Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Thinking Big, Very Big, in Mumbai

I aspire never to be a pessimist. Yet, some dreams seem very big. I won't say too big, for that'd be pessimism.

On many occasions in recent years, I have walked the streets of Mumbai (where the highly acclaimed Slumdog Millionaire was filmed) in shock at how poor the city's infrastructure is and how it appears to be going nowhere anytime soon. Home to 14 million people, 45% of India's GDP comes out of this one city (I know, shocking!), nearly 70% of capital transactions of India are through Mumbai. Yet, visibly and infrastructur-ally, Mumbai is one large slum with stench to go with it.

Every day affluent people, people who have shaped the world through their contribution to business and the art world, jump over heaps of trash to get into their chauffeur-driven Mercedes Benz to navigate what are called roads but aren't really. They meet and socialize for hours in their posh apartments and villas with their windows closed lest the stench from the outside ruin their appetite. They spend millions in the weddings of their children competing in who could draw more guests, then go on with their lives breathing air that makes rounds of some shockingly polluted industrial zones.

The only thing more shocking than Mumbai's lack of infrastructure is the apathy of its residents and leaders over how bad things are. In fact, I feel there is a sense of joy its residents seem to find in all the squalor. Things are so bad and getting worse, there ought to be a citizens' revolt. Not's "chalta hai". Some may argue it's a poor nation's poverty I am making fun of. On the contrary, I think there is money and the money is spent. I fear it ends up in secret bank accounts of people who face no accountability, coz it's all chalta hai. Millions of "honorable" people, a land of countless saints (going by temples, masjids, dargahs), and yet, they all stink...and I mean quite literally.

So, from Mumbai comes the following news: a grand dream to transform the city! God bless those who have dared to dream. I will pray for their success, but my breath, I shall hold not (although around Mumbai it's an exercise one could often use)!

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