Swati Prasad Siddharth, an eclectic traveler in India, takes a stark look at the transformation of the big, bad (mad?) megalopolis Bombay to Mumbai.
I left Bombay and came back to Mumbai.
Fifteen years ago I was a daughter in Mumbai. I never had to deal with the day-to-day issues of running a home. Or lose sleep over the cost of living. I just enjoyed the benefits that Bombay offered within the luxury of my parents’ protection.
I spent the first quarter century of my life here. Given that I have always missed the city and its wonderful ethos. Given that I have missed the efficiency and tempo of living I was used to. Am I thrilled? Am I ecstatic? Am I really happy to be home?
Today I return to the realization that being a daughter in Mumbai is infinitely easier than being a housewife.
What happened to the efficiency of Bombay? Why is every service of Mumbai so laid-back suddenly? “Tomorrow” has become the watchword for everyone. I have been trying to get the refrigerator serviced for the last 1 month. It took four weeks for the air conditioner technicians to come fit my machines into pre-existing slots. The servicing will be done “another day”. The plumber has not yet found the time or inclination to replace the mixer tap that is choked and corroded. MTNL has offered us a two month waiting period for phone and broadband connections. The existing telephone line has been dead for the last 24 days. Airtel has “reached the limit of connections allowed for your area. “Sorry”.
Equally disheartening is the vast quantum of vehicles that break traffic rules – no one seems to wait for the green signal anymore. No one seems to find it necessary to stop for the red either. What happened to speed limits? What happened to leaving the zebra crossings free for the pedestrians? What happened to the caring public that stopped and helped the old and the injured?
Everyone always said Bombay was a heartless city. All these years, my reply to this was that Bombay was a ‘nose-less’ city. We did not interfere with our neighbors on a day-to-day basis. But we were always sure that every hand would reach out when we needed help. Today, I find Mumbaikars both ‘nose-less’ and heartless. The stink of garbage and choked drains has gone up a hundred times. The stench of indifference and apathy has begun to choke the few remaining Bombaywallahs. No one seems to notice the smell at all, much less find it offensive.
Bombay was a city where anything could happen – orderly queues by the teeming millions, banning of plastic bags, sterilization of stray dogs, mass protests against the cutting of trees, filmstars sweeping roads, whatever. Mumbai has turned into a mere ‘happening’ city. Fit for page 3 and no more.
If I live on Malabar Hill why would I worry about the plastic bags choking drains in Dharavi? If my garden is lush and green, why would I bother about trees being cut on the road outside? Beaches? Hey, I can afford the French Rivera. Why bother about Juhu and Chowpatty? And stray dogs? Hang them! Yes. Literally.
The flyovers we speed on do not hide the rampant poverty beneath or the pot holes on top. Brand new apartments coming up in up-market Mumbai have servants rooms attached – 3 feet by 7 feet – the only source of light and ventilation is the louvered window in the 3’x3’ bathroom at one end. The broker whispers in awe, “This 1500 sq.ft. flat costs Rs.2 crores. The owner has spent another 25 lakhs on the fittings alone!” I am duly impressed as I walk out. Mc’Donalds, BKC and InOrbit Mall not withstanding, Bombay has NOT ‘evolved’ into Mumbai. We hear so much about the “Spirit of Mumbai”. Has the life of Bombay died to turn into this spirit?
Yet, some things have not changed, thankfully. Tomatoes may be Rs.34 a kilo. But the bhaaji waala still comes wading in thigh deep water to give it to you at your doorstep. He saves you a trip to the market. The same can be said of the fruitwaali. The dhobi whose istri will not be dampened by the monsoon. The bai who will clean your house before venturing to empty her own of last night’s deluge. The local trains still run on time. The paanwaala still gives you accurate directions. The BEST bus drivers still drive carefully. The magic of the monsoon still pervades the air – hot vada paavs, chaai …
And so, with true 'Bambaiiya' optimism, I settle down. At home. In Bombay. Call me superstitious, if you will …
The rains have begun. And how! But it is nice. The temperature has dropped dramatically. The sky has darkened to a cool gray and the greenery has suddenly got washed clean. Even if one does not actually go out, once can appreciate the view from the window. The books have been unpacked. As have the crystalware. So,
Here, with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A flask of Wine, A book of Verse … and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness –
And Wilderness is Paradise enow. – Omar Khayyam