Even as there has been a lot of drama, adulation, sense of pride and hype over the opening of the Bandra Worli Sea Link, I have found myself going through a confusing set of emotions, all of which have been tossing around in my salad bowl of a mind.
Yes I certainly feel proud of the link. At all such instances I get reminded of a childhood essay I wrote long back in 1986 for which I received a proud second prize. The essay was about my ambition to become an engineer and make awe inspiring symbols of civil engineering like the Sears Towers and Expressways like they are found in the US and the Europe and Japan. Machines, buildings, civil engineering processes fascinated me as much as nature if not more since childhood.
Some where along the way the more normative side in me overtook the scientific and I gradually started paying more attention to the problems which were difficult to be solved by engineering.
And in the sea link it was again the normative which has been over riding the engineering interest in how much of concrete was poured and how many times the steel cables can circle the earth. Is this how things ought to be?
I use the public transport in Mumbai quite frequently and even more now in the hype surrounding the sealink I found myself noticing that every bus stop that I passed in a journey from my house near home in Oshiwara to Juhu had a huge puddle of muddy water in front of it. So people would be standing in their bus stop and when the bus came those who were getting out and those who were trying to get in were jostling with each other and negotiating the puddle of muddy water as well.
At each bus stop my mind went through a violent commentary of abuses and remarks on society and the state of things even as my outward self refused to look away and kept gazing lifelessly into the chaos at each stop – a sadistic enjoyment even, thrusting a hot iron rod somewhere near my eyes but not within and enjoying the pain. School children, women in sarees, old men all went through enormous difficulty. Some of the more agile youth took it as a nice acrobatic challenge being able to leap from the dry patch directly into the bus. This is where our sports prowess stops – we dont long jump longer than this.
And then my mind started having images of the kind of banners and newspaper advertisement I would like to see in the papers this week. Would somebody calculate the number of such puddles of water in the city? There must be a good million I suppose?
Can we have a full page advertisement which proudly proclaims that our city has
1,00,7512 puddles in front of bus stops in the city,
1,33,214 instances of missing manholes in other wise normal footpaths because of which people still prefer to travel on the road,
23,732 instances where footpaths have been dug up for some utility work and have been such since more than two weeks,
34,237 instances of hawkers completely having taken over footpaths.
Why cant we feel proud of these numbers? Aren’t these also significant achievements of the great Indian intelligence that we like to tom-tom about from here to New York and beyond?
Then the banners –
Cant solve small puddles of water
Will become world class city (Bombay First and CAG )
Cant solve small puddles of water
Will feel proud of Sealink (this is aimed at the hordes which decided to take the first ride)
Cant solve small puddles of water
Will rush to name sealink after Veer Savarkar (yes this is to the Shiv Sena)
* I dont have the money but sponsors for the banners are welcome – if I cant do a turnkey job of putting up a bridge from scratch, atleast I can take up this contract. Maybe I can monetise the eyeballs also with some kind of an infra red toll machine which tracks the eye balls.
Another of the salad bowl image was a hallucination of an alternate to the opening ceremony. I imagined a scenario, where each of the senior leaders present for the opening ceremony were similarly taking pride in being photographed with Sonia-ji in front of the biggest puddle in the city contest. A nice polygon of muddy water, whose depth one would hesitate to test with ones own feet.
Before that there would have been a mad scramble with all the leaders having pulled Madam in different directions. Madam-Madam see my puddle..please-please..madam..this is not fair, you are spending too much time admiring Kripashankarji’s puddle..please see mine also..then some leader deciding to splash in his puddle like I would have done in the same sixth standard I wrote the essay in..all in joy with a glee..splashing muddy water on his spotless white kurta pyjama and those around him..Madam..smiling elegantly teeth to teeth..so happy with the work of her boy…another leader who had a chottu puddle would decide to pose with another leader with a big one and get pushed away with a “get your own puddle” line.
And then there would be a red ribbon the size of the diameter of the big award winning puddle to cut which all the dignitaries would wade half way through and after cutting the ribbon everybody would do an impromptu filmi jig! Madam the lead heroine and all the others the hero’s trying to woo her. They anyway have all those filmi’s under their belt.
And then I started thinking of the hordes which rushed for the first day first show and some of whose adulation for the link was covered in the papers. These would mostly also be the people who are most unconcerned about any dialogue at comprehensive transport and traffic management in the city. The types who will enrich the sealink makers with their 50 rupees, but not the numerous poor NGOs and initiatives – a number of which I have been part of – where cutting edge thinking about a holistic solution to the city keeps leading a still born existence for lack of nutrition.
I found myself cursing them with a full realisation that in the times we live in the curse would eventually rebound on me leading to more misery to my existence.
And then the mustard. Sharad Pawar did what should land him the top three if not the top position in the Maratha Hall of Shame. In the midst of the enormous allegations of corruption and impropriety I have always had a considerable amount of awe and admiration about the ease with which the man juggles agriculture and cricket and enormous influence of land politics and god alone knows how many other interests. He disappointed so much with his – Madam madam lets name the bridge after Rajiv-ji thing. I could imagine myself part of a heist, which whisks him away only to send him overboard mid-way of the link.
Of course he will have the last laugh. A decade or two down the line we will have his daughter as the Speaker of the house – much like Jagjeevan Ram’s daughter got rewarded. The Congress are good to sycophants.
The Shiv Sena would do better at aiming to name the bridge after one of their Standing Committee Chairmans in the past few terms who has made the most money. I would most certainly second such a proposal. Their bogey of doing good for the Marathi manoos and Marathi asmita is all too jaded now. Veer Savarkar could do best without them.
Feeling proud of the bridge between Sweden and Denmark or the ones in China or the Golden Gate bridge comes not out of the bridges themselves but simultaneously for cities and administrations which have a manic fascination for improving each and every small and big aspect of their cities and lives of the commonest of people, not just 50 buck toll payers.
Feeling proud comes when you are proud of being a city which is good to millions of its pedestrians, not so ruthlessly indifferent and cruel. Not so heavily skewed in favour of only those who will travel in air conditioned vehicles.
Out here bridge innaugarations and pride over them become and extension of the cheap, ostentatious, me too existense of what seems a cursed land.