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City living: How youngsters are coping
Susan Mathen
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August 07, 2008

These are times of awareness and caution.

It's never been so vital to stay on high-alert. Losing your guard for a few seconds here and there can cost you -- a lot. These days, you never know when you will receive a staggering blow and you never know when you'll get back on your feet.

The setting is not a battlefield, it is not an undercover mission or an encounter with most-wanted terrorist organisations -- the setting here is a metro, the protagonist regular city inhabitants.

Young city folk need to be superfast in our thinking and quick on our feet to survive. Mishaps abound around the corner and there is trouble brewing every second. We are crisis managers and we are disaster controllers without realising it.

In Mumbai, one learns the tricks of street-smart living. Or so says Janaki Bindra*. At 27, she has a lot to share about how to live alone in the bustling city. She recounts how she had a hard time commuting when she first got here. "There was this one day when every single cab-driver I approached refused to drive me to my destination! I was stranded for an unbelievably long time. Finally I asked one cabbie if he would go to Nariman Point, which was the farthest place I could think of. When he said yes, I got in and rode the distance I needed to, getting off mid-way as if I had changed my mind."

Janaki has also learnt that creating a ruckus when people inconvenience or try to take advantage of you is a must. When she missed a flight due to a messup by the airline's ground staff, she decided being polite would leave her at a great loss. "I shouted and argued and finally managed to secure a free ticket on the next flight out. Living alone has taught me to be firm and to fight for my rights," she proclaims.

And it's not very different in any other bustling Indian metro. Chennai-based landlord, Shivaram Iyer, 55, talks about how he has to find innovative ways to confront the young tenants occupying his Chooleimedu apartment. Mr Iyer is frustrated with the way the boys residing there avoid him towards every month's end -- they're slippery as eels! "I've even attempted to go there after 11 at night, hoping to catch them. They are good boys, and I know they can afford the rent, but they are too busy spending money on parties and enjoying life. By the month's end they don't have the rent ready and I guess they don't know how to ask their parents for more money, so I am lenient."

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For a single woman living alone in New Delhi [Images], it's all about balancing between getting things done and ensuring that nobody takes advantage of her situation. Says journalist Sharmila Chengappa*, 25, "I've mastered the art of tightrope-walking between people. In my line of work, I often have to entertain contacts to secure relevant information from them and there are times when they expect a little more than business from me! It's disgusting, but..." she shrugs and continues, "It's the way things are here and I have to live with it." The stoic confidence in her expression say she has learned to cope with these deterrents and manager her career and life.

When you move into a new city, it can also take some time to get wise to con-jobs. Young couple Preeti* (30) and Shankar Menon* (29) have been residing in Bangalore for just about three years now. When they first moved into their home, their hired help began driving them up the wall. "Every month, it was the same old issue -- my maid would remain absent for about 15 days and then demand the whole month's salary!" recounts Preeti. "She was trying to extract as much money from us as she could." This went on until one day Preeti had had enough. "I decided it was high time I devised another payment plan. I began to pay her on a daily basis, marking off the days on the calendar whenever she showed up. She knows now that we are wise to her game and is far more regular!"

Shanawaz Khan*, 25, who works in a Bangalore-based bank, began facing a problem similar to the one Janaki faced with taxi-drivers in Mumbai. "I've stopped telling the auto drivers where I want to go. I just climb into a rickshaw straight away and refuse to get out, even if the driver is reluctant about taking me to my destination! I've endured nightmares standing on MG Road, trying to flag down an auto. They charge 'one and a half metre' or 'double metre' fares and sometimes even 'double metre plus twenty'. Shanawaz says he has to fight with these people almost every day; when he comes across the odd driver who actually charges by the metre, he is so happy that he ends up paying extra money for honesty!

City folk are permanently wary -- few are ever willing to inconvenience themselves to help somebody else. Recollects Mumbai-based restaurant manager, Saju Paul* (33), "I was once witness to a horrific road accident and sorry to say, was one of the many who just stood by and watched. My heart said to help the injured, but my mind warned me to stay away." And that is what he did, as the victim lay helpless, losing blood by the minute. Saju did not want to be involved in the police case that would follow if he extended his help -- he remained a bystander. "I hope the guy did not die. I was among hundreds who were too scared to even think of touching the him," he says.

These are just a few of the many ways in which youngsters are coping with life in the big city. And their message is, if you don't become wise to the ways in which people operate, you won't survive. The only way to live among the self-centred and the manipulative is to toughen up.

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