“Chalta hai” is a colloquial expression used by many to describe a lackadaisical attitude towards everyday life and the obstacles, challenges, inconveniences or inefficiencies one faces in India. Indeed, it is important to stress the part about “in India.” “Chalta hai” is an internalized critique, a sort of self-deprecating acknowledgement and defense of both what makes India unique, and what continues to “hold it back.” “Chalta hai” might loosely be translated as “so be it,” or “so it goes…”, and could be used to explain why, for instance, Indians seem to put up with blatant corruption in government, why pigs, cows and wild dogs are allowed to roam freely in the streets, even when they carry potentially harmful diseases, why traffic rules are rarely followed, even as crowded and congested roads continue to plague mobility in urban areas (and villages too, for that matter). Ask any Indian why trash is allowed to pile up on street corners even in wealthy neighborhoods and he’d probably respond with something like this: “You know how we Indians are, chalta hai until it becomes too big of a problem to ignore.” Indeed, Indians seem to have an inordinate capacity to ignore these problems until it is perhaps too late.

“Chalte chalte” seems to perfectly embody a postcolonial response to a colonial encounter. Its historical legacy can be traced to British colonialists like James Mills, who described in his 1817 opus The History of British India the “phlegmatic indolence [that] pervades the nation.” Oh, how the British must have thought themselves so civilized, rational, and efficient when they looked into the brown cities that lay outside their colonized “white” zones, and seen kids running around naked, pools of sewage and other waste lying in plain public sight. The British probably detested more than anything else the “chalta hai” attitude, and awarded themselves the responsibility of liquidating it from Indian society along with irrational rituals, polytheism, widow burning, and more, until they too gave up on the civilizing mission and adopted their own version of a chalta hai approach.

Nearly two hundred years later, “chalta hai” is alive and well, having survived both colonial and postcolonial attempts to exorcise it from the social landscape of Indian society. But whereas Mill’s denunciation was in service of justifying colonial rule, the “chalta hai” attitude articulated by ordinary Indians today is an intimate disavowal of a deplorable trait that one nonetheless cannot seem to do without. For then the Indian would simply cease to be Indian, right?

And this is what gives the expression its problematic, even haunting intonation, especially when it is decried by the business and elite classes that together comprise what is often known as “India Inc,” that transnational class of entrepreneurs and investors that concern themselves with things like “Brand India,” or the image of India in the global economy. This is an India that is both imagined and materialized. It is imagined as a more polished, sleeker, market savvy India, poised to compete in the global economy and also uncompromising in its demands for nothing less than “world class” standards of architecture, product manufacture and design, and services. Not surprisingly, India Inc has little patience with the “chalta hai” attitude that seems to confront it at every corner, at every new construction sight, at every road intersection, just outside the golden gates of the “Brand India.”

But the case of Gurgaon, Haryana (as I’m sure many other cities as well), demonstrates that the relationship between “chalta hai” and India Inc cannot merely be one of opposition. For while Gurgaon is host to no less than 200 Fortune 500 companies and home to an increasingly transnational class of entrepreneurs, workers, and consumers, the “chalta hai” attitude is alive and well here, both inside and outside the gates of “India Inc.”

You might see it when a CEO speeds past you in his chauffer driven Mercedes S500, carelessly throwing the wrapper of his chocolate bar out his open window, only to raise the tinted glass as soon as a beggar comes out to ask for change. On the ground that wrapper stays until who knows when. Oh well, you know what they say, “chalta hai.”

This apparent contradiction has come to something of a head in Gurgaon. Last month there was a week-long special in the Hindustan Times on the crumbling infrastructure of Gurgaon. Nicknamed “the Millenium City” and invested with all the hope, desire and pride of India Inc, Gurgaon, it turns out, is little better than the rest of the sprawling morass of urban India, with inadequate sewage treatment (so that feces piles up right outside the gates of luxury communities), electrical shortages (6 to 7 hours without power a day for many), shortages of water (though there still seems to be enough for green golf courses and residential parks, all privately built and accessed, of course) and growing crime (what with the increasingly visible gap between the haves and the have-nothings).

The truth is, Gurgaon is on the brink of urban disaster, and it has everything to do with both “chalta hai” and India Inc. As an architect based in Gurgaon recently told me, “buildings came up too fast here, either the government was not aware or it simply could not keep up with the pace of construction and development, so world-class buildings were made, with urban infrastructure left out of the picture.” India Inc has been driven in large part by hungry land grabbers (primarily local state authorities), who make a quick buck by buying land on the cheap from farmers or villages, and sell them at a much higher rate to real estate developers, who proceed to construct private townships that cater for the transnational business elite of the “new” India. This class gets pissed off when it finds out that outside the spatial boundaries that market capitalism creates in Indian cities, the “old” India persists with all its chaos, inefficiencies, and apparent redundancies.

So what does India Inc do to exorcise the “chalta hai” attitude that haunts its very soul? It builds fortresses, walls, flyovers, highways, byways, anything to escape the unpleasant realities of this country. But this escape is more existential than physical, more imagined than real. For the piles of garbage, the mounds of open sewage, the multitude of excluded classes and social groups eventually pile high above the gates and elevated roadways, emerge from the cracks in the constructed walls and high-rise condominiums. In order to (not) deal with the growing ecological nightmares, the increasing social inequality, and the reduction of resources, India Inc chooses existential escape, hiding the reality in plain sight, only to save the ultimate confrontation for another day. Indeed, there is nothing more “chalta hai” than that.