City Life – Downton Abbey Civilisation, Sunder Nursery
The world of the super-rich.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Seen Downton Abbey, the series on an aristocratic family and their servants, in 19th century England? Who would have imagined that it would take a historical necropolis to put up its Delhi adaptation — but in the form of a free reality show.
Renovated into a complex of gardens, Sunder Nursery has emerged as a theatre to witness the domestic manners of Delhi’s super-rich—only they can afford full-time maids and nannies to accompany them in their walks and picnics. Unlike in other parks, here they truly display their at-home manners in full public view, to the advantage of those of us who can never crash into their houses.
This reportage is drawn from many excursions over several months, at different times, in the garden.
One evening a regal-looking (head up, back straight) white-haired lady was walking with what seemed to be her two little grand-daughters, along with two dogs and five other people, who were dressed in grey. These five were obviously members of the household staff. The two men were each carrying a dog. Two of the three women were walking fast to keep up with the little girls. The third woman was carrying the lady’s handbag — which she was obliged to open frequently to hand over the ringing mobile phone to the mistress.
One wondered about the lady. How wealthy might she be? One wondered more about her staffers. Are they enjoying the outing, or taking it as part of their day-job’s drudgeries?
Another woman seems to be coming to the park every day. Her all-male staff, in dull-coloured safari suits, busily coordinate on phone with the chauffeur to bring the car in front of the gate the instant she exits.
Overall, the in-the-park dynamics between the employers and the household staff tends to be mutually respectful. The staffers are identifiable, mostly because of their uniforms, or because they tend to walk a little bit behind their employers. While the employers talk to each other in English, they switch to Hindi when turning to the alert staffers.
This weekend afternoon, a young couple is picnicking with their child. Everything is looking expensive about them, from the blue jeans they both are wearing to the kid’s toys, and from the disposable plates to the sandwiches. The couple’s two maids are preempting their every need, including when the man reaches out for the water bottle. As the evening nears, they get up to leave. The couple walks away with the child, while the maids dispose off the garbage in the nearest bin (a task that their male employer did offer to do, but which they politely refused). For the first time in the entire afternoon, they are chatting to each other, and laughing, and looking relaxed. Maybe because their shift is ending.