By Ruma Dubey
Mumbai. Oh, please stop calling it the “city of dreams” or “maximum city!” And let’s not even mention in a low whisper, about the “spirit of Mumbaikars” who continued with life after the man-made tragedy at Elphinstone Road station. Spirit??? It is compulsion; those alive have to continue working for a living and this is the only way they can commute.
Truly, the tragedy at Elphinstone was shocking to say the least. It is one tight slap on all those talking about making Mumbai into Shanghai or making smart cities. The immediate outrage, asking questions about the need to put up the statue and bullet train is not misplaced. When the existing infrastructure is sinking, people are actually dying due to this and you want to spend multicrores on something which will not change the life of these 3 million Mumbaikars who take the local train every single day. There is the Metro and the Monorail; yet the number of people taking the local trains is only surging. So did we get the routes wrong or was there a simply lot of money to be made?
The constant flooding, spread of Dengue and malaria, building collapses and this, makes one ask the question, “is Mumbai liveable anymore?” We are not yet even talking about the air quality and levels of noise pollution.
We are so eager to change “British” names but turn a blind eye to the sagging infrastructure built during their time. So are our priorities completely skewed? Or has the Mumbaikar got some extraordinary level of tolerance, the ability to put up with anything as long as the livelihood continues?
Cramped spaces, traffic congestions, unhygienic surroundings, lack of open spaces, inhuman ways of traveling on public transport. We put up with everything but sit and protest for some of the most inane things. We have all become social network revolutionaries – we will rave and rant on tweets and whatsapps; that’s all. Next day is something else, life moves on as long as you do not lose your own loved ones.
If we became more intolerant towards apathies like Elphinstone, made politicians answerable, got more vigilant and collectively worked towards getting the civil admin to work, can’t it be done? Its defeatist to say that this is how the system is and this is how politicians are, no one listens; at some point we all need to wake and realise that we are living in one of the worst cities?
Every open space is being converted into a realty project which most of us cannot afford; is that what Mumbai is all about – a big realty project? But if this is the quality of life, is the price that we pay worth it?
We have had so many wake up calls but we simply do not wake up; continue with our lives on rote, counting ourselves lucky that “our” family members are safe. But you don’t know when luck could turn the other way.
The sad truth is that Mumbai is today one of the worst “planned” cities in India; it has very poor or no urban planning. It is the builders lobby which influences all policy decisions in the city. Money is diverted from spend on necessary infrastructure to clearing projects and spaces required for new realty projects. As one wise Mumbaikar rightly said, “ railways cannot earn them any more kickbacks or there was simply no money in new projects; so why bother? This is why we have ministers hurrying through clearances for sea links and upcoming coastal roads.”
Well, things will go one as they are… one more tragedy will happen, we will rave and rant and move on. Now that’s the spirit of Mumbai!