I remember growing up in Bombay. I remember the monsoon particularly, and with much nostalgia, for it was the best and most delightful part of the year. There was no semblance of the kind of flooding we see today, just non-stop rain with which a cool would descend and relieve us of the sticky humidity before the onset of this wonderful season. In those days, the city was managed well. You could walk on the pavements. They were not strewn with garbage. Its public transport system was amongst the best in India and even as children aged eleven, we used BEST buses from the Malabar hills to get to our drama and other extra-curricular classes miles away, unescorted. But today this metropolis has shamed us. It is tied up in knots and locked in an untenable reality.
Over the years, Bombay has fragmented and crumbled into Mumbai, heralding chaos and anarchy. Every year as the rains break, images of men cleaning clogged gutters are splashed across the newspapers. An inept municipality gets worse with every passing month. It appears to be accountable to no superior authority, since no rectification of its ways is evident. The dilution of the energy and vitality of the city is overwhelming. The break down is all-pervasive. Mumbai today symbolizes an administrative and political failure. It epitomizes the worst outcome of the nexus between the authorities, business and the mafia.
Yet it was a city of style, of grace, a melting pot of ideas and innovation. It was a haven for the liberals, one that attracted diverse disciplines and expertise from across the world. Today, Mumbai has degenerated into a ‘rich’ urban slum. Life is a struggle. Endless hours are wasted on potholed roads, trying to get from one point to another, and energy is sapped by the inconsequential.
It is nothing short of a scandal that this city drowns every year during the months of rain. The monsoon, as it is in Mumbai, is a normal phenomenon on all coasts. Unfortunately, governments in Maharashtra have, over the years, mismanaged, allowed environmental norms to be broken with their tacit approval, condoned malfunctioning municipalities and have destroyed this once-upon-a-time city of dreams.
There is no excuse for this degradation. The government needs to act on a war footing and take Mumbai back to where it once was. It needs to come up with ideas on how to deal with a growing population and all the problems that accompany that growth.
Stringent environmental norms need to be put in place. Building laws need to be enforced. No multi-storeyed building should get a clearance without making provision for car parks for their residents, or without permanent rooms being earmarked for the use of their staff. Frankly, it should be mandatory to have a strip of green around the building with as many trees planted as there are residents. Enforce the laws and people will find alternatives within that law.
A revival needs to be initiated and nurtured to fruition. Standards need to be set by those who people the city as ‘idols’, ‘stars’ and ‘celebrities’. Intellectual energy, an austerity of style, an end to flashiness and the all pervading ‘sound-bite-culture’, and lots more need to kick in and trigger vivacity and zest.
A crisp and invigorating spirit that is culturally rooted, youthful, cultivated and unpolluted by all that is superficial must be allowed to invade Mumbai and flood its body and soul. Who will lead the troops' Who will break the stronghold of a failed but still operating ‘nexus’ that has destroyed Bombay and Mumbai'