Thursday, June 02, 2005

Yeh hai Mumbai meri jaan...

Last August I had been to Mumbai on some official work. This Monday I may have to go again for a similar work. During August 2004, I had not started blogging and so had written a mail to my friends about my experiences. Now I am publishing the mail here.

A few days back, I had been to Mumbai for a couple of days on an official tour. Though this was not my first visit to Mumbai, this was the first time I got a real good look at some very important parts of this great city.
I along with my 2 friends left B’lore in a night flight to Mumbai. When we landed the hotel cab took us on a 2 minutes drive to the hotel where arrangements had been made for our stay. This is in a place called Ville parle. Next morning we were supposed to travel some 20+ kms to a place called Sewree.

The first surprising fact I observed in Mumbai when I landed, was the amazing number of “Fiat Padmini” cars used as taxis. All of them had “Panvel, Bhayander, New Mumbai” written on the back shield in different styles. I think the company “Fiat” if they are making “Padmini” then it’s only for Mumbai taxiwalas! Though of late there are Tata Indicabs used as blue taxis I heard. I had a similar experience in Delhi. When the bike population is so rapidly increasing in cities like B’lore, Chennai etc, Delhi has a very large number of Bajaj scooters! So Bajaj-Scooters:Delhi::Fiat-Padmini:Mumbai.

Morning we left the hotel in a cab to our destination (Sewree). The next thing that struck us was the pathetic state of roads in the very heart of business of India. The cab driver told us that in summer the corporation gets the road tarred, but the tarring is so good(rather the monsoon is so good) that the monsoons takes away the tar too. Yeah, politicians and contractors also need to survive right! But there are some good roads in some places. These are concrete roads, which are quite smooth without potholes. May be most of you have read jokes about the Mumbai potholes in magazines like “India Today” and “The week”.

As the discussions on roads were going on, we suddenly started getting horrible smells. We had entered “Dharavi”, Asia’s largest slum. The scenes I saw there are a disgrace to any city or nation. As we just finish celebrating 57th ID, it’s really pathetic to see what we have done (rather what we have not done) to some set of people. I try to describe what we saw.
There is a double road (road is partitioned) along which we are moving. On either side of the road is “Dharavi”. The traffic was slow moving for 2 reasons.
1. It was peak hour.
2. Tough the road was wide, half or at least 1/3 of the road cannot be traveled on. Why?
There are no footpaths existing as footpath. Small huts\houses are built all along the so called footpaths. Each hut has the area of approximately the area of an asbestos sheet i.e. approx 5ft * 2.5ft. The walls of the huts are again asbestos or sometimes some unstructured brick arrangement. The openings (call them windows) are covered by plastic covers with Govinda, Amitabh bachan etc on them. The bigger opening which looked like a door had a tarpaulin hanging (the ones you can see on trucks). The driver (by chance he was a Kannadiga from Udupi!!) said that such a house shelters a couple with a kid and sometimes parents and siblings i.e. 4 to 5 people. Such huts could be seen till where we could see. In-between we could see 1 storied and 2 storied cement brick structures mostly of the same size (asbestos sheet size) each. There were small uneven gullies (paths, they looked very slippery because of the rains) which people used to commute from the interior huts to the road. May be the scene from “Agneepath” where the villain has kidnapped AB’s sister is taken in this slum, though that scene had lots of multistoried huts. There are chai sellers, barbers, and small traders all along the road partition itself, doing their business.
Coming back to the footpath huts, how do people manage to have a decent living in such huts?
In B’lore, if you have been to (or seen) some slums, there is some free place near the slum for people to attend nature calls. Or at least they have railway tracks near by! But in a city like Mumbai, though there are lots of railway tracks, there is no free space. And there are beaches which cannot be used during rains. In the Dharavi area we passed, there was no railway line, nor a beach. Now comes the explanation for the smell and unusable 1/3 portion of the road. Road is their toilet, bathroom, washing machine etc. We could see kids and adults attending to the nature calls/taking bath/washing utensils/washing clothes on the road in front of the slow moving traffic at 8am without much hiding or covering. This is shocking and horrible but it’s a bloody fact. As it was rainy season, nature cleans the human dirt but we were wondering what happens in summer. The driver explained us that the people there are not necessarily that poor, but there is a major space problem. In-fact, that’s the origin of slums. Real estate prices are really very high in Mumbai. Not everybody can afford to stay in very decent localities. Relatively the prices in Dharavi are less. He added that this is a heaven for mafia for their all kinds of “Dhandha”, as obviously its difficult for the police to enter and conduct any sort of operation in the slum. As we moved on, we got to see such footpath huts in many other places. People used roads as washing machines in lot of places. It was a real pathetic sight. It’s a “Shame”. Interestingly “Dharavi” was shown to Prince Charles when he visited India, as if it’s a matter of “Pride” to have the biggest slum. Hail the authorities.

When we were kids, if another kid was seen in undergarments in school or somewhere else we used to say “Shame Shame puppy shame, all the donkeys know your name” (of course without realizing that we were calling ourselves donkey). But today not just showing of the undergarments, but showing of the ugly butt cleavage is not a “Shame”, but it’s a matter of “Pride” the name of fashion for the so called forward people. And the same thing shown on the roads of Dharavi by the poor still is a “Shame”. There’s a thin line between “Shame” and “Pride” and that in this case is money.

At one place we passed parallel to a railway track. This was the time when we saw the local metro rail filled with passengers chugging along. The driver asked us to travel in the local train at least once to see the hectic Mumbaikars. An interesting stuff the driver shared was that of a formation of a user group by people who used too travel regularly in the coach. This user group talks to business houses to sponsor some short plays to be staged inside the trains on some social causes. This has encouraged theatre groups in the cinema crazy city. Everybody would have read about the kind of things that happen in those coaches. Generally the media highlights the bad stuff, but this good example was never highlighted.

Another thing noticed was the great number of so called B and C grade movie posters all around the city. I don’t think these films will the darkness of any Bangalore theatre even without this 7 week delay.

In the evening, we had a dinner appointment with a family who were related to one of the guys who was with us. Because it was very near to the hotel we stayed, we walked to their house. The lady of the house stayed in Bangalore for some 15+ years and has moved to Mumbai after her marriage. The house was small, 1BHK. They have a kid. I was surprised to see such a beautiful arrangement in such a small house. Not a sq foot was wasted in the house. The walls were decorated with paintings but also with newspaper! Yes, why waste space on the floor to keep newspaper\magazines etc, put a hanging to hold such stuff. Footwear was kept in the drawer attached below the sofa. Fridge was kept on an elevated stand, so that the space below it could be used, and one need not bend to take articles out of the fridge. May be the lady could see me observing the space utilization. She told us that coming from Bangalore and adjusting to such small space was difficult at first but now they have settled down well. She brought a container from the kitchen and showed how she could manage in such small kitchens. One single container had some 3 varieties of dal in different plastic covers. In Bangalore, she said we have space and so we waste space. I realized that we at our home had the same quantity of dal in 3 containers wasting not only space inside the container but also the space for 2 additional containers. But then we have space. The dining table was a collapsible door of the shelf in the kitchen. When down it’s a table else it is covering for the materials stored in the shelf. It was another space saving measure. We had a nice meal with vada pav. She said that she misses the leisurely walk in a park, weekend outings to scenic places, the climate which all of us and her friends in Blore enjoy.

The next day was more hectic than expected and we could not go to Juhu, Coloba, new Mumbai or choupati. So we could not see the posher localities of Mumbai nor could we visit any beach. So to a Mumbaikar, I haven’t seen Mumbai.
But to me I saw the Mumbai which most people hate to see.

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