May 1, 2012
Mumbai named after Maha Amba Devi and Aai (Mother in Marathi) is the most populous Indian City with a population of 1.24Cr people or 20,482 people in every square kilometre. It has only 848 females for every thousand men, because many immigrants do not bring their families from their villages. It is a commercial hub that generates 6.49% of India’s GDP and an average income is thrice India’s national average. It is also pays 33% of India’s Income Taxes, 60% of India’s Custom Duties and accounts to 40% of India’s foreign trade. Several top Indian companies are headquartered in Mumbai.
As I flew out of the green and cool environs of Bangalore, my mind raced and imagined what Mumbai would be. It is easy to be in awe of Mumbai; after all it is the home of Bollywood, the God of Cricket- Sachin Tendulkar and even the Bhai-Log (Mafia Dons). My excitement turned to nervousness as the aircraft descended from 34500feet and I could see the Arabian Sea glimmering from my window. People who had been speaking in Kanadda at Bangalore could be heard speaking in English. I told myself that it was Mumbai Effect and I ran my fingers thru my hair, trying to look a little better, falling prey to the effect. I guess I thought then that Kareena Kapoor or any one of Mumbai’s other gorgeous ladies would receive me at the airport.
Mumbai is the only Indian city which could boast of a decent skyline and I could see it as the aircraft further descended. These buildings are worth billions of dollars and are homes or offices of India’s rich. One day, I said to myself, I would also be able to live in such magnificent homes.
As the aircraft got closer, I could see most buildings were losing colour. Behind them, to the left side, to the right side and even in front of them, were clusters of slums- often plastic sheets housing a few people. As I stepped out of the aircraft, it was a sudden let down. It seemed I had stepped into an Owen that was drying fishes. I left the airport in my car, the extremity of the city became apparent as a Rolls Royce stopped at the traffic signal and so came the beggars. Traffic, dust, filth and people were ubiquitous. The city of dreams seemed so busy that it seemed to have no time to dream.
My first stop that day was my uncle’s apartment on the 7th Floor of a building in the suburb of Andheri. The locality has hundreds of residential buildings primarily for the upper middle classes but the average price of a 1BHK apartment is over 80 lakh rupees. It is unaffordable for the middle class and the value for money is low in comparison to what is available in other similar places in Bangalore or National Capital Region.
My uncle and aunt had gone to Bisleri Factory to drop their son who is studying to be a Doctor in Belgaum. I was welcomed into the house by my teenage cousin sister and I suddenly realised that I had forgotten to bring anything for her. I told myself that I would gift her something before leaving the city, a promise I again forgot to keep. Hence, I made another promise to her- NEXT Time.
The half an hour spent talking to her was refreshing and a distinct change from the things I usually speak or think about. She told me about her school and her basket ball games. I am 9 years elder to her and I grew up in a culturally different city of New Delhi. In those 9 years, India has grown by 7% every year and we have also increased our tally in the Commonwealth Games. But many things like poor sports facilities, exam stress and peer pressure have remained the same. The only thing that seems to have changed is that younger children are more calculative and experiment with cigarettes and romance at younger ages than back then.
As I drove from Andheri to Colaba (south Mumbai) at 11pm, we encountered open markets and even traffic. We crossed the homes of Amitabh Bachchan and due to a small diversion, Salman and Shahrukh Khan too. Bandstand was beautiful- jaywalkers looked out into the sea while the couples didn’t look out for anyone. We drove over the Arabian Sea on the Rajiv Gandhi Sethu. Colaba was mix of yesteryear town of the British Raj and modern buildings. Wider roads were a good sight.
On the way, I chatted up with the taxi driver. He was a “Bhaiiya Ji” from Uttar Pradesh who had been living in Mumbai for the last 22 years. He works for 10 months, often long hours and without breaks and then spends two months of vacation at his village, where his family lives. Improvement in Banking Services and Financial Inclusion of services in his village, enable him to transfer money quickly and more often. He also saves money from the ‘Looteras’ (Railway Police) on the journey back home.
He also explained to me the Marathi Manoos- Bhaiya Ji politics in different areas of Mumbai. For a city like Mumbai, democracy is a bane. For political purpose, it creates splits in various communities who have to live, travel and work together. It is a waste of valuable time in the individualistic city. The city essentially demands is a process orientated services and functional administration. Anna Hazare did not have much resonance in the city, due to a general lack of interest in community and politics. People are more concerned about completing their own work and working hard to earn an extra buck. Corruption in many ways is an accepted societal norm and a Lok Pal, however effective would not be able to bring about this social change.
The next day I visited the iconic Taj Mahal Hotel. It is one of the most beautiful hotels; I had ever been to with tastefully decorated and lit halls and corridors. The food was tasty and service was excellent. It personifies Indian style and luxury. Due to the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai, it is also a symbol of resilience. The tranquil memorial is in contrast to the violent attack and is a symbol of peace.
My cousin lives across the city from Colaba and I had asked her when she would reach Colaba, she told me, “Sharp at 5pm”. I was surprised at her confidence as even in small towns one can’t be sure because of the traffic. She took the Local Train and arrived exactly on the time. Being on time is important for Business and Mumbai is on time because of the local trains. But in this quest for being on time, everyday at least one person loses his (majority of the victims are men) life on the tracks.
Next morning, I met an old Parsee gentleman who had been an investor all his life at the Bombay Stock Exchange. I come from an “orthodox” background that pushes me to develop cushions of back-up on which I can fall back on and I also avoid taking risks. He asked me if I was so certain of my failure that I tried to protect myself all the time. I was a little taken-aback. We all do invest for the future, worry about the future and in all of this we get to the future. He advised me to fall back on my only skills and not on the cushions of savings. He also told me to live with self belief that tomorrow will be a much better day and work with full conviction to make it happen. It is this attitude combined with hard work that has made Mumbai a major commercial hub.
Stepping out of the office, I saw a police constable collecting “Hapta” (or weekly- bribe) from hawkers on the road. Each time when Mumbai has come under attack (3rd most attacked city after Karachi and Bagdad), ordinary policemen have shown courage and bravery. But the same police force is considered to be the most corrupt in India and amongst the most inefficient. Does it only perform under extraordinarily stressful circumstances? Over a third of Mumbai’s Policemen are into Private Security of buildings and personalities. Almost every police station registers over 100 cases everyday from theft of transistors to murders but they have less than 100 personnel to investigate those cases. Corruption in the police force leads to harassment of the common man, but the same corruption creates an incentive to blend with people. The police become helpful and also gather intelligence to apprehend criminals.
Built over 500 years ago, Haji Ali Dargah is arguably the oldest surviving building in Mumbai. In the Arabian Sea, it was beautiful to walk to it around the splashes of the (polluted) Arabian Sea and Sufi Music. I offered a Chaddar and tied a red-dhaga. I took back a rose flower as a blessing. I next went to Siddhivinayaka Temple which was drowned in the chants of Jai Dev Jai Dev and “Get Moving”. It is my good fortune that I am accustomed to VIP Lines in temples. Since I had gone unannounced and had a lot of time on my hand, I took the ordinary line. But due to the pushing and shoving, I got pulled into the VIP line and I spent got quite a lot of time with the Lord. I whispered my wishes into the ear of a silver mice statue. I left the temple with flowers as blessing.
None of the Indian Languages have a word for Innovation. Some call it jugaard, a quick-fix low cost solution and I could see it in abundance in Mumbai. The residents did complain and crib like most Indians, but found innovative solutions to their problems. Businesses could learn a thing or two from the hawkers who sold their products with proper segmentation and smart strategy. People have made maximum utilisation of space amongst several other things.
At night, there was an award ceremony for which I was nominated. I have been running poor luck lately and I have been missing out on everything, consistently being left at the edge of success. Results are binary- either one achieves success or one fails. When the announcer said, “Before we announce the winner tonight, the jury would like to specially commend the work done ...” I kept saying in my mind, “Not me... Not me”.. But then it turned out to be me. The winner deserved his victory but then I wish I had won.
The two days long trip to Mumbai was a discovery of sorts for me. Mumbai is in many ways a representation of India, it attracts people from across India and it impacts all major industries. Mumbai is beautiful in its contrasts and its diversity in every form. I met people of different castes, who in many parts of India would never cross each other, but they live in the same buildings. I saw cloth and diamond being cut in the same building; software and film/advertisement stories being written on the same floor. Mumbai is neither black nor white, but a large grey spot. It is beautiful and dirty at the same time; highest tax payer yet the highest evader of taxes and is the house to the richest and the poorest Indian. Mumbai is a rainbow of millions of colours and shades.
Ayush Prasad - Archives: