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14 February 2007

Mumbai- wake up & smell the coffee

This is one of my old posts of 2005.Since then much has improved but I'd like each one reading this in Mumbai to make their own progress report card.

I find it seriously difficult to understand how anyone can be shell shocked by the events that took place since 26/7. Did no one REALLY see it coming? And I don't mean satellite sensing systems and "regulatory bodies". I mean just the common man. Was he so busy running for his 8.07 local and sleeping if lucky to get a seat, fighting if not, once home riveted by the saas bahu soaps that he completely missed reading the writing on the wall? Substitute the scenarios with yuppie taking kids to tennis and swimming lessons, women at kitty parties, everyone in Mumbai must have surely been doing everything else but paying attention to what was happening in and all around them and in the rest of the country and world. Till finally it rained!

The rains were an act of God no doubt, but other than that all the events that have taken place since including the flooding due to encroachments on Mithi (Mythic ?) river, breakdown of infrastructure, the epidemics, the killing at Gateway etc are incidents that were waiting to happen. And if we don't fool ourselves will continue to happen. Inspite and despite the CM relief fund, the PM relief fund, the NGOs, the PILs, the committees and every small and large interventions.

This is not a cynicism or tree hugging fuzzy idealism, merely an observation based on some very simple basic truths. If we have finished talking about the Mumbai city north- south divide, the taxes that Mumbai contributes, the Mumbaikar spirit, and everything else, we could start at the beginning and get back to the basics. Let us start to seek the answers by asking a few questions:

1. Which common man in Mumbai is comfortable about going to a local police station to lodge a complaint. ANY complaint.
Make that a common woman and you have a script for a horror story
2. Which citizen in Mumbai can honestly state that in his/her entire span of life in Mumbai he/she has never:
(a) Given or taken a bribe (b) Thrown rubbish, cigarette stub, wrapper, fruit peel on the road (c) Cut a traffic rule (d) Never used plastic bags/disposed it thoughtlessly

Continuing the train of thought, has he/she

(a) Done shramdaan to clean a lake, planted a tree or done something for the environment on a regular basis (b) Knows his local corporator, has either voted for him or his opponent during the local elections (c) Segregated garbage and taught his children values of recycling (considering that in my view Indians invented recycling, it is genetic, and in our DNA)

How many of the residents who are educated, can read English and have access to a PC, know or have taken effort to study initiatives that other cities have in India and in that context questioned:

a. Why is it that Bandra and Andheri Stations or any other railway station looks the same as they did 20 years ago
b. Why are trees cut and gardens not available to children and adults
c. Why is there no lane for cycling
d. Why are builders not providing for service lift for heavy furniture,library space, common laundromat, community hall, solar heating, vermiculture facilities, water harvesting?

Maybe because buyers would rather pay for "Granamite flooring" in flats and Full Marble Flooring in foyer"? They'd rather pay for "Video security " phone than take the trouble and effort of ensuring crime free city. Gyms and swimming pools were not features 15 years ago. If the builders can provide these in response to customer demand I don't see why they will not provide the above. By the time every person reading this finishes answering these and scoring himself mentally like the commonly found simple quizzes in a mid afternoon paper, one would find that one falls in the category that gives a fair profile of a citizens community that is made up of individuals who are either a victim or victimising on a daily basis - sometimes maybe alterchanging positions.

All of the above scenarios refer to individual behaviours and have little or nothing to do with how much aid the World Bank gives or has given; is the govt.admitting to an epidemic or not; numerous reports on encroachments and migration that are lying in dusty files etc. topics that engages even the average citizen of Mumbai.

What is it about the common man in Mumbai today that he/she is taken up by all global, large scale, wide canvas issues when the simple first rule in childhood we learn is when you point a finger at others three point back at you. Or to put it another way, when will the intellectualising stop and responsible action begin? Driving the demand and facilities that builders provide is in the hands of the individual buyer- not the CM. Choosing not to pay a bribe or throw garbage in public areas or doing a shramdaan regularly does not need an act of parliament. Unless we take care of the small things how will the big things get taken care of?

In this scenario at least it is small consolation for me that after 26/7 the corporate sector put it's foot down and told the government, "show us the plans and we'll show the money".

And last but not the least at an individual, family, social level to go back to "Need and not greed" perspective.

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