Mumbai’s monsoon has an allure that goes beyond just some famous songs in Bollywood films as anybody who has lived in the city for even a few years will readily testify.
The rainy season is memorable not just for the relief it brings from the sweltering summer but also other dimensions of life it brings along, esoteric as they may be.
The mighty rolling waves of the Arabian Sea crashing on to the breakers at Marine Drive and other areas along the magnificent coastline is something that nobody who has ever seen it is unlikely to forget.
Eating corn or ragda pattice somehow seems to acquire a new pleasure in this season too. For those with more expansive taste, there is the arrival of the langda mango from up north to savour; as also debate whether it is better than the alphonso, the pride of Maharashtra.
There are commuting hardships of course, and every now and then one can get ‘caught’ ill-prepared in a sudden downpour. But the monsoon is hardly ever regretted. Indeed, there is a tingling sense of adventure in getting wet in the rain, which is acquired in early childhood and never fades away.
Now that I’ve spent some paragraphs painting this wonderful picture, let me do a course correction and tell you how the romance of the Mumbai monsoon has got besmirched in the past decade or so.
The two most manifest problems of the city during the monsoon are potholes, which recur every year with the profusion of acne on a teenager’s face, and the frequent flooding that takes place, sometimes even after a brief downpour.
Apart from ruining Mumbai’s aesthetics, potholes and flooding are also a threat to vehicles and more importantly, the people who live in the city. Diseases have also become rampant during the monsoon.
One would think that the solution to both these problems would be simple. If roads are repaired with expertise and due diligence, why should potholes reappear every year? And if the drainage system is maintained properly, surely instances of flooding would be rare.
Since the solution has been elusive, clearly something has been remiss. Where the issue of potholes is concerned, I won’t dwell further on it save to say everybody is now aware of the hanky-panky that has been going on. Thankfully, some remedial processes are finally underway.
The issue of the city getting flooded frequently is more bothersome and health hazardous. Even here I will keep the BMC’s role (or lack of it) out of the purview of this column and focus instead on how our own callousness is aggravating the problem.
One of Mumbai’s most compelling images of recent times is that of garbage thrown back at the city by the sea. Beaches are strewn with all the debris of human excess and callousness.
This contains a dire lesson for everyone: no one is going to clean up the mess we have caused but us. Yes, politicians, bureaucrats and corporation workers have to share some of the blame, but we have a role to play too.
In spite of Mumbai having a comparatively better garbage pick-up and disposal system than other Indian cities, people still leave garbage outside their doors as part of our ‘out of sight, out of mind’ national ethos.
The monsoon may have ended the fires at the Deonar dumping ground for now, but the dangers will not have vanished four months down the line. We need to tackle waste management on a clichéd war footing if we don’t want to be buried alive under our own detritus.
One sensible solution stares us in the face, and interestingly, this was mooted by the BMC commissioner Ajoy Mehta at a recent open house meeting I attended: recycling waste and debris by assigning it monetary value.
We are so good at it when it comes to paper and beer bottles, because this waste can be been monetised. Of the rest, we keep our homes clean, but everything else around us filthy.
For instance, kitchen waste, if it becomes compost, could be worth its weight in gold for gardeners and small-scale farmers. Plastic waste is being used to make roads, most effectively one hears in Bangalore.
By reusing and selling what is not needed, a win-win situation can be created. So monetising all waste is the route to go. This seems almost like a bribe to ourselves to keep our city clean, but since we are like that only, why not!