Monsoon blues in Mumbai

S Madhusudhana Rao

My visit to Mumbai after a gap of nearly 20 years has not produced any big surprises. If there is any, it is the population that seems to be bursting out of every inch of the megacity. And, of course, an increasing number of glass and concrete structures that are soaring into the sky. The textile factories’ stacks which used to dominate the Bombay skyline once upon a time have been replaced by tall commercial and residential complexes now. The vertical growth seems to have been matched by horizontal expansion of slums and chawls. Hutments and skyscrapers have mushroomed together cheek by jowl.

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S Madhusudhana Rao

When I look at the picture on a larger canvas, say from the 20th floor of a residential tower, the glaring disparity between India’s poor and the rich hits in the face. The leftist refrain that the rich-poor gap is widening after liberalization makes sense. While the tall shining edifices stand testimony to an economically growing India, tin-roofed dwellings at their feet reflect the level of poverty prevalent in the country. Nevertheless, there is no class conflict despite glaring differences in income, spending and living standards are concerned. That filthy riches and penury co-exist is an accepted fact of Mumbai life.  Probably, in no Indian city would we see such a gaping gap as in Mumbai.

But the differences merge during the nine-day Ganesh celebrations which culminate on the day of immersion. This year it was on Thursday, September 15. Mumbai erupted in joy. Neither heavy rain nor jam-packed pot-holed roads had diminished the people’s fervour. Thousands of day-long song-and-dance processions from different areas of the city to the immersion spots on the seaside continued until wee hours amidst Ganapathi chants and bursting of firecrackers. The celebrations were not very different from those held in Hyderabad. But Mumbai ones were bigger and grand in scale since the gala festivities were patronised by who is who of Mumbai’s film fraternity, industrial tycoons and business biggies.

Once the elephant-headed God was given a fond farewell with a dip in Arabian Sea, the commercial capital of India was back to business. Business establishments were swarming with shoppers; eateries were serving Mumbai’s favourite and famous chats; roads were full of people walking or driving and trying to beat the deadlines set for themselves to accomplish multiple tasks. Time is money, after all, and Mumbai is the wealthiest of all cities in India. If we go by real estate prices, one should be either a millionaire or a black moneybag to buy a modest flat.

Though the city is the richest in the country, it continues to suffer from lack of civic amenities. In fact, the condition of roads has worsened since my last visit. More garbage, dirty beaches, shrinking greenery and less breathing space have become ubiquitous features of once a beautiful city called Bombay.

Whom to blame for the plight of this megapolis? Exodus of rural population to Mumbai in search of work or corrupt officials and political leaders? Now, it looks nobody could do anything about it as the city has grown out of control. Mumbai is a prime example of urban chaos and crisis at their nadir. The city needs a different development model to bring in a modicum of order.

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