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     Volume 9 Issue 37| September 17, 2010|

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The 'New' New Delhi
India's capital is singing a totally different tune

Rupak D Sharma

A barrage of heat hit me as I came out of the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi. The temperature was around 42 degrees Celcius.

Wiping the beads of sweat that had formed on my forehead, I looked around. I was expecting some change as I arrived in the Indian capital after almost 13 years. At first sight, everything looked the same: The country's trademark Ambassador taxis hadn't become obsolete yet; the paintings were coming off the walls and looked dirty as in the past; and potholes, as always, had turned into puddles, where cigarette butts were floating.

One thing that I didn't notice though was groups of people swarming all over, grabbing my luggage and playing tug-of-war with me.

I always loathed these people who were there to rip you off in the name of helping you carry luggage and find a taxi or a hotel. Thank god, they have become history, at least at the airport.

Feeling much relieved about extinction of the 'airport nightmares', I went to a kiosk nearby to book a pre-paid taxi.

Lotus Temple, New Delhi.

“How much for Jangpura Extension,” I asked.
“350 rupees (US$7.5),” the man inside replied and gave me a receipt.

The taxi waiting for me was an old, beat-up Maruti van. The first thing that I checked soon after boarding the vehicle was air conditioner as sweat was flowing down my chest and back like water. But as I had expected there was none. In fact, the dashboard of the vehicle didn't have anythingnot even a radioexcept for the steering wheel.

“Hey, how do you survive this blistering heat,” I asked the driver preparing myself for a “roasting” trip in that metal box.

“Just like this. We're used to it,” he replied switching on the ignition.

“Wow,” was all I could say.
“Looks like lots of work is going on around here,” I said looking at the construction work going on all over the place to keep the conversation going.

“Yes and it's the same all over Delhi,” he said, with eyes fixed on the road.

In one corner, I noticed a long structure. “Is that the new terminal?” I asked him.

“Yes,” he replied.

That was Terminal 3 of New Delhi's international airport, which was built at a cost of $2 billion. Opening of this new terminal has turned the city's airport into one of the six largest in the world.

Now, that was a change!
More changes were visible as we drove into the city. The first thing I noticed was the network of flyovers that were intersecting almost everywhere. There were none of these when I was here 13 years ago. And these roads were filled with cars, cars and more cars.

So where did all the motorcycles go? I was curious as I was used to seeing the two-wheelers piling up on the streets whenever the traffic lights turned red. I later came to know that many of the people of New Delhi that I was talking about had upgraded to four-wheelers or cars in all these years.

“These days, people immediately purchase cars once they save some money,” professor N Sridharan of School of Planning and Architecture told me. It has become Delhiites' number one priority, he said.

It is said once Tata makes its world's cheapest car ($2,500), Nano, widely available to the public this September, more people riding motorbikes will shift gears to automobile. To cater to this segment another carmaker Rennault-Nissan recently forged partnership with Bajaj to produce ultra low-cost cars.

Looks like finding motorcycles on the streets of New Delhi will be even more difficult in the next five to 10 years time.

Just like cars, home demand is also increasing in New Delhi. The main reason for this is splitting up of joint families into nuclear.

Earlier, Indians preferred to live in bungalows with mum, dad, grandfather, grandmother, uncles, aunts and their children and grandchildren crammed up in a limited space. But in a rapidly changing society, more and more people are seeking personal space. The only way to get this freedom is moving to a new house or apartment.

It is said high-rise buildings with 1,500 units of apartments, or 3.41 million square feet of space, will be added in Delhi by the end of 2011. But these units will bring in only 10-15 per cent of the supply into New Delhi's residential market. So you can imagine the number of housing projects that the Indian capital will see in the next few years.

One may wonder how people can afford to buy cars and apartments in a country, where the annual per capita income is about $1,000 and where around 800 million people live on less than $2 a day. But this is New Delhi which is filled with nouveau riche and young professionals who earn more in a couple of years than what their parents did in their entire lifetime.

Karishma Arora, an in-flight manager in Indigo budget airlines, told me her income has risen from 10,500 rupees ($223 as per current exchange rate) to 40,000 rupees ($852) in the last three and half years-that's an increment of 280 per cent.

The 25-year-old still doesn't own a car but she does not take buses either like before when she had just arrived from her hometown in Rajasthan state. “I also visit a beauty parlour at least twice a month which I hardly used to in the past,” she said. And she has also developed a habit of eating outside every now and then whenever she is free.

People like Arora are also generally known for their conspicuous consumption. They do not mind blowing away close to 200 rupees ($4) on every 330ml bottle of beer at upscale bars like Café Morrison, Moet's or Hard Rock. They also like to hang around coffee houses like Café Coffee Day or Mocha where each cup of cappuccino or mocha costs nearly 100 rupees ($2). And they go for shopping at swanky places like Select City Walk, Vasant Vihar and Connaught Place which have an array of branded goods on display.

“These people are not as frugal as their parents,” professor Sridharan said. This is why they are “dictating the consumption and lifestyle pattern in metropolitan cities (like New Delhi)”. “They are the creators of demand for everything from white goods and automobile to residential complexes and even bigger roads,” he said.

The professor's comments left me wondering what surprises would I come across if I visit the city in, say, another 10 years.

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