Some day, trains will hover overhead and sea bridges may link all of Mumbai, but some things will undoubtedly remain the same. After all, who can imagine this city without work in progress, fresh arrivals, new Dhobles and illegal hawkers?
There is perhaps one way the election-day holiday will actually get people to vote in Mumbai — if it’s nowhere near a Friday, Saturday, Sunday or Monday and is as far away as possible from a long weekend, a festival, a religious new year or a very rainy day.
But if you fail to get this precise formula right, don’t blame the apathetic Mumbaiite for taking it as a sign that it’s time for that much-deserved break from the city.
This year, the State Election Commission made it compulsory for private companies and establishments such as hotels and malls to give their employees paid leave on voting day. And voilà! The voter turnout dropped by 1%, as families dutifully piled into their cars and headed to the nearest hill station or scenic water body.
Thousands flock to Mumbai every day, certain that they will find glamorous jobs, Bollywood-style mansions and an appointment with Ekta Kapoor. The more realistic are just looking for a nice home, a well-paying job and a chance to shine. Sadly, this is about as unlikely as that appointment with Balaji Telefilms.
For those of us who have had the privilege(?) of arriving here somewhat earlier, this unbridled enthusiasm for ‘our’ city means that our pavements are occupied by disillusioned families, our water and power stolen and siphoned off into those cities within a city that are Mumbai’s slums and even our better-off new neighbours are gnashing their teeth over the fact that you could buy a small car for what it costs to buy a single square foot of space in some parts of the city. To be fair, migrants add a lot of financial and cultural value to the city. Where would we be today without Reliance and rava dosa?
Oh right, Antilla. Yes, admittedly, we could have done without that.
Less than 7% of Mumbai’s 2.5 lakh hawkers have licences. The rest can be seen apologising to customers, folding up their stalls and shuffling off into the distance every time a BMC van appears on the horizon. They’re soon back, though, with wares that include everything from Guccy purses to XXL ladies’ inner garments, all neatly laid out on pavements, roads, foot overbridges — any spaces guaranteed to draw crowds.
There was talk of regulating hawking. There were proposals made, policies formulated, court cases filed for and against. You get the picture. People will most likely be travelling by jetpack before the muddle is sorted out. And many will most likely have bought those jetpacks at their local, unlicensed street vendor.
Of course, despite the jetpacks, Dadar station will still be too crowded. And the weekly hafta routine will ensure that hawkers still reappear every time they’re cleared away.
Let’s just not give ACP Dhoble the pleasure of any more publicity. He has issues. Let’s just leave it at that. Nor should we blame the residents who support him, because, come on, traffic jams till 2 am and the smell of urine-spattered walls mingling with your early-morning poha and chai is really no way to start your day.
Unfortunately, that leaves us at a bit of a stalemate. The party poopers and moral police are part of the if-Cinderella-could-do-it-so-can-you brigade.
Add archaic laws to the mix and it’s a mess that’s here to stay.
It’s like stand-up comedian Varun Thakur said: “I’m pretty sure the moral police will arrest Barbie one day and brand her a prostitute because she wears skirts and lets Ken come over at odd hours.”
Unaffordable real estate
Space truly is the final frontier in Mumbai. Consider this — that square foot of space taken up by your super-slim laptop (costs Rs. 30,000) can cost from Rs. 45,000, if you live in Bandra, to Rs 1 lakh if you insist on keeping it in south Mumbai.
“Mumbai suffers from uneven geographical constraints, irregular population density, incomplete diversion projects and low FSI,” real-estate consultant Pankaj Kapoor explains.
In other words, too many people, too little space and no one to crack the whip and say, ‘Dear God, these people deserve a roof already’.
In fact, it’s got to the point where the choices are, sell a kidney to pay for an extra bedroom or move to Mumbra and commute about a zillion hours. One way.
And no, you cannot sell both kidneys. You need one. Your kids will just have to share that bedroom till one of them is married.
Spirit of Mumbai
Whether it’s a blast, a monsoon deluge or a Dhoble raid, the Spirit of Mumbai rushes to the fore, manifesting itself as candlelight marches, plaintive banners and groups dressed in white T-shirts chatting at Gateway.
It’s apparently part of what makes Mumbai great. And although Mumbaiites would rather raise their families without fear or flood, the phrase does touch a chord (especially when articulated by Ratan Tata) when we step out in defiance of yet another Taj attack, train attack, bomb blast or shootout. Heartening or hollow, the spirit is here to stay.
Next on our wish list: A security system that doesn’t let Pakistani terrorists row up to our shores and just walk right in.
Work in progress
It’s possible, nay, probable, that the city of Bombay was just part of Catherine of Bra-ganza’s dowry — and the rest was hidden treasure that the BMC is still trying to unearth.
Logically, that would at least explain all the digging. Because, seriously, it cannot take so much debris to keep a city working. Yes, yes, there are pipelines and utility lines and rain and shine. But that can’t be it, right? Definitely buried dowry.
Meanwhile, the city is littered with Work-In-Progress signs (if you’re lucky), or just colourful scraps of cloth tied to a branch, a sapling tossed in an open manhole, sometimes even a bus-stop pole jutting out in petulant warning.
And it’s not just roads either. Now, they’ve taken to the skies, with dreams of a Metro, a monorail, links of various kinds… They tantalise us with promises of empty seats and shortened commutes. Meanwhile, work on the Metro has continued for five years with no end in sight — and about a gazillion traffic jams the only visible result.
Next, they’ve decided to work ground-up, modifying all structures to make them earthquake-resistant. Excuse us while we shudder.