I am a resilient Mumbaikar. I am used to facing bomb blasts. I think nothing of bodies ripped apart by flying shrapnel, of blood in the streets, of friends and relatives who fail to come back home. Terrorist attacks cannot cow me down, for have I not lived through a dozen or more of them? I take them in my firm little stride as I go about my work unflinchingly. Intelligence failure? I have heard that before. The police caught the wrong guys? So what’s new? More promises to keep the city safe? Oh, don’t bother. I am accustomed to blasts now, even serial ones.
For am I not a resolute Mumbaikar?
Day after day, month after month, I travel to work in trains so crowded there’s scarcely room to breathe, let alone stand. Ever so often I hear how someone has missed his footing in the crowd and fallen off the train. Crammed like cattle being led to slaughter, we stand on each others’ feet, crush each others’ ribs and breathe in each others’ sweat. Do we complain? No sir, some of us even manage to read newspapers in that crowd. Railway ministers may come and go, we have survived all of them. No, inhuman conditions do not bother me.
For am I not a tough Mumbaikar?
More than half of us live in miserable hovels in fetid slums. Our children play in the midst of filth and grime. The rest of us make do with little chicken coops we pretend to call houses. We scrimp and save and take second jobs or bury ourselves in debt to buy a tiny 300 square foot flat that costs a bomb. We can’t afford anything bigger because the builders prefer to keep flats empty rather than lower their prices. We know that the builders and bent politicians are hand in glove. We know we’ll never be able to afford a decent house in the city. But that ain’t gonna break my stride.
For am I not a hardy Mumbaikar?
Every monsoon, the drains overflow and the roads, already full of potholes, crumble completely, becoming death traps for the unwary biker. Every year, crores of rupees are spent on repairing the roads, money that goes down the drain after the first rains. But I soldier along through the mud and the slush, wobbling a bit perhaps, but righting myself after every lurch, whistling nonchalantly.
For am I not a merry Mumbaikar?
Year after year, diseases stalk the city. Cholera and malaria and dengue and chikungunya make their annual appearance, without fail. For the brave people like me who wade through filthy water, leptospirosis lurks. The public hospitals are always full, with patients overflowing on to the corridors and coughing out their lungs on the floor. But we are a plucky lot, we will battle these diseases and survive. We have to get back to work to pay our mortgages.
For am I not a tenacious Mumbaikar?
Our beaches are clogged with plastic, our seas are filled with chemicals, our garbage dumps overflow and many of us have no place to defecate except along the railway tracks, which is why early morning train journeys have that whiff of excrement. The underworld takes over the city at night and sometimes they kill in broad daylight too. But these things don’t upset me. I hold my head high and march ahead unwaveringly.
For am I not a proud Mumbaikar?
I must be, because our leaders are always telling me so.
( Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint )
The views expressed by the author are personal