the addition of 1,500 new cars each day onto the roads, is in the throes of a full-fledged construction boom that has resulted in a perpetual background symphony of hammering and trundling and screeching (not to mention causing even more dust to float around), where electricity shortages are only worsening every month due to the unthinking way it is being guzzled, and which is so landlocked it does not benefit from the relief of sea-breezes.

8. Wait for the inhabitants to realise that these daft structures will be suffocating in the summer due to the lack of cross currents, freezing in winter because of the thinness of the glass, will be perpetually curtained off due to sharp sun streaming in through the giant sheets of glass, and will almost always require ACs if they want to keep breathing.

9. Slowly realise that they are instead touting these new constructions as better than the old ones, and pricing them higher, because they’re ‘modern’.  And that all their neighbours are also following this exact same design for the buildings they’re coming up with, to cash in on the boom.

10.  Weep.


(The Outsider’s Guide to Dillistan) Yowling and yelling

After a delayed start, Summer has engulfed Dillistan.  The 40C barrier was broken yesterday, and it will continue to rise until it most likely peaks at around 47C.

Of course, once this happens, the whole place goes totally woo-woo.

…well, it’s always totally woo-woo, it just gets a bit more so.

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Contrary to expectations, the summer air in Dillistan is full of a raucous cacophony.

The day is full of Dillistanis insisting on stepping out without protection despite the heat, which means they promptly end up getting their brains scrambled (even more).  And when a Dillistani’s brain gets scrambled (even more), they resort to their basic state-of-being – showing everybody else how badass they are.  Of course, unless they’re really truly badass, nobody really gets into a physical fight (because even a crazy Dillistani worries about whether the other person might actually pull out a knife) but instead make do with verbal violence.

Which is why all day long, every hour or so, you can expect to be witness to duels of the abey-teri-maa-ki and aa-na-abey-tu-idha-aa-na varieties.

Do not intervene under any condition – the ghelsappas will consider you yet another opponent and drag you into the ruckus as well.  Particularly if you are trying to placate them or are asking them to tone it down.  Because tu kaun hota hain beech main bolne wala.

Eventually, however, the sun sets and the air cools down marginally and the Dillistanis head home.

Which is when the stray dogs, which have been lounging peacefully in the shade all day long, wake up.  And since they mimic what humans do, and since the heat has been insidiously stewing their brains as they slept, they launch into a barking-howling-snarling symphony that lasts till the sun comes up.

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After a few days of this incessant yelling-by-day and yowling-by-night, accompanied by the heat, a high percentage of newcomers to Dillistan have to be rescued from their locked bedrooms, where they sit catatonically, slowly tearing things into strips.

The rest of them join in the fights, as they have been converted into a Dillistani.

Either way, you cannot escape.  You have been warned.

(The Outsider’s Guide to Dillistan) Xenophobia

Like every nation, Dillistan does not like foreigners.

Some sociologists and historians will try and convince you that this is because centuries of invasions have instilled an instinctive wariness and mistrust amongst the native populace.  Plausible.  But bollocks.

The real reason Dillistanis are so xenophobic is because they have to live in Dillistan, and thus resent anybody who doesn’t.

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A Dillistani has a keenly-tuned radar for detecting foreigners.

The timidity with which somebody requests a service provider to, y’know, provide the service instead of talking on his phone for 44 minutes; the naive way in which commuters expect autowallahs to start the meter; and of course, the use of the word ‘Boss’ instead of ‘bhaayyya’ – all of these instantly help the Dillistani identify the outsiders.  And it is then incumbent upon a true Dillistani to torment these border-crossers and make their stay truly unforgettable.

A Dillistani will buttonhole outsiders with insistent demands about their exact sub-sub-sub-category of religion, caste, and clan.  You can try and tell them that eight generations of your family have lived in one of the major metros, but they will not rest till you trace your roots back to some village.  At which point they will sneer at you for having such dehati roots, unlike their own.

Dillistanis will deliberately confuse you by using different names for food items.  Thus pumpkins will become ‘sitaphal’, even though all over India that’s the name for custard apples.  Dillistanis have a highly sophisticated and complex scoring system to see how quickly they can make a person frustrated, and they’re all in on the action.  The betting scene is bigger than a World Cup final,but of course you won’t even know it exists.

Dillistanis will also mock anybody who can afford to but doesn’t buy a bike or car because they’re concerned about sustainability and public transport.  The same applies to people who prefer not to have domestic help all day long but instead call them in for just a couple of hours every alternate day, or worse, wash their own dishes.  As for actually transporting and setting up your own furniture … well, you’d better have a will made up.

And of course, the ultimate way Dillistanis get their own back at foreigners is by ensuring that every eatery offers only potatoes and paneer in the non-meat section.

(The Outsider’s Guide to Dillistan) Traffic

Before emigrating to Dillistan, you may have read many paeans to the Metro – how it has radically improved the life of commuters in the city, how more people should use it more to help de-congest the roads, how it is a greener and cleaner option.

Ignore all that.  A true Dillistani only uses a personal vehicle, the selection of which should follow one simple rule –

Meri gaadi badi toh main sahi.

The bigger your vehicle, the more you can weave through lanes without indicating, the more you can honk-force others out of your way, the more you can ignore red lights.  And of course, the lesser chance of somebody dinging your vehicle, because who knows how influential you must be if you can afford that big beast.

A Dillistani’s choice of vehicles, in declining order of tu-kya-ukhaad-lega-ness, are:

  • A government car.  Security guard + beacon + escort vehicle. Seriously, who’s going to mess with you?
  • A truck.  Preferably filled with sand or bricks.  This will make people think you’re part of the builder mafia, and since there’s nobody more powerful than them, you’ll get a wide berth.  Oh, and because they have kick-ass horns.
  • A bus.  Pack it with your friends and hangers-on and pretend you’re on public duty, but really just go where you want.  Nobody will raise a protest, because that’s how the regular ones function anyway. .
  • A tractor.  Everybody will think you’re a farmer.  And since all the ‘farmland’ belongs to the super-elite, or those from Gurgaon, nobody will dare even look in your direction.
  • An imported luxury saloon.  Because anybody’s who rich enough to pay those kind of prices and that level of import duty is obviously rich enough to have a few cops, judges, and politicians on their speed dial.
  • An imported 4×4.  As above.  Plus the big wheels obviously mean you’re bad-ass. .
  • An imported convertible.  As above.  Plus, it means you can race down and threaten anybody else.
  • A local 4×4.  Still with the huge wheels.
  • A local luxury sedan.  You may not be able to make life for somebody completely miserable, but you can still inflict enough grief.
  • A mini-van.  You’re full of schoolchildren, who are desperate for any excuse to call you names and chant slogans and generally embarass the heck out of you.
  • A family car.  Extra space means you know enough people who you can call up to come along with hockey sticks.
  • A powerbike/cruiser.  Because you can put on a bandana and pretend to be a Hell’s Angel.
  • A compact car.  Keep some water and lots of cloth handy, because you’re going to get perennially shat upon.
  • An auto-rickshaw.  Everybody hates you, and will use you for target practice.
  • A standard bike.  Everybody will hate how you zip in and out of the gridlock, and will use you for target practice.
  • A cycle.  Hahahahahahahahahahaha…. sorry sorry … ahahahahahahahaha.

If you’re walking, of course, you don’t count at all – because you must be poor or mad.


Housing (The Outsiders Guide to Dillistan)

Dillistan is a big, sprawling mess of a place.  It has forests (notice the plural) sprouting up (notice the pun) at various points within its perimeter.  It has avenues and boulevards, and whole gardens that mark a single tomb.  In short, it has space to spare.

You wouldn’t know this if you were hunting for a decent place to stay.

New settlers to Dillistan, beware!  … well, if you’re not aware by now, you’re quite screwed.  I mean, you’re in Dillistan.  Seriously, wake up.  … But those hunting for housing, beware!

  • Don’t select a house after viewing it in summer. It may seem lovely and cool despite the 45C sunlight outside, but it only means that you’ll be burning your chairs to stay warm in winter.
  • Don’t select a house after viewing it in winter.  It may seem warm and cosy then, but it only means that you’ll be encouraging your neighbours to turn into amateur voyeur-porn filmmakers in the summer, what with you lying naked on the floor in a puddle of water.  (Oh you could get an A/C, but even if the electricity bills don’t bankrupt you, the constant electricity cuts will drive you crazy.)
  • That broker-posted ad on the online portal for the house that so perfectly fits all your requirements? Fake.  The amazingly low prices for houses listed in the area you want? Also fake.  This is their way of identifying non-Dillistanis, who will eagerly call them up, believe them when told that that particular house was just snapped up, but there are many others, many many others, so if you would just give us your name, and your job details, and tell us your requirements, and oh jee let me just send Bansilal over and he will show beshht houses.
  • If you do succumb and call a broker (or four), take a month-long holiday.  Because they will insist on showing you all kinds of houses at all the budgets in all the areas that you do not want.  They will, of course, have not checked out the properties beforehand.  Sometimes, they will even take you to houses that do not exist any more.  And they will smile more with each mistake they make.  You may think of ignoring their calls after a while, but alternate phone numbers and extra help are easy to find, and somehow they will wangle their way into your schedule again.
  • You might find a landlord who will have the house cleaned and tidied after the last tenants move out.  You might find a landlord who will agree to fix the shower that has been so proudly – and uselessly – installed.  You might find a landlord who will not connect his house line to your electricity meter.  You might find a landlord who will not refuse to fill up the water-storage tanks* because you have too many guests visiting who are using too too much all time long.  You might.  You’d have to be hallucinating though.
  • Don’t expect that just because Dillistani landlords have had the luxury and leisure of expanding their houses over so many decades, that the places will be good.  No, Dillistanis have been using all that time to compete with each other in designing the most inconvenient, ugly, and inhumane living space.
  • If you want to preserve your aesthetic sense, bring your own lampshades.  Dillistani landlords have a secret competition in which they attempt to find the most hideous lightshades possible.
  • Also, learn some woodcraft.  Dillistani landlords have an aversion to cutlery drawers in their kitchens.
  • Watch out for the stray cats.  They’re mean enough that the dogs don’t chase them, and they’ll take naps in your herb planter pots. They scratch.
  • Watch out for the monkeys.  They like fridges.  They bite.
  • Watch out for the neighbours.  They like to slowly gnaw on your sanity.


* Indian cities do not have 24×7 water supply.  The water is supplied by the council for a few hours each day, and is therefore stored in underground or terrace tanks.

A is for Airconditioning

It’s 28C in Dillistan right now, a couple of hours after the sun has set.

And I can hear my neighbours running their air conditioners.

It’s been a hot day, admittedly, peaking at around 34C.  And when the days are long, and the skies cloudless, and as the poorly constructed buildings of this city slowly begin to bake, it’s understandable for people to want to feel cool.


It’s been this hot for just two days.  Two days, not three weeks. And it’s been breezy.

Thanks to unseasonal weather, there have been thunderstorms and light showers and cloudy days at least once a week for the past three months, which have helped keep the temperatures mercifully down.  The rains have been the third-most talked-about subject in this part of the world (after the upcoming elections and the state of the economy), not least because of the damage they’ve done to the winter crop and the impact that development is likely to have on everybody’s wallets in a few months.

There have been copious comparisons with the polar vortex in North America, the floods in Europe, the typhoons all over Asia.  Comparisons that have been brought into greater focus by the release of the IPCC report on climate change and its expected impact on the world.  Much hand-wringing despair and fatalistic acceptance has happened. Much talk about rainwater harvesting and regular Earth Hours and planting saplings and food security and water wars has happened.  Much, much promises have been made.

And today, on the second straight day that temperatures have reached (and stayed at) 34C, people have airconditioners on.  Airconditioners*. Despite it being so breezy that I don’t even have the fan on in my house!

Start building your arks, people.


* And no, these houses do not have pets, or babies, or elderly people.

The Outsider’s Guide to Dillistan: Eating out

Tip #4 – What to do in any local eatery (that’s not a dhaba)

As soon as you saunter* over to a table, summon** a member of staff over, sternly look them in the eye, and in a dismissive tone, grunt one single word:  Volume.

If you voice this correctly, the staff will instantly transform from being sullen, I’m-doing-you-a-favour-by-not-spitting-in-your-food-in-front-of-you minions of sloth into fawning, speed-of-light attendees.

And this is because they will now believe that you are a true Dillistani, and not some foolish out-of-towner.

And that is because you will have passed The Sound Test.

As any Dillistani knows, every cafe, tea-room, bistro, pub, lounge-bar, or restaurant will blare really bad music at sonicbooM! volume, regardless of the time of day and regardless of how many customers there are.  Because, as Serious Research has discovered, when people are exposed to really bad music played at really high decibels for more than 15 minutes***, it interferes with and eventually cancels out the brain-waves that people use to make sensible decisions.

A non-Dillistani, already petrified by tales of how people in the city shoot and stab others when requested to do something logical or sane or humane, will never dream of mentioning to the staff that their eardrums are now bleeding****.  Which immediately identifies them as outsiders who can now be conned into ordering the highest-margin, least-ordered, microwaved-from-frozen dishes on the menu.  And order thus the poor saps will, as by now their brain patterns will have slowly melted and drained away (a process that has the added side-effect of entertaining the staff, as the customers accurately impersonate the ninth Earl of Emsworth*****).


To fully – and successfully – carry out the charade, five minutes after having issued your demand, you will then summon the staff over and order them to turn the volume back up.  This is extremely crucial.  Because a true Dillistani would never stand for namby-pamby background music, and would demand jor, shor, and all of it more.

If the staff are not convincedof your credentials even after Stage 2, insist they play ‘Exotic’.  They will need no further proof.

* A true Dillistani walks everywhere like they own the place.  And the business. And the souls of everybody who works there.  Or has worked there.  Or has visited there.  Or even looked at it.
** When you own all their souls, you don’t beckon, you summon.

*** The minimum amount of time required to look through a menu, discuss your options, attract the attention of the staff, place an order, change three items from the order, reinstall the original items, cancel the original order and ask for something totally different.
**** Leave aside suggesting that perhaps the reason people enter a coffee shop is to have a leisurely conversation in a relaxing environment.
***** Based on the entire conversation comprising of frequent repetitions of “Eh? What what? What?”