July 31, 2005

On the road again

To me, the Marol road that leads to Saki Naka stands for everything that I find wrong-headed about a liberalising India. The traffic is simply putrid. The road is horrible, plenty of potholes and stones waiting to be kicked up by a passing vehicle. On one side are stretches of unimaginable -- I don't know how to emphasize this enough -- filth. Piles of rotting garbage, yes, but also just black, oily mud. Some of it is due to the torrential rain of a few days ago, yes, but this road is always a mess.

Street vendors have laid out their wares in that filth, women in sarees and dresses step daintily through that filth, taxi- and auto- drivers and workshop men and electricians and all sorts of people work in that filth. All with cyclists and pedestrians flowing along, traffic piled up in gnarly messes at each signal.

And cheek-by-jowl with all of that, like some psychedelic fantasy, are a series of grandiose, gleaming glass buildings. HDFC, Crisil, DCB, a hotel. Pristine, precise structures, every bit as splashy as anything you'd find in the West; today one has a man hanging on a long rope and cleaning the glass.

And yet you step out of these buildings, through the gate and bingo! You're smack in the filth and chaos and sundry rubble.

How we manage to exist like this, with these great surreal contrasts, is a mystery to me. And on the Marol road, the mystery finds its greatest expression.

And it's along this Marol road that we crawl in a rickshaw, trying to reach a spot where a hill caved in. Eventually, we turn into a narrow lane, even more potholed if that's possible. A hundred yards along it, we come to a garbage pile so monstrous that it nearly blocks the way altogether. We edge past, really driving over whatever the rotting stuff is. And I'm acutely aware that when I come back out of here, I'm unlikely to be in a rickshaw and I'll have to walk over this stuff. (Which is just what happens, a few hours later).

The road twists and gets even narrower, and then suddenly we know the way ahead is only possible on foot. A helpful old man leads us through little alleys, and we catch glimpses of a hill on our left, and then we turn away from the hill onto a road again, then round a corner and another where the road turns into slippery monsoon-wet mud and I'm sorry yet again that I'm wearing sandals not shoes.

And this road is irony. Before last Tuesday, it didn't exist. When the hill fell, when some hundreds of huts were destroyed, the Municipality had to get great excavators and trucks in here to clear the debris. But this was a rabbit warren of houses and workshops, no way for these huge machines to come in.

So to reach the victims of a hill that smashed perhaps a hundred huts, to make a road for their equipment, the Municipality actually smashed another 40 or 50 huts. That's how this road that's just mud came to be.

There's a lesson in there somewhere. I think it has something to do with glass castles and filth on the Marol road.


Gaurav said...

Could you be more specific about the lesson?

Would you prefer that there be filth on both sides of the road? Or if there is a lack of filth on both sides of the road?

This post suggests somehow that HDFC, CRISIL etc have built their swank buildings at the expense of the poor people who lost their houses in the flood. Is that so, or am I interpreting it wrong?

Yazad Jal said...

You've showcased a sharp contrast between the gleaming glass buildings and the filth outside. And yes, I agree that there's something wrong in the way India has liberalised.

We've liberalised too little. The roads and street vendors too need the liberlisation enjoyed by glass castles.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Actually, Gaurav, I would prefer that there be filth not only on both sides of the road, but also on those buildings, and on every surrounding road, and in the airport, and in fact pretty much carpeting this city. How's that?

As for interpretations, you must make your own.

Yazad, I couldn't agree more.

Anonymous said...

First of all if what has been done in the past 15 years is true liberalisation then we are fooling ourselves.
Yazad- leave alone the street vendor, even the graduate who has to set up an entrepreneurial venture knows what hell he has to go through if he wants to get started.
Most important this entire episode has highlighted how callous the state can be. I have just seen an image from overseas that of a person saying that no leader has bothered about them or done anything. He said god has done this and only he can save them. This one statement clearly reflects the pathetic state of affairs the state and civic administration has sunk to. Now can the CM worry about the general populace than about how his sons film career is heading?