Monday, July 20, 2009

Minimum City

(Courtesy - Mario Miranda)
I keep telling myself that I will not rail against the city that has accompanied me for a greater part of my career but don’t blame me if I need to react after dear Devika goes on and on boisterously about Chicago. C’mon, isn’t it embarrassing that despite tall claims of being one among the fast growing economies in the world, we can’t even provide a decent infrastructure to the people who struggle to make it happen?

One of the first places that I saw when I landed in Mumbai (in 2004) was the Borivilli Railway Station. Now, feeling like a stranger in a new city can be expected but this was like the height of everything that I had seen in my life till that time-an avalanche of human flesh leeching the platform and storming every train that came by till I realized that if I had to reach office every day, I’d have to accept that if you were to live in Mumbai, you had to live this way.

Struggle is a way of life in these trains and I became a victim of self-pity for those 2 years when I used the Central Railway, in my daily sojourns from Powai to Lower Parel. My knees bore a major brunt of the stress that was imposed by scores of plebeians, who seemed to find some sadistic pleasure in venting their pressure on this hapless passenger, while the rest of the body went through such myriad convolutions that it substituted my need for exercise everyday (Of course, PP and I called the experience equivalent to jackivekkan every day in the train).

My next peak of pleasure was experiencing the turbulence of that wonderful station-Kurla –the Central-Harbour meeting point. God knows, how I have felt so small by this creation of HIS – a place so spectacularly unkempt and dirty that all my benchmarks of cleanliness were swept singularly off my table.

One day, when I was trying to get off the train while returning from Nerul, I could not do so and lo behold, some kind Samaritan decided to help me in no uncertain terms by giving me a nice little kick and I found myself lying flat on my stomach, parallel to the platform face and observing it at a very close range. But the humble man in me thanked HIM that no one had actually trampled me in this ocean of humanity – a Mumbai learning, be grateful and find happiness from such simple pleasures in life.

Till I witnessed this city at the age of 23, I was in awe about Mumbai. Danny Boyle had not made an entrance till then and the Internet revolution was slowly making its presence felt and I remained a youngster as exposed to the cleanliness of Mumbai as Indian batsmen to the swinging ball overseas.

Having come from a small and non-descript village in Kerala, where real estate prices are just as steep as the rising ball in Indian pitches and lived in a big Central Government accommodation all my life, I was suddenly thrown into the big, bad world of Mumbai’s housing scene. So, you had flats with sizes less than the size of the drawing room of my house but twice the rental – Christ, can there be a greater puncturing of one’s ego than living in such a place. But then, you take heart from the fact that you are the not the only one – just so many d***heads living together and sharing accommodation in each square tract of land.

So, with a decent regular bank account and savings, I struggle to find myself a good housing in Mumbai, while my family and peers in the rest of the World live dreams bigger than my flat. DJ arrives from Pondicherry and his first comment when he enters the flat is – Entha de, veedu thodangiya munpe thanne kazhinno?? (The house is finished before it even started). I feel small that I live in such a cramped place but at a healthy rent of 11,000, all I can manage is a 400 sq feet house (or it lesser?).

My brother in Bangalore pays a lesser rent and lives in a flat 3 times larger than this humble abode but when I cry hoarse lamenting for a 2 BHK or more space, fellow Mumbaikars wonder what’s wrong with me. They take a stroll into the house and congratulate for me for managing to get such a house (furnished accommodation) at such a price, in the heart of the city.

They just can’t figure what I would do with so much extra space – they’d rather believe that anything more than this can be made into another room. I have calculated that I am paying about Rs 27 per square feet here while bro pays about Rs 8.50 – wipes out all the differential income that my MBA is supposed to generate for me. But can’t blame them; Space is such a premium object here that if you find a house, especially, close to the office, then you are in the so-called lucky group – the group whose traveling time is less than an hour.

But what about my fundamental Right to Breathe? Colleagues have a smirk on their face when I talk about luxuries in life like Oxygen; probably, why actually businesses like Oxygen bars actually flourish. I am kind of scared at how the world actually would be for the Next Generation – breathing derivatives, maybe!!!

I remember Vir Sanghvi, in an article in the SUNDAY, saying how having lived in Mumbai and Kolkatta, he missed the happening feeling and crowds of Mumbai. Sorry, mate, I am not able to relate to this sense of nostalgia, where I am inundated by teaming millions from all places and if I dare to complain, my boss (I assume he is joking) remarks that half the credit for this population explosion is due to Non-Marathis like me who have taken away the opportunities of the poor Marathis..Tch..Tch…

Angst and gratitude lessons from Mumbai to be continued in future posts….

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