Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ of Mumbai

I knew I was in Mumbai when I slept and woke up amidst noise of vehicles honking relentlessly and people talking their lungs away. It is the city that never sleeps. A fascinating city that lives in paradoxes! Where the most expensive house of the world co-exists with the world’s biggest slum, and pile of debris stares happily at the swanky malls. The city that allows people to dream- some of which get fulfilled, many remain unfulfilled. One can know the status of the dreams from the faces of the people who carry the burden of their dreams throughout their lives.

I happened to meet one such dream-laden face while travelling from Andheri to Goregaon in an auto. I had planned to take the local which would have been much faster but failed to push my way into the overcrowded compartments so ended up in an auto. The drive which is hardly 20 minutes long, took me an hour, thanks to the crawling Mumbai traffic. I started talking to the chatty autowallah. He had come to Mumbai from a town in UP to become an actor. He told me that he had acted in a couple of movies but since that was not enough to sustain him, he took up auto driving. He would still go to different studios whenever he managed to squeeze some time out. He harbored the dream of becoming a well known actor. A dream that I knew (and somewhere inside he too) was meant to remain unfulfilled in the city that waits for none.

Visit to Mumbai was incomplete without seeing the famous Bandra-Worli sea-link. So my sister and my brother-in-law took me and my parents for a drive there. The drive was meant to serve a purpose. A true mumbaikar, my brother-in-law was a little exasperated with my relentless comparison of Mumbai to Delhi with latter being labeled as better planned, less dirty, and having better infrastructure. He decided to take me to the posh south Bombay so that I could see the “true Mumbai”. The sea-link is undoubtedly an architectural wonder. A truly world class sea bridge, it is indicative of coming of age of India’s infrastructure sector.

We reached Worli after crossing the sea-link to see another architectural wonder, a 27-storied building meant for a family of five. Dubbed as the world’s most expensive house, it was a stark display of opulence. The entire building was lit up in lights of different colors and hue and stood out amongst other buildings in the vicinity that looked rather shoddy in its comparison. It served its purpose well!

It got me thinking again. In today’s materialistic world, size has acquired greater importance than ever before. Those who can, boast of their wealth in every way possible. I have no problems with that. People have a right to spend their money in whichever way they like. However, don’t the people who have such kind of money feel the need to use it for a social cause? Mumbai is probably one of the dirtiest cities of the world. If the big wigs of the city commit to spend a small percentage of their massive wealth for employing people to keep their city clean, it can create a great difference. It is a small thing that can bring about significant difference in the quality of life of the mumbaikars and also reduce the incidence of diseases.

The biggest capitalists of the US, which is the forerunner of capitalism, have decided to donate a significant portion of their wealth to various charities. I do not expect our industrialists to be as large hearted, but it would not create a dent in their assets if they pledge to create a pool of resources which can be used for various purposes.

Undoubtedly we have people like Narayan Murthy who are comparable to Gates and Buffet. However, we need more such people who can come up and be responsible industrial leaders. Gates-Buffet model seems a little too far-fetched for our country’s capitalists presently. But for now they can at least be expected to shoulder the responsibility of keeping their cities clean or do they fail to see the dirt from their high rise houses?

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