Homes to trains: 10 things that you'd like to see happen in Mumbai

  • Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Jul 16, 2015 21:29 IST
Real estate rates in Mumbai have only continued to rise, ever more sharply, to the point where the price for buying or renting even the tiniest of apartments has begun to sound like a cruel joke. (Illustration: Chetan Patil)

From the lip-smacking street-food and the dabbawalas to #MumbaiRains, there is so much of Mumbai everone absolutely loves. But here is a list of ten things that everyone would like to happen to the city:

1) Affordable housing: a nice (little) place of one’s own

There's a famous sketch by the late Mario Miranda: It shows a family, new to the city, enquiring about cheap accommodation, and a roomful of agents laughing. Real estate rates in Mumbai have only continued to rise, ever more sharply, to the point where the price for buying or renting even the tiniest of apartments has begun to sound like a cruel joke. If it was only south Mumbai back in the day, the 'in' crowd rushing to Bandra and Andheri has meant skyrocketing rents there as well. High-end residential projects are promising ostentatious affairs like mini Eiffel towers, Venice-like canals, and '11 swimming pools'. But we hope someone thinks of the middle-class family of four squeezed into a studio apartment, and builds something for them too.

2) AC trains: keep it cool

The idea of an air-conditioned local train was first proposed in 2002. In typical Mumbai style, a decade has passed, and it has remained just that - an idea. Railway ministers have come and gone, but the current one, Suresh Prabhu, has promised to make them a reality by October. If that does indeed happen, it will transform the way we travel. We can expect the rush-hour commute to be no less manic, and to still be pressed up against the next person's belly, or armpit. But air-conditioning will make it all so much more bearable. Here's looking at you, Mr Prabhu.

3) Free wi-fi across the city: logged in, 24x7

In July 2013, then mayor Sunil Prabhu spoke about the BMC's plan to implement free wi-fi across the city. Even now, we seem far from having such a system in place. Free wi-fi, or muni wi-fi (because a local municipal body provides it) is a reality in several cities around the world. Cities like Mountain View in California and Santa Clara in Silicon Valley have it, so do London, Stockholm, Paris and Seoul. Even some areas in Indian cities - Park Street in Kolkata, Khan Market in New Delhi, MG Road and Brigade Road in Bangalore - have free wi-fi. If it does happen, it will mean significantly lower cellphone bills for us all. Of course, we'll have to be prepared to have streets full of people walking into each other while staring at their phones.

4) Less prejudice: narrow no more

You only need to go house-hunting in Mumbai to realise just how much prejudice surrounds you. 'Are you a bachelor?' 'Are you Muslim' 'Are you a non-vegetarian? (sic)'. These are the qualifiers for finding a decent place to rent in a city that prides itself on its cosmopolitanism. We hope, someday, that the city that worships Khans on a movie screen will also rent their houses out to Khans. And that the courts, and our narrow mindsets, will learn to look beyond people's sexual orientation so they don't have to live, hang out and go about their daily lives surreptitiously. Here's hoping for a wiser, more mature, truly cosmopolitan city.

5) Better roads, drains that work
Breaking News: all potholes fixed

We Mumbaikars understand space crunch better than anyone else, so we don't dream of wide roads like the ones in Delhi. We just want roads that don't resemble the surface of the moon. If the interiors of Rajasthan can have proper, metalled roads, surely the BMC must be capable of giving the commercial capital streets that don't wash away with the first showers every June. With a budget of Rs 2,500 crore for road improvements, surely we can afford more than paver blocks. And for a city with just two seasons - wet and dry - surely we deserve better drainage. Here's hoping for a well-drained Milan Subway and Hindmata someday.

6) Fewer bans: Waiter, we’ll have the beef, please

Mumbai is India's most cosmopolitan city. People of various ethnicities, from various parts of the world, call the city home. And yet there is a discordance between the people on the street and those making the rules. Even as the well-travelled Mumbaiite embraces cuisines from around the world, beef gets banned back home.

As we strive to make movies that will leave their mark on the international stage, the censor board says we can't say 'Bombay' in a song, can't use cuss words, can't watch Hollywood films or American TV shows without a series of beeps and edits. We say do away with it all, stop treating us like children, and let us be the judge of what's good for us.

7) More parks and gardens: more green, less grey

When we tell our friends in other cities about the rents we pay, they tend to choke on their food. Yet our windows look out onto other windows, and our neighbourhoods have no space for kids to play, or adults to go for a stroll. In a concrete-choked city, with leafy suburbs giving way to unremarkable skyscrapers, there is a pressing need to maintain the gardens we have, and create new ones. Spaces like Hyde Park and Central Park define global cities like London and Paris, giving people space to relax, meet, stay fit, host cultural activities, even demonstrate without disrupting traffic. There is hope, though. Maybe the new Pramod Mahajan Garden is just the beginning.

8) More public toilets, dustbins: getting the basics right

First there was the 'Clean Mumbai, Green Mumbai' campaign, started in the mid-1980s. Then, in 2013, the municipal corporation rebranded it 'Majhi Mumbai'. But beyond creating alliterative slogans, little actual work has been done. The lack of public toilets in a city of over 20 million is alarming.

The state of the toilets that do exist is more alarming still. In a city where citizens are encouraged not to litter, the chances of finding a decent dustbin are as remote as your chances of finding a postbox. Someday perhaps we will realise that a modern city isn't about cafés and skyscrapers, but about these basic amenities.

9) 24x7 nightlife: party all night

Mumbai never sleeps, they say. Back in the day, that was true of its nightlife as well. This was before the 1.30 am deadline came into being, and before anyone bothered to enforce it. In February this year, the move towards a 24x7 nightlife came from unlikely quarters. The Shiv Sena was once known to 'teach' partygoers how to behave; in its new avatar, Yuva Sena chief Aditya Thackeray is gunning for pubs and bars to stay open all night.

The move has been met with enthusiasm from the youth, and immediate opposition from residents' associations in Bandra and Colaba. Maharashtra CM Devendra Phadnavis seemed convinced, as did police commissioner Rakesh Maria. But the courts called last orders on the plan by asking the government how it planned to ensure women's safety.

10) Public libraries: reading room for all

In the heart of New York stands a massive Beaux Arts-style building that the city prides itself on. It's the New York Public Library - a space where people can access rare books and information (the kind a Wikipedia search may not throw up). London has libraries scattered across its sprawl. The one in Delhi, though nowhere as elegant, is also a valuable resource. Now, wouldn't it be nice if our city too had at least one such public space? A place where you could walk in, borrow books, read or work on a computer? A space that would be more inclusive, culturally and economically, than the coffee shops in tony neighbourhoods with their Iced Frappe Talls and MacBooks?

Illustrations: Chetan Patil

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