Take a look: A world class apart.
It's been modified a bit as printed; if you'd like to read the original, please see below.
COmments, yes as usual, welcome.
"As part of the ongoing drive to beautify Delhi in view of the upcoming Commonwealth Games, the NDMC demolished last week nearly 5000 homes it described as 'old' and 'dilapidated'. These were located in areas such as South Extension I, Golf Links, Sujansingh Park, Shantiniketan, Moti Bagh and Karol Bagh. The residents were transported across the Yamuna river and left in camps there. Shri RM Khanna (65), resident of 5/15 Shantiniketan, one of the houses demolished, spoke to this correspondent: 'What are we to do here? My parents came from Pakistan in 1947 and my family built that house. Now the NDMC breaks it because they say it is ugly and has thrown us out of the city! Where do we turn?'
A spokesman for the Games Organizing Committee, speaking on condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media, told this correspondent: 'We are expecting lakhs of visitors for the Games. Do they or do they not deserve to see a worldclass city free of these crumbling old houses?'"
All right, I made those two paragraphs up.
But change words around and it could very well be a report about events that have happened in Delhi in the runup to the Games. People have indeed been taken from their homes and deposited outside the city, the homes demolished because they are eyesores. Some markers of a trend: Last September, the city's Social Welfare Minister, Mangat Ram Singhal, kicked off a drive to prosecute beggars with this remark: "Before the 2010 Commonwealth Games, we want to finish the problem of beggary from Delhi." In March, the Independent reported: "Ahead of [the] Commonwealth Games, the [Delhi] government … has increased the number of mobile beggars' courts from one to three." It also mentions the prison 15 miles north of Delhi where this mobile justice dispatches beggars when convicted. Also in March, a report for the NGO SOS Children's Village had these sentences: "Thousands of shanty towns have also been flattened as part of the city's pre-games facelift, leaving countless more homeless. The Games village has been built on the site of a demolished shanty town."
None of the people who figure in those reports were residents of Shantiniketan or Sujansingh Park, as if you didn't know. They belong instead to the streets and slum colonies spread across our massive capital, the interstices and open spaces left in between existing Delhi and everything that's being constructed so rapidly for the Games. They disfigure the city, so they must go. We are building worldclass, you see. Who objects to removing the eyesores?
And yet imagine if my faked news item had been real. Which resident of Delhi would stand for large scale demolitions in the city's Golf Links or SouthExes? (Eyesores, let's be frank, as some of those areas are).
The crazy injustice of this, coupled with the now-daily revelations of Commonwealth shenanigans, is the reason I'm staying away from the Games. If the organizers fling out my fellow Indians, well, they fling out me as well.
But the other side to this gets me nearly as much. What is our fascination with this term "worldclass"? Why are we so in thrall to it?
There's so much here that I don't know where to start, so perhaps I'll start where I'm told many of the lakhs of Games tourists will begin their visit: Delhi airport's new Terminal 3. ("T3" it is).
Since it was opened for use, I've seen plenty of breathless coverage about the space and the airiness, the beauty and who-knows-what-else there. I have no doubt it's all true. I've also read several times that T3 can handle 33 (or is it 34? 37?) million passengers every year. Which is one of those numbers that's flung about to impress. Shorn of context, it sounds hugely impressive and you think, as you are meant to think: "worldclass!" In its glass and metal and aerobridged glory, with its 33 million passengers strolling about, T3, which I am yet to visit, must be one worldclass edifice.
But here's context, or perspective if you like. A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation, erring always on the conservative side, shows that Mumbai's VT station handles … take a guess now … 150 million passengers a year. Close to five times what T3 is projected to do. Now it seems to me that in its ability to handle this number alone, VT is certainly a worldclass transport hub. After all, how many do you know in the world like that? Yet correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't believe I have ever heard VT referred to as "worldclass".
And besides that, why is it that we will build a glitzy T3 for 33 million passengers, but will do zip for the 150 million users of VT? Why should that station not have glass and walkways, air conditioning and cleanliness? My wife was at VT the other morning to see off someone, and called me to report how "filthy" it was. Would we tolerate "filthy" for T3? Why do we tolerate it for VT?
Don't forget the other great train terminus in downtown Mumbai, Churchgate, where passenger numbers are similar. And in fact, the entire suburban train system in Mumbai carries something approaching 2 billion passengers a year. Twice the country's population, sixty times T3's capacity; I don't know any airport anywhere that handles that kind of load. Yet this city's commuters travel in brutal conditions that nobody shows any inclination to seriously address.
Why? If we can build the splendour of T3, why can we not do something to make train travel more comfortable? Worldclass?
I realize how futile a question that "why" is, oddly enough, at an apparently unrelated moment every morning. That's when a skinny woman in a sari walks down my street. She has a basket on wheels and she carries two pieces of cardboard. This is an employee of the richest Municipality in Asia, and she uses those two pieces of cardboard to pick up the trash and litter on the side of the road. The same woman has walked my street with those (same?) cardboard pieces for 10+ years now.
Is that worldclass? Should it be?
Building shiny T3s is, in the end, easy. I wish giving that woman something better than cardboard to pick up the trash with were as easy. Now that would be worldclass.