Archive for the ‘musings’ Category

Nostalgia part 2: the noughties and how they came to nought

November 27, 2020

I wrote about the 90s here. I haven’t much reflected on the noughties – I did in the earlier post touch upon a combination of rising aspirations and rising cynicism in that decade – but two separate events brought the period back to my mind.

One was a forum thread on best movies in each decade and, relative to the other decades including the ’10s, I struggled to name really, really memorable movies that had touched me from the 00s. The other is that I am reading Obama’s new book and he is describing the meltdown.

I think the meltdown was in many ways the perfect, whilst also terribly cruel, culmination of a decade in which things seemed to be going swimmingly well…for some of us.

Maybe that is why I have difficulty recalling that period. Because some part of my mind is probably scarred by the bruises of shattered aspirations. Even while India did not, at least immediately, suffer much blowback from the crisis, it was already clear that things wouldn’t be the same.

Oh, but how wonderful it would have been were it not for the crisis! But was it really?

What about Iraq, is the immediate counterpoint that comes to my mind. The economic boom we rode was juxtaposed against the wanton destruction of a country that had no part, none whatsoever, in the 9/11 attacks on the US. And the US strikes were premised on the purported presence of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). WMDs that, as it turned out, were never found. Rumsfeld quipped, “Shit happens.”

It was a remark that incensed me then and still does to date. But it summed up the times aptly. With the economic gravy train now speeding more like a bullet train, we didn’t care, let’s be honest. No we didn’t, really, not beyond venting our perfunctory dose of indignation at the Imperial States of America.

Yes, this was the decade in which we (as in people living outside the USA) came to perceive a thinly veiled hubris of invincibility in US’ actions and loathed them for it. Perhaps the hubris had always been there but it was as if a curtain had been lifted in the Bush era. In his Hollywood-like pronouncement right after 9/11: “Wanted: Osama Dead or Alive” or the later statement “In the War against Terror, you’re either with us or against us”, the styling of the war on Iraq as Operation Shock and Awe to Rumsfeld’s unapologetic apology of “Shit Happens”. It did feel from the outside as if the US had mistaken war games for, uh, games. Games without the terrible real world consequences that they had wrought.

But again, what did we really do? Did India, then a still non-aligned nation and in fact governed by a multi party alliance supported by the Communists, rally around the Third World in opposition to the war or build bridges with voices of dissent in France? Nope. If anything, we doted on Bush as the first US President who was ready to do business with India. And that was true enough, yes. But we learned to compartmentalize the ‘Bad Bush’, the one who was blowing up Iraq, from the ‘Good Bush’, the one who would let India keep its nuclear facilities. We did that again with Trump, by the way.

It was then a decade of immense possibilities but also immense hypocrisy. To pick up the thread from my previous post, this was the decade in which we got malls. We started pushing trolleys in supermarkets where we once used to shop in crowded and dinghy markets (without the super). Mumbai and Pune were brought closer by a world-class expressway. Uh, I don’t know about Chinese highways or the Autobahn but I have been on a bunch of Interstates in the US and the section after Lonavla (towards Pune) compares well, I kid you not.

We got airconditioned cafes that were more like lounges where you could take your own sweet time to sip the coffee and devote more of your time to conversing with your companion. We got more and more of the glass-fronted office complexes that are ‘normal’ today but were almost entirely novel back then. And these complexes housed not just a who’s who of India but verily of the world as more and more MNCs headed to India to grab opportunities.

Yup, in a world of endless possibilities, grabbing opportunities was the no.1 priority. Real estate was already beginning to get costly but still within reach of the middle class and many families, including mine, upgraded our living conditions more than significantly in this decade. It was the perfect opportunity. Our cars improved, first steadily, then dramatically. And just forget about the mobile phones. At least here in India, we did eke out most of the decade content with those bulky and clunky Nokia phones but the more affluent and more ‘with it’ amongst us could already be seen upgrading to phones that cost a five figure sum in Indian rupees (or about two hundred and fifty dollars in noughties rupees). Believe it or not, that sounded like a lot to us.

The chartered accountant under whom I apprenticed had already got himself a Blackberry by 2007 or so. It was around 2007 too that the Indian stock market ascended dizzying heights. Said chartered accountant had a junior partner in his firm who traded a lot in the stock market.

I knew nothing then about the impending housing crash in the US, that we were about to witness the greatest ‘main street’ crash since the Great Depression. I did sense, however, that the valuations on the stock market (and I mean the Indian one, not even Wall Street) were starting to look out of whack. I remembered what I had read in Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad Poor Dad – that when people who normally stay a North Pole away from the stock markets start asking where they should invest is the time to book your profits and get the hell out. I told this junior partner (and my immediate boss) to do so and he scoffed, seeing me as a Negative Nancy of sorts. I told my mother too and after repeated haranguing, she listened.

I had the satisfaction of being proved right even without knowing everything that had been going on. The markets tanked in early 2008 and we picked up some stocks on the rebound. We picked up a bit too early because it had another dip before getting back on steady footing. But we did sell those stocks for a handsome profit years later. My junior partner on the other hand made a big loss.

It wasn’t a devastating loss for him, he was ok. But it was for many others, especially those on the other side of the Greenwich Meridian. Much like the characters of the wonderful movie The Big Short, I felt empty even in ‘victory’. It was a pyrrhic victory. I had prevailed over the excessively exuberant. But in the wake of this ‘victory’ lay utter economic carnage.

A new US President bookended the chapter of endless possibilities by achieving what had hitherto been inconceivable – of winning the top job in the world as a black man. Alas, the road to recovery that lay in front of him, in front of us was long and arduous. And not only did he not possess the superhuman powers that his fans seemed to believe he did, he turned out to be an incremental reformer, a cautious moderate and hardly the swashbuckling populist he had been mistaken to be. He did a decent job of turning things around but as we know now, he left too many high and dry in the process and those turned to Trump in 2016 when faced with the prospect of a Hillary Clinton Presidency to cap Obama’s.

But much as I came to be a trenchant and cynical critic of Obama over the years, he had set himself up for a task he was always bound to fail in. Rather, we set him up for failure.

Because what we wanted was impossible. In truth, what we wanted from him was the noughties back. But the noughties could never come back. The noughties were built on the back of a phony real estate market and a phony war. Neither in and of themselves were desirable in the least. But it was they in tandem that propelled the best of all times, at least for those of us who lived through those times and weren’t in, uh, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, Afghanistan…you get the drift.

When the real estate market in the US collapsed, it was described as a house of cards. But what also had turned out to be a house of cards was our collective aspiration for a tomorrow that would keep getting better and better. That tomorrow looks increasingly distant and covid has taken away the one fig leaf the eternal optimists used to offer us – that world conditions are empirically better than ever before. No, in 2020, they are not going to be better than 2019 or 2018.

It seemed like we were just about to take off for the stars when the ladder got pulled away from below us, leaving us to fall and fall hard. And the thought that our starry-eyed dreams were built on a foundation of lies and deceit is a heck of a hard swallow.

Well, in the words of a famous philosopher, the one with the best words, ‘it is what it is’.

Hum Jo Chalne Lage – driving on Indian roads

November 21, 2020

Hum Jo Chalne Lage – the pleasant (and copied) Shaan solo composed by Pritam for the film Jab We Met – brings forth idyllic impressions of travelling in India. But does driving in India square up with such visages? Lately, I have a ringside view and I believe driving on our roads tells us a lot about why things are the way they are.

I say lately because I didn’t used to drive, didn’t have to. Having grown up in Mumbai, I am used to navigating the packed local trains in this city and inured to the supposed difficulty of it…on most days anyway. I took driving lessons and got my licence made years back. But everybody knows driving school and the business of actually driving by yourself in India are entirely different.

But as the pandemic and the attendant lockdowns raged on, I realized that local trains would be shut for a long time, longer than it would take for at least my workplace to resume office operations. And even if they did, I wouldn’t feel comfortable with the complete lack of distancing in the trains. So I used the time to learn driving…this time with my dad’s driver. It was his parting gift of sorts to me, as my dad retired this year. He taught me important things about the practical aspects of driving in and adjusting to dense city traffic. After a few trips back and forth to my workplace, he said I was ready and pushed me off the nest. It’s been three months since then and I have been doing OK. If I did have close shaves occasionally in the beginning, I am in control these days, to the extent one can be on Indian roads and I will get to that.

There is something about Indian roads that you would probably not perceive unless you are a driver. Which is that often times, what YOU, as a passenger, may take to be good roads are NOT good roads. A road without potholes is a good one, right? Wrong! The level of the road surface needs to be reasonably constant without unexpected undulations. Unfortunately, that is often not the case in India.

I will talk about a particularly treacherous spot – which is just where the double decker flyover portion of Santacruz-Chembur Link Road (SCLR as we call it here) lands when going towards Santacruz. The flyover kind of bends as you descend and join CST road in Kurla. The problem is there is a steep embankment on the rightmost lane with a sort of pit in the middle. This means your car will suddenly lose ‘footing’ as it gets there. The first time I drove through that patch, I was not aware of this and my car, clocking no more than 70 kph, skidded a bit. I am a vigilant driver, maybe because I am ‘new, so I braked in time and cut the speed enough to get through it. But nothing in the flyover design prepares you for that and it’s a wonder that there haven’t been more accidents in that stretch. While negotiating it, I remembered that bizarre incident where a vehicle practically flew off a flyover in Hyderabad and crashed onto the road below! Yes, that happened, for real!

Was that rash driving on the part of the driver? To some extent, yes. But only a poorly designed flyover would cause a vehicle to simply fly off a flyover. But this is India and we do poor designs all the time.

And THAT brings me to the good and the bad about the experience of driving in India or why drivers have to drive the way they/we do.

The roads are either bad or inadequate for the volume of traffic (or both) and there is also very little space devoted to footpaths leading to pedestrians having to occupy the road shoulders as they walk.

This forces drivers to engage in a constant battle of one-upmanship on the roads to grab that inch of real estate before the other guy does. Trust me, the reason you see vehicles lane jumping and zig zagging isn’t because ‘we Indians are like that only’. It’s because everyone is looking to get out of the mess that we call Indian roads as soon as possible. I know because I do too, as somebody who used to complain about lane cutting from the vantage point of the passenger’s seat. It’s not necessarily because it saves time (though it does, to some extent) but because from the moment you wade into heavy and chaotic traffic, you are trying to get out of the chaos as soon as you can.

You may protest and insist that no, give Indians any road and they will still drive like this. But I have a couple or more of counter examples. On Bandra Worli Sea Link, on the Eastern Freeway or on Palm Beach Road, the road surface is good, cruising speeds are easily attained and drivers tend to relax. I wouldn’t say there is NO rash driving but on these roads, you can sit back and enjoy the experience of driving for a bit. I have yet to take my car out for a spin there but you can observe the same thing on the Mumbai Pune Expressway. There is the odd impatient twat but mostly, even the honking subsides almost to nothing and there is hardly any lane cutting. Why would you cut lanes when there isn’t a car behind or ahead of you for several metres?

But the rest of the time…you are trying to navigate the chaos. And here’s the good part of it. The good part is that to a man, every driver is aware of the chaos. Even the bullies. The bullies may switch on the high beam and honk until you yield but they all calculate their risks.

So…when somebody cuts lanes in front of your nose, you will honk and accelerate and try your best to stop them…right up to the point where you physically cannot thwart them anymore. And at that point, you will brake and let them pass. And they will return the favour when you barge in in front of them. Everybody knows it’s not personal. And everybody knows where to stop before you end up colliding into each other.

This is the paradox of Indian roads. In the chaos, there is safety. We intuit that we are in a high risk zone and we must be careful while at the same time not being so cautious that we get left behind and get stuck in the mess.

Here’s a little video that compares. Of course it cherry picks suitable examples but it’s also true that an accident of the sort you see in the first couple of instances is rare in India because we know better than to speed through a junction. We expect the worst and prepare.

And in this way, Indian roads are a microcosm of life in India. We are masters at navigating chaos. We do it at world beating standards. But we are so good at it that we forget that we don’t HAVE to do that all the time, that we can build our way out of chaos. What got us here may not be enough to get us to where we seem to want to go. But do we really want to, is the question.

90s Nostalgia – what life used to be like

August 17, 2020

For the longest time, I have shunned nostalgia. Which is not the same as avoiding old pop culture (or non pop) products.  One of the first books I remember reading and enjoying was Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles and one of the first Hindi songs I remember loving was Pukarta Chala Hoon Main (Tamil was different as I was lapping up then contemporary works of Raja and Rahman). I have absolutely no problem with ‘old’ art because art isn’t old or new, it’s just an act of expression at a point of time.

But, getting back to nostalgia, the last few years have made me reminisce what life used to be like.  I don’t want to say life was better then (albeit it was, in a way, which I will get to), but the thought occurred to me that it’s time for those of us who grew up in the 90s to start writing about it.  To stop being in denial and accept we are adults 😉 and old enough to ‘reminisce’. 😦

This isn’t just going to be about all the things we did in the 90s that we don’t have to do/don’t get to do anymore.

I am going to talk instead about my journey as an observer, an onlooker of rapid change.  The transformation apace in India made it a very exciting time to live through.  It’s possible that in some sense, the transformation in smaller cities in recent years has been equally exciting but the time I speak of was before our metros got clogged and overburdened beyond control (not that they weren’t already overburdened at that time).

I am just about old enough to remember when we didn’t have a computer.  My late grandfather got a 286 ( 286 Mhz! Yes!) around 1992-93.  There was not much I could do with this so-not-user-friendly computer but I did get to play Pacman.

Music was exclusively consumed on cassette or radio. There was a Videocon TV with only 12 channels and a Videocon washing machine that didn’t have a timer. We had both till 1999, go figure.  The fridge was Godrej.  When foreign brands didn’t offer cheap options, you bought Indian by default. Did Indian brands somewhere get the branding wrong, or did they fail to stay abreast of improvements in technology in consumer durables?  Oh, my air conditioner is still a Voltas.

Oh, what did we watch on TV?  I don’t remember the exact timelines but until 93 or so, we had just DD National, DD Metro (now dead) and a pirate channel run by the local cable operator which would broadcast movies in terrible print, with ads that covered up all but the core of the TV screen.  Then, Zee came in with Hindi programming. And Star TV.

The programming of Star TV was very different from today.  The sitcoms of the day were Bold And The Beautiful, Santa Barbara, Picket Fences, LA Law.  AND British classics like Yes Minister, Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes.

Today, it would make no sense whatsoever to excitedly watch reruns of old American and British series.  But when you don’t have wiki to tell you just how old they are and you have never had the chance to watch such programming all these years on your TV, you don’t complain over such trifles.

Speaking of, anybody remember deferred live?  I do. One particularly memorable instance of it was when Star TV was showing Agassi v/s Chang at the Australian Open LIVE with really good picture quality.   But Agassi was off colour and it turned into a boring display of attritional baseline tennis (who knew then that that would describe 90% of ATP tennis today!).  We switched to DD where a deferred live telecast of Becker v/s Woodforde was underway.  We barely saw anything of the ball as the two got to net more often (or so it seemed) in GAMES than Agassi and Chang in entire SETS, but we loved it.

As we moved into the late 90s, the first truly radical changes to our way of life happened. We got our first Windows PC with a Pentium 1000 processor.  Soon, we also got a VSNL internet connection.  It was so slow that internet over a 2G datapack would fare better than it, seriously.  But again, when you have NEVER had internet at all, you appreciate whatever internet you get. We got our first audio CD, a Kishore Kumar-RD Burman compilation.  I am not sure we fully appreciated it because you could only play it on PC speakers then (there were no CD stereo systems yet, at least none that we could afford) which didn’t offer the most amazing sound quality.

This was also the period when at least moderately swanky cars and cars in all sorts of varieties began to appear on the roads in middle class areas and in distant suburbs.  En route to Thane from Kalyan (where I lived then) via the Bhiwandi Bypass, you could see cars like Daewoo’s Cielo.  What Daewoo?  What Cielo? Google it man! 😉  Of course…YOU didn’t have a car and YOU were in a hired Ambassador.  During that period, the changes underway were sometimes, if not often, out of your reach.  But even to see Cielos, Ford Escorts, Opel Astras and Honda Citys on the road was exciting when you could count the models on the fingers of two hands before – 800, Zen, Esteem, Ambassador, Padmini, 118 NE and Contessa (very occasionally).  The most successful personal vehicle segment today – the SUV – didn’t even exist then – you had straight up Jeeps like the Mahindra Jeep, the Commander or Maruti Gypsy. The Sumo would join their ranks soon as well.

The life that we led then in the suburbs would be regarded as impossibly dreary today (though we didn’t know it then, because us kids played and played, mothers were busy with running the household as they still are and fathers came home from work to unwind to TV programmes and/or music. )  Anything exotic meant a trip to the city (meaning downtown Mumbai coming up to Dadar/Matunga).  And that could mean something like looking for an audio cassette of K L Saigal hits.  Listen to this: my uncle living in Chicago is a huge fan of Saigal and asked if we could get a cassette of his hits.  We looked for it in a couple of music stores in Dadar with no luck.  We finally found it only in Rhythm House.  We asked if we could get to play the tape (because so often you would get a cassette home and play only to hear that dreaded off key sound that told you the tape was spoiled) but they said their policy wouldn’t permit it and asked us to rely on them as it was, after all, Rhythm House.  I am happy to report they didn’t let us down.  Not that it matters because Rhythm House is dead! Oh well.

My first taste of liquor-tinged chocolate was also in South Mumbai.  At the Central Plaza theater in Girgaum. We went over there to watch Lost World and paid what was then a princely sum of Rs.80 for lower stall tickets.  When I say lower stall, it was the first or second row!  But the theater had the aforesaid chocolates among its food offerings to taste during the intermission.  And it brought on yet another attack of bronchitis for poor me, but I didn’t regret it.

More changes had been afoot during this time.  Star TV made way for focused channels to cater to Hindi and English audience.  Star Plus which had sitcoms whose sole concern wasn’t saas-bahu intrigue.  Saboot was the favourite at our home of all these offerings.  It was a whodunit with a twist in the conceit – you saw the murderer commit the crime and THEN this diminutive female police officer who was as persistent as a bloodhound would investigate the crime and keep asking questions, first to others, then to the one you already knew was the murderer.  And the questions kept getting more and more uncomfortable as she drew closer to the truth.  The show worked brilliantly even though you knew who had committed the crime and you knew she would get to the murderer in the end.  Would that our mainstream TV programming had even this level of creativity to offer today!

But the more exciting development – both for me and my grandfather in particular – was Star Movies.  Now you could watch movies any time of the day on a channel that showed nothing but movies. Imagine that!  😀  Oh, when such seemingly small pleasures meant the world to us. But let me tell you that the catalog of Star Movies alone then was far better than all the English movie channels put together today.  You know why?  Because they were less risk averse.  So you could watch oddball films that hadn’t exactly set the box office on fire.  And even if you didn’t enjoy all of them, you got exposed to different genres, different styles of filmmaking. It’s where I watched movies like Dead Zone, Phenomenon or The Edge.  If you haven’t watched them, google them and check out their subjects.  And keep them in mind next time somebody mouths a truism that isn’t really true like “oh, all plots, all conceits have been exhausted”.

In 2001, we moved to Vashi which immediately upgraded our lifestyle significantly just by being there.  In Kalyan, we didn’t dare eat out and if you saw what those places looked like, you would agree too. We could now go out frequently. The company too offered a car to my father as the driving distance from Vashi to his Lower Parel office would be within their fuel allowance limits.  I discovered the existence of expensive coffee chains like Cafe Coffee Day and Barista (also dead). I did not enjoy the taste of cappuccino then and do not now but the notion that you could be with a friend and take your own sweet time to sip coffee in comfortable, air conditioned environs was itself so new then. Likewise, bookstores like Oxford (again…I don’t need to mention its fate) in Churchgate allowed you to just get a book off the shelf and read for a while before you decide to purchase it.  And you could return without purchasing anything at all.  That was a level of trust retailers had never shown before and that felt…revolutionary.

By 2003, Navi Mumbai had its first mall, Centre One.  Its original avatar has since downed shutters and reopened to tenuous existence…whether this existence will re-exist post covid-19 is anybody’s guess. I got to borrow my mother’s mobile phone when I went to a coaching class in Ghatkopar every evening. By 2003, we had also enjoyed our first ride on the Mumbai-Pune expressway.

We didn’t notice, I think, when the end of our (my generation’s) innocence happened.  When you’re on a treadmill of rising aspirations, you don’t stop to take a look and notice something odd.  But in retrospect, that moment was the Gateway blasts in 2003.

There were two repercussions of the blast.  Gateway became a high security zone and could no longer be a venue for live events.  As a Mumbaiite, it is hard not to remember the blasts every time I watch this video (and, as a music lover, I watch it often):

But the more significant consequence of the incident was it exposed what news reporting in India had become.  Every news channel reported wildly different death tolls and none, I repeat none, got it right. This was the moment that exposed clearly that information had become a mere commodity for those who professed to bring you the news, that getting there first mattered more, far more, to them than getting to the truth.  When you could not completely rely on what news channels reported, it was hard not to become cynical. It is why I am somewhat unsympathetic when I hear liberals of a certain stripe moan about fake news in the age of Trump (and Modi).  Darling, that train left the station long ago and you didn’t notice.  Maybe because you had a good life then and a world order that was agreeable to your worldview?

This combination of rising cynicism AND rising aspirations (along with improving abilities of the market to provide the consumer what he seeks) has marked developments since then.  I took my first flight in 2006 and it was a memorable experience for me, particularly because T1 as we know it had come into being. But it was also in 2006 that I returned home from work to face angry parents who were upset I hadn’t received any of their multiple calls (the phone was in my pocket and I couldn’t hear it ring in the noisy bus).  The reason?  There had been a blast in a local train in rush hour, right around the time I had been returning home.

In 2007, I attended a rock show for the first time and had made it two by the end of the year (Iron Maiden, first, then Scorpions). But the 26/11 blasts in 2008 drove big bands away for quite some time from Mumbai.  And by the time Mumbai became less unsafe again, big band rock was either not in great health anymore or was overbooked in America and Europe with no need for an India outreach. And you know what Barkha Dutt did whilst reporting on 26/11.

At some point, the dam has burst and the cynicism has been replaced by anger, by fury.  I do not think the fury is all bad.  Even if you think – as I do – that the conspiracy theories floating around Sushant Singh Rajput’s death are wild, unless you are on the take, you probably agree that the debate around nepotism and the industry’s unprofessional practices is a much needed one.  It is good that we care.  But is it so good when a Union Minister incites a mob to fire bullets at protesters in crass, expletive-laden Hindi?  Again, if you stepped back a little from whataboutisms, you would agree with me that what a minister cannot do, at least in principle, is to tell people to take law into their own hands.  Just the same as you cannot say the mob wouldn’t have rioted and destroyed property in the city they live in had somebody who purportedly made an offensive Facebook post been arrested ‘in time’.

And that is partly the purpose of recounting what I have.  As I said, mine isn’t the nostalgia of ‘going back to those days’. No, my purpose with this recollection is to show that there was a time not so long ago when we were, if not happy, at least a lot less angry as a people with  a lot less.  Materially, our lot has not got worse since then; it has improved.  I remember when there was no JJ Flyover, no Eastern Freeway, no T2, no metro, no air conditioned Volvo buses being operated by city transport undertakings.  No 4G Data, no streaming, no ecommerce.  No malls at all, forget about malls as big, as awesome as Seawood Central. The Windows PC I mentioned?  It cost the same, in 90s rupees at that, as a decent notebook (I mean the little brother of the laptop, to be clear).  Think about that.  Think about everything that we take for granted that didn’t even exist not so long ago.

And…that’s all.  Not going to issue any judgments, any ‘pearls of wisdom’ (!).  You’re probably an adult, just like me. You need no advice.  But if I have at least made you pause and introspect, I will consider my job done.

 

 

What I think about cancel culture

July 9, 2020

I probably shouldn’t write this.  On social issues, I am very libertarian.  Like, live your life however you want as long as you respect the law, and it’s none of my business. Because anything I say now about cancel culture will be conjoined at the hip with J K Rowling.  If you don’t believe me, that was the fate that befell the signatories of the open letter in defence of free speech published on Harper’s.

But I have been thinking about why I have strong views on this issue.  And about the question I get that do I think free speech means freedom from consequences?

The answer to that question is clearly, no.  Yes, you have every right to engage me without your tone being policed.  Even if you are wrong, you have the right to call me a bigot.  Because that comes with the territory. Free speech.

But I don’t believe people would be talking about cancel culture if it was just that.

Two incident documented here and here suggest it’s much more than that.

The firing of David Shor in particular shook me at my very core.  Back in 2009, I had dreamed of pursuing a PhD in economics and had been advised that my pursuit would be better served if I did so abroad rather than in India.  But with the meltdown then in full swing, people already stuck in UK and US warned me not to take the leap and I didn’t.  And I reflect today that had I done so, I could have been David Shor, fired for a totally innocuous communication only because I would have been employed in one of the occupations that appear particularly vulnerable to cancel culture (though not the only ones, see the other example) – writers, journalists, academics and think-tank operatives.

For perspective, I still live in India, an India that was already in the grip of a prolonged recession except as per official stats even before covid and whose political situation is what it is.  But these are problems I know how to deal with or at least am aware of.  Had you told me in 2009 that there would emerge a culture in America, of all places, that would force me to watch my back lest I get fired with no second chances even if I don’t say anything wrong and am simply misconstrued, I would have simply refused to believe you.  On a side note, you are going to ask why am I poking my nose in American matters if I don’t have skin in the game and my answer to that is, no, I do have and I am not going to tell you how and why as I am entitled to keep that private.

But let’s get back to the crux of it: being fired with no second chances.

The idea that it should be ok, in all cases indiscriminately, for someone to be fired with no second chances, no opportunity to present your side, no opportunity either to apologize and/or delete the tweet or social media post in question, is, quite simply, draconian and frightening.

Yes, it does not violate the First Amendment.  But it is not the First Amendment that makes a society free.  It is a tolerance of diverse opinions that does.  Otherwise, only the President and other politicians would enjoy First Amendment protections.  And that’s where America seems to have got to. The President can ask four Congresswomen to go back to their countries and nobody can do anything about it because he is the President.  But if David Shor shares a study that suggests peaceful protests help liberals in elections and riots help conservatives, he is a bigot and should be fired even if he apologizes or takes back his tweet (and he did apologize)?  I hope at least juxtaposing the two things in the way that I have helps you understand why this is mad.

Back to tolerance.  No, tolerance does not mean I am saying you are to tolerate my bigoted opinions.  Tolerance means only that you tolerate the notion that a person may make a mistake and should be given an opportunity to make amends.  Now, does saying the N word come under those ‘mistakes’?  I don’t think so.  And I think if we apply a bit of common sense, it is easy enough to separate blatantly bigoted expressions from those that are only being construed as such via a particular interpretation.

It behooves corporations to undertake due process before firing somebody for such a reason.  Allow the person to show the entire conversation and make their case and then, independently judge whether it could at least be construed as a bonafide mistake.  If the person has made a mistake, ask them to apologize and remove the tweet/post.

If a person has a habit of saying blatantly bigoted things and then apologizing and deleting them when caught, have a three strikes rule so nobody gets to take undue advantage of tolerance.

What I am saying: there are practical ways to address this in a way that it does not start to resemble censorship imposed through the instrument of corporate power.  Corporations themselves ought to consider such approaches in the first place.  (Perhaps, they don’t because they enjoy being ceded so much power by the left.  Hoo boy, companies get to decide what people should say…couldn’t ask for anything better, from a corporate perspective. )

BUT it also behooves the militant, activist online left to consider such approaches on their own part.  Yes, you can hound a person and their employer until the employer decides the person is a hot potato and drops them like one. But just because you can doesn’t mean it is right, from a moral perspective.  So don’t feel too morally uppity about yourself; it’s possible that in your zealousness, you may have destroyed someone’s life and hopefully you are still able to sleep tight in the knowledge that you did.

A large part of what makes us human is indeed that we are not perfect.  Best not to destroy that imperfection by attempting to impose a moral language code, especially if it’s quite possible that in the fullness of time, said code will consume you as well.  It is hard to visualize that in your teens, in your twenties but when today’s normal speech becomes the bigotry of the 2040s and your tweets from back in 2020 can be used against you?  What then?

To conclude, I repeat, a framework where what one tweets does not come without consequences but where the ‘offender’ is given ample opportunity to explain themselves or to make amends and demonstrate regret before the ultimate consequence of parting them from their livelihood, might be the way to go. It will not deliver instant gratification to the twitter mob but life is not lived in an instant and a life’s work should not be wiped out in an instant either, not unless demonstrably good cause exists to justify doing so.

PS: If you want to troll me for posting a Reason.com link, please don’t waste your time.  The Nymag article about Shor is how I came to know about it and I could have posted that instead. I did not because these are precisely the kind of needy grievances I have come to detest.  I am not spreading anything, other than information, by posting those links.

USA in Trump times

September 22, 2018

I resurrect a dead blog…to write again about a visit to the USA.  The last time (and my first time there) was in 2014, in the middle of Barack Obama’s second term.  Much has changed since then, and particularly since, of course, 2016.  A measure of just how much had changed is that when my aunt invited me to come over, I asked, as discreetly as I could, if it was safe.  In that moment, I truly understood where travel advisories issued about safety in India came from. As one from an ethnicity that is in the minority in the US, I felt less certain in the wake of all that had been said and done through the course of a fractious and polarising election and its aftermath…even though I KNOW quite a few of my relatives and friends live there and have reported no reason to worry so far.

I needn’t have worried too much, though, because my itinerary took me to (mostly) blue country throughout (just like last time by the way) – Chicago where my aunt lives, Niagara and Washington DC.  Of these, Niagara county flipped for Trump after years of voting for Democrats, though.  Whilst we walked through Niagara on a very hot afternoon (only mango lassi from an Indian street vendor – 2/3 in Indian style – bailed us out) looking for a place to eat, somebody we asked for directions advised us not to go to a particular part of Niagara.  Was it because of crime issues or was it because it was Trump country?  We could only wonder.

It was in DC, though, that the full import of the Trump presidency hit home – through the overwhelming opposition/disdain towards it from residents and visitors.  Our guide for the free tour of Capitol indulged in many a sly dig at Trump’s expense.  Sample this:  while describing the amount of violence that ensued between Congressmen when Congress was in session in the 19th century, he said that most of us cannot imagine something like this today.  He went on to speculate, “But can that change in the future?”  And smiled naughtily as he shrugged.  While explaining the painting described as Apothesis of Washington that adorns the ceiling of the rotunda, he said that it was meant to depict democracy as something akin to religion in USA, adding that the right to vote is something we have to take very seriously.

A much less subtle message was rammed home on our last day in DC.  On the previous two days, the weather as well as our exhaustion from touring the sprawling Museum of American History had forced us to postpone our walk down to the White House (or about as close to it as security arrangements would let us get to it).  On the last day, my aunt had decided she wanted to spend a couple more hours at the American History Museum, having spent all of the previous day there already (and yes, it DOES deserve that much time, if not more) and we were headed to the Spy Museum.  With our Circulator Bus getting held up for too long at the Lincoln Memorial, we decided against getting down at the Monument bus stop to walk down to the Ellipse.  But the driver stopped the bus there and said you could walk 10 minutes to get a good view of White House from the front and offered anybody who wished to see it to get down here.  She repeated her appeal twice, thrice and none of the (mostly White and many possibly European visitors) passengers in the bus got down.  The genial and venerable African American lady burst out laughing saying, “Nobody wants to see the White House?”

Speaking of African Americans, there was heightened consciousness this time about what it meant to be an African American in the USA.  My cousin (aunt’s daughter) had me read Ta Nehisi Coates’ Between The World And Me (which was brilliant and, indeed, felt like the ghost of James Baldwin had somehow gotten into Mr Coates). We were frequently invited, if not exhorted, to see the new Museum of African American History in DC.  Another item we could not tick off in our 3 1/2 day stay in that magnificent city, along with the American Indian Museum, the National Art Gallery, the Natural History Museum and so on.  And Circulator bus drivers as well as cabbies discussed the African American condition with us.

They asked me whether we in India were racist (not in as many words) and discriminated on colour (this, they did ask straight out).  Didn’t tell them the truth and instead told them what I personally believe in (which is non discrimination).  Should I have?  I don’t know.  Besides, they probably already knew and were just having fun putting us on the spot.

As in my previous visit, I found many who were incredibly eager to help.  From a co passenger on Lufthansa who offered me her headphones when the flight attendant forgot to hand the inflight headphone package to me only for me to report with embarrassment that I already had my own pair of headphones but was only trying to see if I could, like a typical Indian, get a freebie I was entitled to. To a volunteer at an information center just outside the Smithsonian metro station who generously gave us her HUGE umbrella to run across to a store across the road to buy ourselves umbrellas (it was POURING that evening at DC). To the Circulator Bus drivers who waived off the $1 ticket (no idea why) and ushered us in.

Squaring this country with the one that voted for Trump seems a confounding exercise.  Was it that from the outside I did not understand everything about Trump and what the people who voted him into power saw in him that we do not (just the way we voted for Modi, right?)?  Or was it that I should have gone to Trump country to find out?  Should I have?  Would it have been safe?

Bhai verdict: The day Bollywood lost its marbles

May 8, 2015

Bollywood is fond of justifying the, ahem, quality of its mass market films with the pompous “We know what the people (as opposed to pretentious critics, ostensibly) want and we give it to them” line.  But the reactions to the verdict in the 2002 hit-and-run case involving Salman Khan suggest they know very little, if anything, about “the people”.

A sessions court finally pronounced its verdict in the aforesaid case and found Salman Khan guilty of culpable homicide.  Farah Khan, wife of Zayed Khan (and not the Farah Khan you’re probably thinking of), compared the verdict to holding a train driver guilty for running over people who were illegally crossing the tracks.  Singer Abhijeet pretty much condemned ‘illegal’ pavement and road dwellers to a dog’s death and said he used to sleep on the platforms of railway stations when he was homeless.  First off, you are not supposed to squat on railway stations either.  Secondly, while sleeping on the pavement may be illegal, driving over the pavement is, too, if one follows his argument.  Lastly, a word about the legality or otherwise of some of the activities of some members of the Bollywood fraternity might be pertinent here?

In their outpouring of support for Salman Khan (understandable in a realpolitik sense, perhaps, even if cringeworthy) and the utter condescension they expressed to their victims, Bollywood unwittingly unmasked itself.  Behind the curtain of entertainment with its adorable performers was ugly, stinking elitism of the worst kind.  Even if some Bollywood biggies originally hailed from backgrounds not dissimilar to that of the victims in the Bhai case, they made it clear on Wednesday that they had long since forgotten (perhaps forsaken) their roots and staunchly identified themselves with the upper crust of society.

What might be the repercussions of this?  Bollywood has had a bad time lately, salvaged only by the stupendous success of PK.   Maybe their reactions to the Bhai verdict offer a clue as to why.  Those who are completely out of touch with the masses and indeed deride the same ‘unwashed’ folk that flock to cinema halls cannot understand what it takes to entertain them.    No, reacting in a despicable way to justice being served on one of their fraternity won’t lose Bollywood all its patrons.  But it may just add a fresh layer of cynicism to the star-fan relationship.  Is it really worth idolizing an entitled douchebag just because he/she is attractive?   Whereas stars considered advertisements beneath their dignity in the 70s, today they use every trick in the book, every possible channel, be it internet, social media or the traditional media like TV/press, to remain in the limelight 24/7.  Again, perhaps, the above is part of the reason why this has become necessary.

What of the masses themselves?   It would appear that Bhai-_____s have yet to give up the faith.  Be that as it may, cinema lovers may not easily repose so much faith in a movie star in the foreseeable future.  Is this perhaps a “best of times and worst of times” moment for India?  This is, as  I said, a moment where the Indian elite stands ruthlessly unmasked and exposed, their disdain for the have nots never more plainly evident.

Is India still gonna be turning right? Your guess is as good as mine.

India in the era of andh wishwash

March 22, 2015

In these social networked times, it is possible to move around in circles one is comfortable with, read or watch only those mags, books, programmes and movies that suit one’s tastes (rather than watch certain kinds of stuff to fit in with a larger social group) and not feel isolated.  Per chance, an  encounter with the physical dimension can nevertheless bring home the reality with a resounding thud…and provoke thought.

Yours truly was whammed in the face with ground reality yesterday as I took a walk with my wife on the so called ‘Mini Seashore’, an artificial holding pond by the creek side in Vashi.  Along the jogging track, the municipal corporation had put up large boards with pictorial depictions of birds like….jungle crow, sparrow, myna, bulbul, robin, king fisher, flower pecker, kite, etc.  No boards to depict pigeons, by the way.

And yet, guess which bird was seen in the greatest numbers along with the humble crow?  Yup, the marauding pigeon.  I must surely not be the only one to have noticed that Mumbai is overrun with pigeons over the last few years.  And birds that I could once spot on the gallery or balcony (depending on which reference you are familiar with) like sparrows or mynas are seen more and more infrequently.

One of the causes of this is rising pollution.  But the other is the pigeons driving everybody else away, except, again, the nimble crows.  For example, said mini seashore is a much sought after green lung of the satellite city of Navi Mumbai.  Pollution is not necessarily the problem there and I have known the place to be less pigeon-infested even very recently.

What’s changed is somebody decided to use the roof of a public water dispenser to lay out grains for the pigeons to feed on.  We were talking about it and my wife mentioned some superstition by which the pigeon is regarded as a harbinger of good luck.  Now I am about as well versed in superstition as the evil Westerners are about the prowess of ancient Indian science…ahem.  So whether it is a harbinger of good luck or bad luck I wouldn’t know and wouldn’t hazard a guess.

What I can nevertheless observe is the proliferation of this ill conceived fad of feeding pigeons.  Where there was the one Kabutar Khana outside Dadar Station, there is now khana everywhere for ’em lucky ones.  It is questionable whether this fad is based on any reasonable logic and it certainly also imposes human intervention on the ways of nature…with very visible consequences.

The pigeon here is just a microcosm, a symbol of the changes sweeping across India, in which the heartland seems to have come to the metro.  Hurray for national integration, then!  Should I have seen it coming with the grand success of Kyunki saas…and its many mutations?  Should I have seen it coming with the success of several programmes devoted to astrology and the like on news channels?  Absolutely and I would say that I did.  But that I was able to maintain indifference and irreverence towards these changes until the thought of having to only spot robins on pictorial depictions hit me.

If you, whomsoever you may be, have read thus far and not found it a wholly insufferable piece, you must be a kindred mind.  The question then is what does one realistically do in such a scenario?  You cannot hope to have much success with convincing those who have convinced themselves that India did indeed invent everything under the sun before Mahmud of Ghazni stole our scientists away.  You can choose to join them and together all the flock of sheep may merrily sing, “Let us bray!!!”

Or you can choose what I had been doing ere the pigeon interlude and intend to continue to do so.  Stick to your guns but don’t fire them.  Be yourself but no need to trumpet it to the world.  After all, in the land of offended andh wishwash, said act could land you in jail.  But there is strength in numbers. Exert your choice.  Watch the programmes you find interesting.  Don’t just make a mental note to watch it while instead you forward the same cliched joke on whatsapp.  Read the stuff that stimulates your mind.  And share it to kindred minds.  These minds may in turn stumble upon other kindred minds.  And so the chain multiplies.

Consider that in the land of scientology, shows like House of Cards or The Americans are hugely successful.  Or that, the anti superstition PK apart, Bolly has been having a phenomenally bad run lately.  So there is hope…if you trust the power of the markets and overcome your very Indian obligation to please one and all.  You have no obligation to please a bunch of superstitious, jingoistic nuts.  Make your own road, fuel your own reality and let it compete with theirs.  Aa dekhe zara kis mein kitna hai dum.

P.S:  I do profusely apologise for the overload of snark.  But, you see, we the ‘anti patriots’ have feelings too and it is difficult not to feel at least a bit irritated by the deafening ‘I am offended’ brigade.  So please allow me the right to offend you a wee bit more, can’t possibly hurt.

Notes on the US of A

May 18, 2014

Spent two weeks at my aunt and uncle’s place in Chicago, USA (and they were very, very hospitable) and observed many aspects of life in USA which differ significantly from India.  Some are probably well known and well discussed but others seem to escape the eye of Indians visiting USA as I had not been led to expect it and was surprised.  Rather than write long paras on it, I would like to make a laundry list of these aspects.  At the outset, I should also mention that we (self and parents) visited New York City and Niagara Falls on a 3 day trip all by ourselves without any relatives living in USA accompanying us.  So we were much more dependent on the co-operation and kindness of native Americans to make our visit enjoyable.  Here goes:

1.  First off, most of the Americans I met were, contrary to the widely publicised stereotype, very helpful.  We asked for directions about a thousand times in NY, either on the streets or in subway stations and were never refused help nor spoken to rudely (ok, just one shopkeeper who didn’t know about a particular place and got irritated when my dad persisted with questions).  On our flight from Buffalo to Chicago, a co-passenger swapped seats with me so I could be close to my parents and he did so without my asking at all.  Just for info, he was white.

2. Continuing on the above thread, nobody pushed or shoved in the crowded NY subway trains.  People waited patiently for passengers to alight from trains or from stairways.  The silence inside trains was a deafening contrast to Mumbai.  A similar silence is also noticed on the streets, even in the business district and honking is a rare indulgence partaken only when absolutely necessary.

3.  Speaking of Mumbai, it is a joke to compare Mumbai to NY as Indians are fond of doing and I say this as someone who has grown up in Mumbai and lived here for 25 years.  They may be the financial capitals of their respective nations and have lots of skyscrapers and a dense population but that’s where the similarity ends.  At best, it could be said that NY is the city Mumbai could have been.  Its architecture has an aesthetically appealing uniformity and integrity that Mumbai lost long ago.  It is far more stylish and glamorous. The beautiful Central Park occupies the centre of Manhattan, providing a much needed relief from congestion that SoBo sorely lacks.  Above all, it is very much walkable.  Ask us.  We walked miles and miles and saved taxi fare and the wide, well maintained pavements and clean air made the experience immensely enjoyable.

4.  The air is markedly different from Mumbai or any of the other Indian big cities for that matter.  That is not something I had expected.  Indians talk about the sheer wealth and beauty of cities in advanced nations but not so much the environment.  I took long walks in the neighbourhood of the Chicago suburb I spent time in, as also in downtown Chicago, Manhattan and Niagara.  At all times, the air was very inviting and demanded breathing in.  The water is also pure and people in USA drink it off the tap, no packaged water.  It made me feel fresh in the mornings even after only 4-5 hours of sleep on some days.  In fact I would wake up feeling I had slept like a log only to find it was just the early hours of morning yet, say 5 or 6 AM.  In suburban neighbourhoods, a variety of trees, flowers, birds and even small mammals like hares can be spotted frequently.  Our cities are not fit for animals other than us humans and maybe crows and dogs to live in.  What does that say about their condition?

5. American airports (I passed through O Hare, La Guardia, JFK and Buffao) are efficient and comfortable but are acquiring an old look, compared to the spanking new T2 terminal in Mumbai.  It underlined a certain cost consciousness that I repeatedly encountered in USA (cue also the ageing, noisy coaches in the NY subway).  They don’t necessarily splurge money thoughtlessly all the time; in fact they are careful to spend money only where it is absolutely required.  The airport security systems are way more advanced than in Indian airports for instance.

6.  What instead sets apart these airports and many other US public places is the proactive attitude of staff in sharp contrast to India.  At O Hare, new counters would be opened as if by magic to handle high load of passengers at the security check so we never had to stand for too long in queues.  Staff doing the examination were cheerful and relaxed.  In general, people in US, well, the three cities we spent time in anyway, are relaxed and cheerful and don’t wear the permanent scowl so familiar in India.  They are also looking to save time for the customer and themselves all the time, an attitude that is not often noticed in India.

7. Lastly, it is possible to do a lot of things with trust as the basis in USA.  It may be a materialist society but it is not, at least at the ground level, a devious, thieving one.  For instance, we paid twice the normal fee to a guy representing New York Skyride in exchange for faster passage to the observatory at Empire State Building.  Having done so, we wondered if we were being had.  Not only did he keep his word and get us to the top pronto, he also gave us tickets to an entertaining 4D presentation on NYC which he hadn’t even included in his sales pitch.  We leaned on the staff (Chinese) at our hotel in Flushing, Queens to arrange private cabs to the Ganesh temple in said locality and they charged a reasonable fare even though we were in a weak position (metered yellow cabs are as rare as white tigers in Queens).  The folks at Buffalo airport arranged a cab to Niagara, the fare for which was less than the total shuttle fare for three passengers, and voila it was a Lincoln Town Car, the biggest sedan I have ever traveled in.  In fact, people seemed to derive pleasure and pride in arranging great deals for a customer.  That is the way to build relationships and make a great impression on a first time visitor to a city or a country.  Of all the positive aspects of USA, this is the one thing our penny wise pound foolish service providers or store owners can and should imbibe first and foremost.  Remember that for a tourist visiting the country, you are effectively an advertisement and a brand ambassador for a nation.  He/she is unlikely to forget a bad experience in his/her dealings with you and probably will project it on his/her larger impressions of the nation.  And equally, he/she will be grateful for your assistance and will return with fond memories and recommend visiting the country to his/her friends.

As I am going to, to my friends in India.  Go, check out the USA.  It will provide a different perspective and, if you happen to be a jingoist, will probably cure you of said malady.

Random scribblings…

December 30, 2007

First, a few words of comfort for ‘stunned’ and ‘shocked’ Team India fans….first of all, don’t be…it’s fucking Australia, they haven’t lost a home rubber since roughly 1992 or so which was to Richie Richardson’s mighty Windies. Secondly, you would do well to recall that in the 2001 rubber, it was the bowlers who resisted the Aussie charge in the opener in Mumbai and the batsmen who capitulated twice. We won later in Chennai and Kolkata because both bat and ball fired in unison. Even the test match win in Adelaide depended as much on Kumble and Agarkar’s performances as Dravid’s and VVS’s. Thirdly, just check out their domestic circuit matches and then our Ranji matches to get a reality check. For us, playing wonderfully is a celebratory event, for them, it’s business. When we do overcome them, it’s a miracle, mate and miracles don’t happen all the time.

Hmm…. there’s not much to say about Madame Bhutto’s assassination, except that by and large, the coverage of her whole campaign to return to power and then the ultimate untimely death by our English TV media, particularly NDTV, has been rather disappointing. She may have been chanting the Indi-Paki bhai-hai mantra in interviews this year, but back in the 90s, when she was in power, I distinctly remember she was looked upon as the enemy, the hardliner, the threat. More measures to break the ice have been undertaken in the General’s regime (though he has arguably done much more to fight proxy ‘jehadi’ war in Kashmir…in fact India??) than in her time. Don’t people get it, she was just playing to the gallery, as any consummate politician would….much like Metallica want to go back to their roots. Why??? Not because they finally heard their fans, but because United Abominations, A Matter of Life And Death, Enter the Grave all these albums have sold well, it’s cool to be heavy metal again..and St Anger isn’t exactly what gives Korn sleepless nights anyway!!! Has our media become so base, so opportunistic, so vulture-like that anybody in power who is assassinated automatically becomes a martyr – the Kurt Cobain syndrome, eh?? A word for Dr.Roy, as Prannoy Roy sometimes calls himself: your channel, right or wrong, is perceived as pro-Pak in a country of Indians….and now, you are seemingly proving all those believed so to be right. Of course, good ol’ journalism comes first, but um…do take care of the TRPs…we can’t afford the risk of “Sansani” sweeping the English TV media in NDTV’s hypothetical absence.

The other day, I read an ad in the newspaper for a grand do at Sahara Star, Vile Parle. Apparently, Mika Singh, Tanushree Dutta (or is it Datta) and Shakeel are coming over. One look at the price of the passes made my mouth open wider than I would have laughing over Shakeel’s jokes. Fucking 11500?? And I thought the threat of 7500 passes for Scorpions was insane??? Seriously, how much more overpriced can you get, guys?? And then I read between the lines: it is possible that all the ads for international rock gigs and their subsequent coverage in newspapers didn’t escape the attention of those outside the rock circuit. And possibly, looking at the thrilled faces of satisfied rock fans after a gig, they feel left out, envious even??? So here it is…event organisers, sensing the existence of such a market for so-called ‘rock shows’ organise a New Year’s Eve ‘rawk show’ for this market, except of course, Shakeel has to play Ozzy, Mika has to play umm…Hetfield, perhaps?? and Tanushree is going to be Shakira or Beyonce…because this new “I wanna rawk” crowd will find the real deal “too hot to handle” to quote UFO. To compensate for this slight problem is the price…they are paying much more, much much more than the average rock fan can afford for an evening’s noise…if it’s costlier, it got to be better right?? What of course is lost on them is that we get a kick out of the music, the sheer spectacle and not the money..if anything, a high ticket price is a deterrent!! 😛

Stop daydreaming, Mumbai!!!!

January 13, 2007

Vision 2020, Mumbai Vision, Roadmap for the future, Mumbai to Shanghai – daydreaming goes by many a monicker in Mumbai. Well, it happens to be the city of dreams, I guess!!! Anyway, horribly bad jokes apart, when I say Mumbai is daydreaming, I do not necessarily intend to slam the efforts to modernise the city, particularly its physical infrastructure, which has been gathering rust for donkey’s years now. Far from it, I think our vision for Mumbai is a muddled one, unclear about the city’s priorities, and hence likely to remain the stuff of dreams.

 To elaborate, Mumbai’s citizenry is unable to let go of the images by which it remembers its city and at the same time find it mighty difficult to rein in their heartburn after returning from a foreign trip and seeing and feeling the stark contrast.

 We would like BEST to never ever raise its fares, but we long for the airconditioned, air suspension comfort of a luxury bus. We think it’s mean of BMC to impose fines for spitting and littering, but we lament the fact that our city is so dirty. We like to recall how smooth the roads were abroad time and again, but we brazenly park our bikes and cars on still-being-laid concrete surfaces – and then, when they do not hold up in the monsoons, curse the BMC for doing a bad job. Like, what did you expect, anyway? We park cars on pavements and then crib at the lack of walking space on the pavements. We cry hoarse for subways and then, when they are actually built, still dare to cross the Eastern Express Highway at Pestom Sagar right under the nose of vehicles speeding down the flyover. Not only that, we cross in large groups, bringing the traffic to a halt, and on a different day, crib at the lack of discipline of pedestrians whilst ourselves sitting at the wheel. We want an end to new car registrations, but while the proposal is discussed ad nauseum by the govt, get ourselves our second, third or even fourth car. 

It’s not for me to take sides either way. I do not know for sure that it’s OK for Mumbai to remain poorly managed, unkempt and indisciplined. And I also do not know the exact benefits of modernising it on the lines of say Singapore. But I do know that if we are to modernise, we’ll have to make some sacrifices. If you want things to improve, something’s gotta give. You can add more and more flyovers and squeeze extra inches of road width, but unless the surge in the number of vehicles stops, traffic will continue to be a problem. If you can’t resist the near – involuntary urge to dump your Pepsi plastic cup on the pavement and just walk away, you will find those Pepsi cups staring back at you everywhere you go. It would be great to have new, airconditioned taxis with tamper-proof meters, but you can’t hope to pay the same fare as before.

 Prime minister Manmohan Singh said back in1991 as the then FM that there are no free lunches. Nearly seventeen years hence, we are still trying to run away from this reality. For me, this new-found squeamishness manifest in Mumbai is a real shocker. I have seen the city steadily decay through the 90s and watched the piles of garbage growing in size with every passing day. And then, the city managed to turn a corner with the new millenium. I can’t say things have improved, but they aren’t necessarily getting worse than before. At least for the moment, the rot seems to have been stemmed. 26/7 was a freak incident. At the end of the day, we have to agree that last year, the rains were indeed managed better with less disruptions and we made life more difficult for ourselves by getting paranoid everytime it poured.  Maitri Park isn’t getting cleaner by the day, but atleast it’s not getting dirtier. And yet, there’s a crib virus doing the rounds in the city which, more than anything else, makes life difficult for everybody around.

I don’t really get it: all these years, you loved this ‘dumpy’ place, but now you would like to see a change. Great! But what are you going to do about it? Take photos of the same road day after day to capture the change in pictures??? I hope something more concrete is in store. As for me, I am an outcast, a Navi Mumbaikar across the bridge and can only contribute by not adding to the pile of – shall we say it so – shit myself! Snap out of your stupor and decide which Mumbai you want and what you will do to that end. Let’s stop talking and get to work. No more roadmaps, please!!! We know our way around the city, thank you!!!!


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