When I was there two weeks ago, someone mentioned Bilaspur's position in some recent quality of life ranking of 200 Indian cities. It was fifth from the bottom, he told me.
This surprised me. Why wasn't it ranked at the bottom?
And since it wasn't, what kind of hellholes languish below Bilaspur?
I mean, what a ghastly place this second-largest city in Chhattisgarh is. For anyone who says Chhattisgarh is a well-run state, I can only say, visit Bilaspur. If this is the Pride of Chhattisgarh, I shudder.
Some thoughts, stream-of-consciousness style.
When it's not raining, there's dust everywhere from the endless construction. When it is raining there's mud and slush everywhere, great huge expanses of mud. There's a flyover under construction over a railway crossing: the ramps from both sides seem complete, but the flyover remains unfinished. Been that way for 7-8 years, I'm told, and certainly it hasn't progressed by so much as a laid brick since my first visit, 18 months ago. Thus the heavy traffic on that road -- both directions -- has to crawl for half a km along a narrow road and over the tracks. The state this road is in beggars description. It is simply a long series of craters. It runs alongside a huge pool of stagnant rainwater into which we saw, one evening as we waited at the level crossing, several men peeing, taking turns. Another evening, a truck mired in the mud, its driver standing knee deep in the water we had seen people peeing in, and scratching his head.
But the road beggars description only until you see other roads in the city. One has even deeper craters over an even longer stretch. As we careened over them in a rickshaw one night, the person beside me said, resignedly, it's been like this for three years.
In an upscale residential neighbourhood -- judging by the houses there -- once-new sewage pipes have simply been left on the side of the road. Also there at least 18 months. Beside them is the open drain, in which you can almost see mosquitoes breeding with abandon.
Piles of sand and rubble everywhere. Some sprawl across three-fourths of the road. Invisible at night, you wonder how people don't drive smack into them. The garbage that's simply lying around. A "ring road" that's been laid in concrete, but not completed, so suddenly the concrete gives way to mud, and getting onto it from feeder roads means traversing a ramp of packed mud, and when it rains that ramp is worn away so you have to drive up and over a one-foot height difference between the surfaces … the traffic, the impossibility of taking a simple walk in any direction that's more than a minute long because you run into mud, or traffic, or construction …
In this chaos and anarchy, this post-post-modern vision of what all of India's cities might one day be, people travel and sell and buy and fight and take out processions. They live. I don't know how.