Mumbai – A Hol(e)istic view !!!

When I read Suketu Mehta’s award winning book –“Maximum City on Mumbai, I found it a bit hard to comprehend what is “maximum” about the city. If Mehta has to write a book on Mumbai today as a sequel he could very well name it “The Maximum potholed City” which will make for unchallenged comprehension. A drive this day through what people often refer to as a metropolitan city – Mumbai will be an (w)holesome experience with an exposure  to holes of all sizes and shapes 🙂  In between holes you will be lucky to find some bits and pieces of road.  While in other cities you find signs of “Caution bump ahead” in Mumbai soon you will find signs of “Caution Road ahead”!!!

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All of us who keep cribbing about potholes in Mumbai sadak are missing an important point called “Positioning”. If Mumbai roads are as good as they are in Tokyo, Paris or Dubai then what is the unique positioning?  What is Bappida if he is not a walking jewellery showroom? The dark glasses which our Tamil Nadu octogenarian politician Karunanidhi wears 24*7 defines now his identity. Potholes and Mumbai are something like this and now defines the city’s personality.

Realising the importance of imbibing this personality of the city, one NGO proposed to change the name of RTA (Roads and Transport Authority) in Mumbai to HTA (Holes and Transport Authority). But the proposal has apparently hit a “Holeblock”!

Recently one of the popular travel companies in Mumbai made a killing by positioning Mumbai as a destination for bachelor trips to the West. The idea was very simple. Post Zindagi Na Milegi Dubara movie there has been a rush from rich boys in India to travel to Spain to do Road trips. This agency turned the concept on its head and positioned Mumbai abroad for fancy “Holi(e)days”. The result has been extra ordinary.

There has been another novel attempt as well. Considering the fact that “Space holidays” or “Moon holidays” are still some time away and may not be also light on the pocket – for lesser mortals there is the option of “Moonbai holidays”. Sasta and Sundar.  See the pictures for yourself.

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Picture courtesy “Indiaopines.com”

That Mumbai resembles moon’s surface is not a figment of my imagination.  ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization) which has plans to do a manned mission to moon may well be advised to divert to Mumbai and save a few millions. In our country millions still need basic food security.

While on this moon like experience, a novice foreign pilot flying to Mumbai for the 1st time panicked when he was losing height above Mumbai and was wondering if he was landing in another planet.  But soon he breathed easy as he saw the countless shanties on the surface which he recalled seeing in Slumdog Millionaire.

In the midst of all this, one thing which got missed is the fact that today Mumbai is the “Beta site” for many car manufacturers to test the quality of their vehicle suspensions.  If a suspension passes the test in Mumbai it passes the ultimate test. What started just with one manufacturer has now become an industry standard and is a major revenue stream for the Municipal corporation. Hence there is now an unstated commitment from the Government to maintain the condition of the roads with enough holes of different hue at any point in time.

This is not the only reason for the Government to have a ‘Hol(e)istic’ view on the road condition.  The other being to ensure jobs for the thousands of workers engaged with the road contractors. Laying substandard roads and keep doing something on them in the garb of maintenance is another Employment Guarantee scheme. The only difference being this scheme doesn’t have the Mahatma Gandhi, Indira Gandhi or Rajiv Gandhi prefix to it.

While on prefixes, suffixes and adjectives, the “spirit of Mumbaikar” is a famed one. But what is not is “the spine of Mumbaikar”. Mumbaikars possess the strongest and at the same time very flexible spine among human beings in the world. As one of my friends value added, after all Camel rides are supposed to be good for the spine and more often than not in Mumbai when you are in a vehicle the ride is akin to a Camel ride.

Recently when the minister concerned was questioned if the Government has a Roadmap to fix Mumbai’s roads, he mentioned that as of now they only have a “holemap” 🙂 and soon they hope to have a master plan and will reveal the same shortly. So it’s still not end of the hole oops road for Mumbaikars as yet. There is some hole oops again, hope!!!

Postscript: Years back – Nestle created a unique positioning for their mint by just creating a hole in the centre and calling it “Polo – The mint with a hole”!!! For a commoner it was difficult to fathom what’s so great in a mint with a hole. But the point is, it was different and “hole in a mint” became the defacto standard for a mint candy.   The same Nestle after a few years introduced Polo Mini – with the tag line “The Hole with the mint”. This hole didn’t find many takers and had to be buried quickly 😦 😦

Disclaimer : The characters and incidents in this post are fictitious and imaginary. Any resemblance to reality is purely coincidental. And no animal was injured while writing this post.

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Monsoon’s Diary

“Rain and High tide pour misery on Mumbaikars” – screams today’s Mumbai edition of Times of India. I find this inimical response so ironical and take this with a pinch of salt.  Till the end of May when my cousin Surya (Sun) was scorching the length and breadth of India – a great country in this planet, one thing in everybody’s lips was – “When will “I” arrive this year”?  But when I arrive and decidedly with a bang, I notice that the tunes of the thankless human beings have changed just in a week.   It’s been a week since I decided to make my  annual presence felt in India starting from the West coast, Kerala, Mangalore and then finally hitting the commercial capital – Mumbai and then will move on to other parts of the country except certain pockets.  I normally take a break in September and then visit again via the eastern coast – Orissa, Tamil Nadu,.. in Oct/ November in another avatar.  The ride to this country is one which I enjoy every year and for many reasons.

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The fact that my arrival on time and presence in many parts of the country decide the economic fortunes of the country gives me a high. Economists start forecasting a bullish GDP growth and government authorities rush to announce the good news when I behave properly. After all good rains ensure a good crop and they say that the farmer community happily spends the surplus disposable income on consumer durables, clothes, better lifestyle for their children and what have you, thereby pushing growth.

While on GDP forecasts I like to be on the right side, the other forecasts where I have fun in proving wrong is of the Met department and those “MRF” guys.  So invariably I make sure that they get it wrong:) Do you like it if somebody starts predicting your behavior in advance on your face???  Or do they ask me before they do their predictions? I see that today the department has warned the Mumbaikars to brace for heavy rains in the next two days.  Well, now you know what is going to happen and let me let the cat out of the bag. You can coolly walk without even an umbrella in the next 2 days!  When the MRF guys start advertising that the MRF Rain day is 2 days away – I ensure that they get it wrong. But does it matter?  Irrespective of whether they get it right or not, they have been doing this branding for decades now. And there is the “betting economy” around me – reason enough for me to behave arbitrarily. Ofcourse once in a while I do toe the line of the Met department – that is purely out of sympathy with the guys there so that they don’t lose their jobs!

But one set of guys who I wish, do lose their jobs year after year are the ones in the Municipal Corporation in Mumbai (BMC). They do a shoddy job of the road maintenance and I have to hear from you guys day in day out as you suffer in traffic jams for hours together during my season.  BMC-Contractor nexus and the ensuing corruption ensure that instead of a permanent solution of having “Monsoon proof” roads you have last minute patch of the pot holes. When I visit Mumbai for 3 months and see the city from the top, I feel that it should be re-named as “Moonbai” as the surface resembles craters of the Moon!!!  In between potholes you find bits of pieces of road. I find it extremely ironical that the people of Mumbai don’t realize that they are being taken for a literal roller coaster ride and keep voting for the same party term after term. They should visit the southern state of Kerala where also I play around quite a bit, but the authorities there have cracked the road issue and I don’t find such pathetic roads as in Mumbai. Guess in Mumbai the authorities just eat your funds.

Talking of eating, hot tea with samosas, pakoras, bajiyas and all those panoply of oil smacked snacks find their place in the Sun or rather Monsoon during these months when I visit.  I keep hearing that there is a lot of romanticism around just sitting, watching me – drinking copious cups of tea and polishing snack plates without doing any work. I feel that in this “I” am only an excuse. Like they say, “Men just don’t need any reason to drink”, I guess people don’t need any reason to just laze around.

Surprisingly the lawmakers in India – the MPs don’t laze around when I’m around. Parliament session is called around this time and the whole session is named after me as the “Monsoon session”! It’s another matter that no legislative business happens these days in the Parliament with walk outs becoming the norm. Ordinary citizen calls for “Bandhs” to protest while the privileged ones (MPs) call for “Walk outs” to protest.  All work and no walk outs make the Indian ruling Jacks dull boys you see!!!

Without me realizing I do feel that I come down heavily on children.  They can’t play out in the open and that indeed makes them dull and if they do venture out – they can’t escape feeling under the weather!!! Doctors have a field day. My season is Diwali season for pharma companies!!!  And there is this whole range of business around Me. Umbrellas, Rain wear, Rain shoes,…,… Is the ubiquitous black umbrella part of folklore now? What I see is the more coloured variants resembling costumes from Rohit Shetty’s movies. I’ve no complaints though.

But you guys have many complaints when I don’t arrive on time or miss a season or be more generous in my presence in a year.  There are reasons for all of that. I’m not going to venture into listing up those here as they are well-known and documented. What I find interesting is people don’t follow the “Do’s” and “Don’ts” and then crib about me doing the damage. Also start trying to please me. For example people try to delight me with music. Mythology has it that I am associated with Raga – “Amirthavarshini” (Indian Carnatic) and RaagMegh Malhar” (Hindustani Classical). Yes these are indeed my favourites.  If they are not in your favorite lists yet, please do listen to “Sudhamayi” (Amirthavarshini) and Megh Malhar by Pandit Jasraj and add them.  I am also overwhelmed by the reference to me in many Indian movies – Hindi or regional. My picks from that is Ganan Ganan from Lagaan (That boy Rahman is a genius I say) and Classical and Play back singer Unnikrishnan’s Tamil film song “Mazhai, Mazhai”. Do click on the links to listen if you like.

I sincerely hope a day soon will come when people don’t accuse me of pouring misery in their lives for, my karma in life is to bring cheers to earth and humanity.  So to wind up, here’s  joke on me to cheer you up.

It was a year when there was no rain in Kerala. Obviously concerned, mallus all got together and did pujas, havans,.. to please the Rain God Varuna.

Varuna was pleased.

The next day it rained. And that too heavily.

Not in Kerala but in Dubai.

Mallus went and complained to Varuna

And Varuna said – “Seeing so many of you guys there I mistook Gulf coast for Kerala coast” !!! 😦

Joke courtesy: Sudarshan