January 23, 2005

Ambujwadi 5: In search of Singapore

You see, says Mohammed Muslim Pathan as he walks around with me, you see, they want to make a Singapore of Bombay. That's why they are doing this. But that will be a Singapore only for VIPs. Not for poor people like us.

Something makes me stop as he says this. I want to look around to see if I can imagine this Bombay-as-Singapore of some future date.

I stand there in this moonscape, with the small clump of people who are walking with me, and do just that. Look around, all around. I see rubble. I see burned patches of ground. A destroyed and burned Hanuman temple, with the slightly charred idol of Hanuman lonely on a pile of bricks. Beyond, a raised pile of rubble that used to be a mosque. A cart with coloured drinks for sale in 2-liter Pepsi bottles. Scattered underfoot, a large collection of dry mango seeds. People everywhere, some sitting blankly, some picking through the debris, one offering me a battered formica-topped chair to sit on, another asking if she can bring me a drink. Dust and smoke in the air, through which I can see multi-storeyed middle-class blocks of flats in the middle distance.

I don't see Singapore.

Mohammed speaks again. You see, Dilip-bhai, our women go to those flats to wash dishes and clothes. Yet it's us they're getting rid of. Tell me, what will this Singapore be like?

I notice the two girls in a smashed hut nearby. They are washing dishes in a dirty brown liquid that, I must presume, once was water.

Yes Mohammed, what will this Singapore be like? What is this Bombay like, right now?


Anonymous said...

true to his communist core, the author dislikes any infrastructural improvement in Mumbai or in India either. What is the sorry state of roads and basic facilities in Mumbai? It doesn't matter, as long as you are concerned only about the illegally constructed slums. The common man who goes to office daily and has to traverse the pothole ridden, traffic congested roads is also a citizen of Mumbai. What about his concerns? Nope. Let's dislike improvement, so that tomorrow the conditions may be ripe for another peasant revolution, or we can import some maoists from bihar who are probably being left out in this new improvement drive. There is a shortage of electricity in the whole of western india, but let's oppose narmada dam along with medha behan who sees an MNC conspiracy in the drive for river-interlinking.

Dilip D'Souza said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dilip D'Souza said...

Ah, another simple-minded commenter. People disagree with me? Of course, it must be because they are communists, or "dislike any infrastructural improvements".

Do try to understand: the great "common man" you speak of so eloquently is likely to have far more in common with slum dwellers than with you. He worries about the roads and so forth too; he also worries about a roof over his head that is being torn down, and this city refuses to give him the chance to find affordable rental accommodation.

As for your intelligent crack about the Narmada dam, do brush up just a bit on the issue, won't you? The Narmada dam was never intended to supply great quantities of electricity to the grid; thus opposing it will have no effect on the electricity situation of Western India.

And why did you stop at dams and river-linking and MNCs and maoists from bihar when you're discussing slum demolitions in Bombay? Go the whole hog, my man! Bring in McDonald's! Swarovski crystal! Marine Drive! The StanChart Marathon! The Reserve Bank of India! The King of Nepal! John McCain!

Anonymous said...

Today, there are almost no tracts of available land in Mumbai. Those that are officially out of bounds for law abiding citizens are effortlessly available to the thousands of illegal immigrants pouring into the city from bangladesh and god(father of jesus) knows where. All that these families require are plastic sheets and bamboo; falsified documents can take longer. Who cares if all the beaches in mumbai have been completely run over by squatters. the show must go on, because d'souza and his progressive, centrist (they are leftists truly, but these days hide their true identity) pals want so.

So, what is the solution to this slum dweller's problems who is far far away disconnected from me? Oppose any improvement, let the roads remain congested (someone wants to live sideways illegally), allow people to waste hours to just reach their workplaces and back home in evening, present the dirtiest possible look for ur city to anyone who happens to visit it, and in the process loose crucial investments every economy needs to grow and prosper.

OR allow infrastructural improvements, demolition of illegal structures, construction of new roads, bridges, buildings so that the common man gets a more vibrant economy, more oppurtunities, and hence money to pay for his apartment rent.

Hydel power projects produce lesser energy than thermal stations, but they are a cleaner source and as much needed. You want me to believe medha bahin along with arundhati are (unsuccessfully)fighting a just battle for the rights of the displaced people (or the oppressed)? Ha Ha.. We keep talking about the poor, fighting for the poor and remain poor in the process. In the meanwhile, other countries talk about their rich, create oppurtunities for their poor and the society as a whole transforms.

Did Mcdonald kill our domestic food chains? NO. Their entry only strengthened the domestic market for take-away food joints and in the process several Indian chains propped up, doing better business than my nearby McDonald. Haldiram is one such example. visit dilli for filmi masala, punjabi by nature, khaaja chowk and more.. Or take the example of Cafe-Coffee-Day Vs Barista. Or the new upcoming malls in Gurgaon and Dilli.

The global economy is fast becoming inter-developed among nations, national boundaries becoming insignificant. The process can't be reversed and shouldn't be. If we profit from the high paying jobs in outsourcing industry, someone else may profit by selling us consumer goods. We can't put restrictions, but compete, in the process improving our own output too.

Dilip D'Souza said...

the thousands of illegal immigrants pouring into the city.

More ignorance.

Where are these thousands of illegal immigrants, really? (Along the way, do explain what you mean here by illegal anyway).

The Bombay Municipality put out a report ("Socio-economic Review of Great Bombay") some years ago that shows that immigration into the city has fallen steadily over the years, and fell below 50% of the growth of the city in the 1960s. (Send me a postal address, I'll send you xeroxes of the relevant pages).

Not just that: by the time the report was written, immigration into the city was at about 78 people (people, not families) a day. Not the 350 families our politicians and others like to bandy about, but about 16 families. Sixteen.

The highest that immigration ever was, in absolute numbers, was in the '70s, when it was about 60 families a day.

(Do check this article I once wrote about it).

Railing against the flood of immigrants is fine, if that's what you want to do. But it's a remarkably foolish way to tackle the problem (if that's what it is) of Bombay's growth, which is due in the greatest part to Bombay's own people producing their own babies.