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27 September 2007

Mumbai meri

Jaan... jo nikalti jaa rahi hai..

my last post for september, here goes.

I read an article in The Economist on Mumbai which began by stating how a distance of about 20 kms (12.5 miles) of central Mumbai is best covered by an helicopter- which seems to be what the writer did- to cover the city which otherwise log-jammed. Now, I know what to ask for Christmas!

But, some key facts about Mumbai. It is:

-South Asia's biggest city and by 2015, as per the UN, it will be the second biggest city after Tokyo with nearly 25 mn people

-At a modest estimate, around half the population, i.e. 14 mn live in slums

-Another 3 mn commute everyday from surrounding suburbs

-At peak hours, 5,000 commuters cling to trains designed for 1,700

-300,000 squatters have built shacks around the airport thus driving one of the two runways of the airport into retirement

-Everyday an estimated 500 cars are added to the traffic jam

-As per Maharashtra Govt. plans to make Mumbai a financial city will cost around $60 mn and will take a decade at least

-The center has earmarked another $9 mn for urban infrastructure

-The existing slum policy was launched about a decade ago with the aim of re-developing all of Mumbai's slums by 2007 and so far 500,000 dwellers have been re-settled but 2mn new ones have arrived in the city.

I thought the most insightful comment was made when it said, "The problem is that, these third world conditions are dignified at least in theory with first world rights, this causes blockages. The invaders of Mumbai Airport, for example have at least four representatives in Maharashtra's state assembly."

So in Mumbai it is not about the have's and have-nots but really a case of have-nots and have -nots. The struggle of every citizen, whether living in Worli Sea-face, or Mira Road or in the slums by the railway tracks is about what they do not have.

The moneyed class do not have a world class facilities, the middle class do not have much dignity or choice of recourse, the poor have no facilities, the glitterati have no social conscience.

Or conversely, the have's and have's. The rich have their Page 3 do's, the middle class -their soaps and aspirations, the poor - their MLA's !

Everyone share bollywood, pollution, traffic jam and crime. So even in the midst of so much what seems like contradictions, somehwere the balance evens out and like someone told me, there is a "weighted average" view of life and work in the city.

Speaking of the have-nots, other than the efforts of a "few good men" Mumbai is nowhere close to including rights and facilities for others such as the handicapped, animals, single mothers, orphans & destitute, aged and other sections of society that are weaker than the rest and hence an obligation of the stronger to protect and care for them.

While rights go hand in hand with responsiilities, this lack of rights also transalates into lack of responsibilities. Like a leitmotif, all the citizens have a common theme running though them all- An appalling lack of sense to "waste not", and a lack of civic sense and responsibilities. Whether the dweller is in the slum or in a penthouse, the tendency to sweep my house and throw garbage out on the road and drain is claimed like a birth-right by all. Even the so called middle -class values is inured to it. Every compound and common area is stuffed with discarded furniture, cycles children have out-grown, plastic items and more. Every footpath is claimed by surrounding shop-owners as their private property.

The self-righteous mumbaikar morphs into this alter ego when he parks his car on the road to eat "masala-dosa" by the roadside, buy cigarettes or the wonderful pastime- chat with the sharmajis or guptes. A new geographical frontier conquered is the middle of the aisle in the new malls. A greeting of Haaaiiii!!!! (it has to be loud and long drawn) or Helloji in the north, is followed in equally gushing and loud tones, How are you, aapki beti aayi US se? Admissions, childirth, maid-sevant issues and school all are discussed (in a fascinating range of languages) in what for a period of 10-15 minutes turns in to the "Nukkad" and all three, staff, talkers and shoppers deftly side-step each other. Sometimes I see an expat shopper rush through the shopping even while trying to conceal irritation at this gregariousness, and I think to myself, if only we could acheive some happy medium! (my libran love of balance but I digress..)

Poverty then in Mumbai is become a state of mind, of values, of will, intention and a commitment to the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Therein lies the challenge to the Hakk Samities and to bombay first committees and corporate type and even to parents and teachers.

Poverty degrades and demeans. This poverty, accross all sections of society, results in stories every day that populate the news. Minor raped, Youth stabs grandmother, friends kidnap for ransom, heart attacks now strike younger execs, stress-related disorders on rise, Teens at rave party and so on. The story of Modern Mumbai is the story of Urban India and vice-versa.

Meanwhile, in mungerilal style, I dream of having central park type of lung centers in the city, with enough green cover replete with ponds and peacocks, the city library archives beneath the city, a water-supply system that is a model project, a fibre- optic network that is supported by the sewage system of the city, and anything else after that- a bonus! ....I haven't visited all of these cities, only studied them as examples of fine urban development. Did someone mention Delhi has a new butterfly park? let me check..

huh..what!?...what?! ….time to leave and battle the rush hour already? kya yaar..

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