India-China crisis 2020

June 2020 has been dominated by the standoff on the India-China border in Ladakh, Galwan valley. Apparently 20 Indian soldiers have been killed in unarmed hand combat with Chinese soldiers.

A wave of jingoism has taken over the country, which is of the usual kind and not surprising. Those who created the conflict to elicit this kind of response can be happy and feel successful.

It remains to be seen how many successful apps emerge from India subsequent to the ban on 59 Chinese apps.

It remains to be seen how much India is able to reduce its trade deficit with China and ramp up its manufacturing abilities. Anand Mahindra has thrown a challenge in his tweet.

The damage that India inflicts on itself by not paying attention to its demographic dividend and not serving them to develop their full potential is far more than even if 200 soldiers were to perish in border combat. Or even more. There is no comparison for that damage. Its horror will be fully realised 20 years down the line. This post is a timestamp for that realisation.

Over past 40 years when India was self inflicting wounds and had no strategic sense of where it wants to go, lacking in self confidence, indifferent to its enormous strengths and chasing all that is Maya, China has been building itself brick by brick systematically with a clear idea of what it wants to be.

First visit to KEM

Amidst the slowdown, I am reminded of my first visit to KEM Hospital – one of the oldest and largest public hospitals in Mumbai run by the municipal corporation. A senior friend had developed serious complications and had to be admitted to the ICU section. The photos below are from December 2018.

There are talks currently of supporting the government, to not be critical, that no government could handle such a situation, that citizens are not doing their bit, that the poor and uneducated should follow rules.

The below commentary is for the well fed citizenry making this commentary. I am not interested in bring critical of Modi or of the government. I have better things to do than waste my time with them. But this is just to provide perspective for those who are saying that the government cannot do anything in such situations. The time to add more ICU beds and ventilators and testing capacity is during non-epidemic times when the temple is the priority.

The conditions in the ICU section were heart rendering. To imagine that the doctors go through this every single day left me sympathising.

There were a total of 15 (yes 15) ICU beds and there was a steady stream of patients pouring in. It was about 9pm that we had reached and in a poorly lit corridor I could see patients being stabilised on the floor of the corridor, on beds, in arms. Through influence of his family members my friend was able to jump the queue and be provided with a bed but not without final mile challenges in that corridor.

Poor families crowded the corridor, everyone of them shouting out for doctors to attend to their family member, at times pulling at a doctor who was already attending to someone else, leading to heated exchanges and security having to step in.

I could realise that some of those brought in would possibly be taking their last breath on the floor of the corridor awaiting help.

In the reception a large portrait of the founder of Shiv Sena the Late Bal Thackeray and his wife adorned. The political party he founded, Shiv Sena has been in control of the Mumbai municipal corporation since 1995 and under whom this public hospital comes. They and other Hindu right wing party BJP have been in coalition since till only recently.

Outside the hospital were political banners where more pressing were attended to – the Shiv Sena putting the BJP on the mat over the Ram Mandir issue and posturing that they were not hungry for power but deeply felt for an early construction of the temple over their coalition with the BJP.

That coalition had till then been in the saddle for three years at the State government level and 20 years in the municipal corporation running the KEM Hospital. And they could not bring the ICU bed tally to a respectable 100 also. Pehle Mandir, phir sarkar. First temple, then government. ICU beds and adequate ventilators would be way bottom in the list.

Inside patients gasped, doctors overstretched. Overstretched seems mild to describe. I am not sure how they could they be having the frame of mind to make an accurate diagnosis and then administer the right course of action. But miraculously they were. During my short visit (Over following 2-3 days) I could see happy recovering patients in the ICU section including my friend.

The hygiene levels were alarming and a health crisis on their own. Toilet facilities inadequate and repulsive.

The ICU bed equipment had paan spit at the bottom. Though air conditioned, I was not sure of the air quality.

After a few days my friend was shifted to the general ward. That was another experience all together.

The architecture and campuses and the very idea of having so much space in a central part of the city devoted for an essential public service makes me happy.

The highlight of the general ward really was one of the toilets. I could just take the photo from the outside for this particular toilet. Inside on the left the condition of the toilet was beyond nauseating. It just left me without any sensation.

I am used to take photos of garbage and bad sanitary conditions but I have never seen anything like that. It was like somebody had taken a spray gun and filled its container with excreta and just sprayed the whole toilet finely with the shit. The shit was all over. People must have come in a state of diarrhea or desperation and just shat on previous piles of shit and whenever they could make place. This was a government toilet facility of a government running Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.


The BJP A team has a very accurate profile of who it sees as its adversaries. It is aware of what triggers off this set of people and institutions, sends them into a tailspin of emotions and drains their energy. And it has a ready rack of public issues to let loose every few months to agitate its adversaries and keep them stressed. Public issues in India have been reduced to the drama between these two sides. And real issues and those engaged with them are loosing out. These two entities should get a room and leave the rest of us in peace.

CAA does not have anything much objectionable. Providing relief to distressed Hindu families in the region should not or cannot invite critique. Should Rohingya’s or Bangladeshi Muslims also be extended a similar privilege? I think no. Does that qualify as bigotry? I think no. There are genuine issues around Muslim immigrants and those cannot be overlooked in the pursuit of some unreal appearance of being egalitarian and universal brotherhood. Creating a controversy around CAA could lead to a loss of credibility for those who agitate.

As far as NRC goes there is little chance that any government will be able to implement it for such a large country. Logistics apart, more fundamentally what is this fear that this will be an instrument for disenfranchising Indian Muslims from their citizenship? How is that even going to be possible? Why keep falling for the same formula ridden bait? Indian Muslims (and these very atypical members of an urban intelligentsia) have some serious inward looking to do and should spend the current times as a wonderful once in a lifetime opportunity to carry out internal reform rather than needlessly suffer the current dispensation.

There can surely be no argument against creating a citizens registry from the point of view of identifying illegal immigrants. I am happy to have a boundary less world but till that happens lets just live within the rules.

And before we have love for illegal immigrants lets give some thought on how immigrants willing to work for low wages can distort the labour market and create not so much love for the millions who are unemployed or poorly paid already. I am not sure what the process is for allowing immigration of highly qualified individuals from the region and potential job creators. But surely we are not seeing many of them come over. And in a situation to choose between employing an Indian and a Bangladeshi Muslim what should one do?

Is all this a build up a Nazi Germany kind of an era? Look what they have done in a Kashmir? Who knows, but I do know that you need some amount of discipline and homogeneity in your populace to achieve the same. Indians are notoriously undisciplined and unreliable. Look at how they nod when asked for a yes or no. The world struggles with deciphering the response. They may say yes and then go no or say no and go yes. Not like the Germans who will stand in a straight line when ordered. Here no body gives a shit about the other. Everyone has a direct link with Krishna.

The protests against CAA and NRC have only helped BJP further in its plans. Since 2014 they have enjoyed creating the caricature of dumb, bungling and bumbling liberals who are just an inflated bag of emotions with little intelligence. The hashtags #libtards and #sickular captures those profiles well. The current protests provide fodder to those hashtags. Not having protested would have had the opposite effect and ended up stressing out the BJP A team.

These protests do not even demonstrate that democracy is alive and kicking in India and the protesters represent an active and alert citizenry ready to step in whenever democracy is under threat. People are clueless about half a dozen serious issues to agitate about or supporting those struggling with those issues. Guided by media headlines and social media (all carefully calibrated by the BJP team) they are sheep shepherded for slaughter.

I remember how disinterested I was when the India Against Corruption movement saw participation in large numbers. Disbelief was my dominant emotion, that people could be so stupid as to believe that corruption could be tackled with such campaigns and by instituting a Jan Lokpal. I blogged about it then here. Much later it got evident that the IAC protests were funded by BJP as a pre – 2014 campaign plan to weaken the Congress.

It is the same team which has run many a similar campaign since then which draws the crowds either with them or against them but at all times as putty in their hands. They know how to have their cake and eat it to and that makes me envious.

Ganpati Bappa Morya and Mumbai monsoon mayhem – points further to television debates today

I was not inclined to join the ET Now debate at 9pm but eventually did. Below is the link

Some points I can now elaborate on, which is not possible in a 30 minute slot.

Point 1

Sujay Kantawala’s, suggestion that citizen experts and community workers be on various government panels is way too long overdue. I would say that to supplement that, what we need more importantly is for citizens to participate in their local politics, their elected representatives need to be petitioned, the ward annual budgets and works need to be supervised and taken interest in. None of that happens. For decades now I have been left holding to alone and applying one of my favourite words “Eternal vigilance is the price we pay for freedom” No such fascination among peers and fellow citizens. This requires wisdom on which I have elaborated in Point 2.

All of this was well piloted since the time AGNI came into existence 20 years ago but with the advent of social media and the digital age, face to face connect has disappeared or taken a backseat compared to what people do on Facebook.

Another point to add is that some of us who have been at this city improvement path for a very long time have been let down by the very citizens and society in whose interest we speak. By now there should have been support from the public for me and so many others to be in politics and have some leverage in the decision making process rather than just spout wisdom on television debates.

I entered politics a decade back contesting the Lok Sabha 2009 election but left it at that seeing the amount of energy and effort and the inability to raise financial resources to support this endeavour through honest means. Other city residents could have stepped in to provide necessary support for an office, staff, travel and the usual. But nothing. You cannot have the kind of ridiculous bad quality elected representatives that we have and expect to “deserve” anything better.

Point 2

For this point I will be unpopular but has to be said. The city does not show a fraction of the enthusiasm for civic affairs and those who champion for them that it shows for the Ganesh Utsav. It is an insight which really sustains the current state of affairs.

People will purchase a new lifeless idol every year and fall in love with it and get cute and cuddly and prayer to it but will not have an iota of interest in a living city and some of us living beings who are working at keeping and improving life in that city. It got tiring long back, now I feel exhausted. A prisoner of my own device.

Over 20 years of my close involvement with Mumbai issues I have seen people pray to that lifeless idol and get rewarded with Green Cards and lifestyle and move to enjoy more well managed and aesthetic cities and I have spent the better years of my life and still do (though much less now) on its issues. Essential India to understand. #beinghindu

If there was indeed wisdom spouting from Ganpati then that wisdom would have seen his devotees learning from the 2005 floods and many more such events and move to better and better management. If there was wisdom we would not have seen such a terribly insecure and guarded Devendra Fadnavis (after a full majority) but a more confident and courageous CM convening people across party and support lines to come together in making Mumbai a well managed city.

People do not have a Ganpati Utsav in a London or a Singapore and Shanghai and Paris and possibly that’s why those cities are wiser in their management. And it is the Ganpati devotees who go all out to enjoy and devour these cities. They pray that they get wealth or jobs, which will take them away from the drab aesthetics and bad management of this city (and many more in this country) to greener pastures in the Christian world of Europe and America.

For me this is a god who does not deliver well on any of those promised qualities that are suggested and is a failure. The Brahmins need to take note and correct the defects in their product. Yes he works wonders at the individual level and has rewarded handsomely the very political class and terribly selfish middle class over the past 30-40 years of my life and observing the whole game but then that is the same political class in partnership with the the none so wise middle class, which has made the city what it is.

Wisdom would have meant that there would be a clear realisation that Metro and coast road will not solve traffic congestion. But it seems it is this very god who has removed all the obstacles to unwise and folly ridden projects with not so honest intentions, which are disguised in not so intelligent positions.

I am happy being me and the celebration class is happy being them and it seems the twain shall never meet.

Point 3

I already answered to Shaina’s point about coast road and Metro but to add to it I must say that this government has been disappointing for its levels of insecurity and pettiness. The time really is to collaborate but this has been a government in a huddle not wanting to let in anybody it is uncomfortable with.

In no single coming together of people is there complete agreement, there are fights in families, disagreements in office projects but through all of this people realise that the only way to achieve anything is through collaboration. And so I would like to invite her for a discussion off panel discussions, to put heads together to work on numerous avenues available where there is no clash in positions.

Through a tweet I am marking the post to Tamanna Inamdar, Senior Editor at ET Now and the host, Sujay Kantawala and Shaina NC.

The crowd funding of Karan Johar and Amitabh Bachchan

This is not a new retort of mine except that after having said it the nth time around I thought this should be recorded.

I was at an evening event at the US Consulate where over the course of discussions I met this lady who wanted to know what I did and on learning of my involvement with environmental activism was very appreciative and grateful that somebody in the city does this. It was maybe a first instance for her that at a networking event she had met somebody with such a vocation. She was a businesswoman running two successful businesses.

The conversation proceed further which is when the discussion came to where it usually does in such conversations. She wanted to know how such activities sustain themselves.

I told her how doing activism is a difficult path. About how I had over the past few years significantly reduced my participation for want of resources and was focusing more on my personal needs and profession.

About how one hopes and relies that the citizens at large all of whom benefit from activism – whether saving the mangrove forests or improving the walking infrastructure of the city – would at sometime respond with volunteering their time or giving small donations to sustain expenses. And then I added about how the public are so singularly disappointing in extending any support.

And bang as could be predicted came the standard grouse that one never knows how the money will be used and it is difficult to trust NGOs.

I gave her the analogy of Bollywood and how the same people never demand their money back if a movie from the Bollywood stable turns out to be an utter waste of their time and money. That their money value has been completely destroyed (and time value) is not as much a matter of concern to people as giving money to an NGO. I gave the example of Walking Project where the most nominal amount of Rs. 365 is an annual individual membership. It translates to Rupees one a day, something the poorest can also subscribe to.

But in one year to the Project we are still not able to get memberships in this bracket. Whereas people spend any multiple of that amount on multiplex, on movie tickets and all other associated expenditures. Yes, I understand that people want to be happy and entertained and our willing to be pay for it but does not something like a Walking Project not bring any value to their life and should they not have any interest in making even a small contribution?

Is there no happiness in enjoying a great walking environment in your city? And will you not do even a little bit to support a group of people who get on with it? Much as you would support Karan and Amitabh to entertain you (which can be of quite dubious quality a number of times)

Millions of people are more than willing to make their contributions from Rs. 50 to 500 towards supporting Karan Johar and Amitabh Bachchan, which is what sustains their ventures. These gentlemen do not put money from their pockets, which can end up being the case a lot of times in NGO work.

It is this large hearted public support which enables Mr. Johar and Mr. Bachchan to add to their stables of bungalows and cars, while Walking Project or mangroves with which I have been associated for more than a decade cannot even afford a full time project manager and a peon.

I think the example struck a very strong chord and the lady immediately realised what she had been doing with her money all along and Walking Project got a small donation.

She did not know me from before the evening and so was justified in her skepticism but this entry is not about her, it is about the abject lack of community service and philanthropy in the Indian middle class. It is about how they can and do crowd fund Bollywood and hundreds of similar activities but will not support community activities.

There must be 10,000 people who know me personally or my work in the past decade and no one (very few exceptions) has every bothered to engage in a kind gesture. Lokhandwala Complex where I have been housed for the past two decades presents a desolate dreary desert for any such goodwill. It is a complex  of the wealthy and few of them who commit actually make a donation, not to speak about those who skillfully evade any such discussion.

The 300 acres of mangroves here (which were completely responsible for saving the complex from the flood of 2005) of which a 100 acres I was clearly able to save in the first half of the last decade , the saving of the Lokhandwala Lake in 1999 by and me and numerous other activities are clearly not as valuable as what Mr. Johar and Bachchan have to offer and need to be continuously justified.

Notes from the East

I went on my first visit to Singapore, Hong Kong and a bit of China as a trip from work to study their rail based transport systems. While the trip was on transport and technical in nature it was not very difficult for me to make numerous small and big observations about how those societies conduct themselves, which in turn has a bearing on everything they manage from their transport to their sewage and their children and elderly and infirm. The views contained here are strictly in personal capacity. I will mostly comment on Singapore and Hong Kong.

One of the conclusions which I shared with my close friend and transport aficionado, Abhijit in the first two days at Singapore was that Mumbai or most Indian cities will never ever come anywhere close to being able to have such an excellent integrated transport policy in the next two decades. These next two decades are the ones about, in which India is supposed to have become fifty percent urbanised.

Abhijit and me have a long standing argument, where I have a deep dislike of fundamental Indian ways of being and culture and social values and hold it primarily responsible for the mess in governance that we constantly find ourselves. Abhijit on the other hand chides me and reminds me that people are the same all over the world and it is not that Londoners or NY-ers or Singaporeans are any different. I could see the same argument brew up within me in the two cities.

Another strong remark I found myself making was that we are a nation of obedient sons and daughters and 33 crore gods – all of them basically incapable of showing the spine and principles and values necessary to participate in causing any change.

I couldn’t help drawing parallels between Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore and Bal Thackeray in Mumbai. In both cases there was a great case made for ascending to power to make the condition of a particular community or geography better and in both cases the  strong individual or a group of individuals did come to power to make a difference to the cause they espoused. Bal Thackeray and what he achieved in Mumbai or Maharashtra is a story seen in almost every direction of India, from a Chennai to a Kolkata to Bangalore and Gurgaon. There maybe a lot of parochial jingoism but when it comes to bullshit the so called country of India is clearly very united.

In 1995 Bal Thackeray came to power on the great cause of making a difference to the Marathi manoos and delivering Mumbai and Maharashtra from the corrupt Congress. Shiv Sena came in power in the State and the city. By 2000, when the first term of Shiv Sena came to an end for the first time in its history the Municipal Corporation of Mumbai went into the red up to Rs. 300 crores. There was a scam after scam after scam, not the least infamous of which was the slum housing scam which created a carte blanche for developers close to the Thackeray family to go on a loot of Mumbai’s land resources in the name of doing good for the poor.

Most developers were not even Marathi manoos, ironically being from the Gujarati community against which traditionally a lot of hate has been generated. The Marathi manoos found itself being given some lousy zhunka bhakar stalls and soon enough a change in the clause of one of the development control regulations which threw out and continues to throw out Marathi manoos from the mill land belt.

The first term of the Shiv Sena in Mumbai was also a reign of the kind of terror and hatred that the multi-cultural and plural city had never ever seen in its history till then. The legendary boys of Shiv Sena controlled every street and corner, almost creating an autocratic state which had its men ready at every stage to pounce on anyone who went against their thinking or objectives. Had the objectives been good it would have still been justified. Most of these boys were available for as less as a crate of beer to cause trouble for whoever the sponsor chose to trouble.

The bosses of the boys of course got their hands into every conceivable trade mostly through force and extortion. The city then took a cultural blow it still has clearly not recovered from and the first decade of the 21st century saw a rise of dozen new urban centres, which effectively means that fate of Mumbai in many ways may already have been sealed from that regression into backwardness.

It was to counter the threat of Muslim radicalism (the legacy of Indian National Congress to ‘independent’ India) in the early nineties that the Shiv Sena and L K Advani and Vishwa Hindu Parishad rose to power. One would have thought that the Hindus would have been beneficiaries and especially so the lower socio-economic brackets of the Maharashtrian community. None of this happened. Bal Thackeray likes to be addressed as Hindu hriday samrat or the most beloved for the Hindus. Ask the number of Hindus he and his boys have terrorised. With half a dozen gods devoted to bravery and courage and especially for the Marathi community which is particularly well seeped in Hindu rituals and ceremonies, neither Marathi’s or any other Hindu could rise to counter the loot and pillage of Bal Thackeray. And to ask any of the frontline or backline 33 crore gods to intervene would be to ask too much of them. They are used to sitting back and being anointed.

Mumbai during that reign saw a devastating new encouragement to slums coming up, it saw a perverse housing policy which further strangulated the supply of affordable housing and the rise of venal developers, it saw corruption and mal governance in every arena of urban management during that era. Subsequently with the State government going out of their hands the reign of terror got subsided a bit but clearly the city had entered a new paradigm of being mis governed.

When I spent my first two days in Singapore I could but not enjoy the pleasures of today without wanting to read more and more about the people who make it happen today and the people who first set the base for all this to happen. My good friend Sudipt Sen has been a very long standing admirer of Lee Kuan Yew and has at many occasions over the past decade asked me to visit Singapore or read further about it.

On acquiring power Yew spent huge amount of effort in uplifting the education and social upliftment of the people. Large amount of affordable housing stock was created and people living in slums moved into good apartments with toilets and good sanitation. The transport infrastructure was improved by an order of magnitude and an incredible atmosphere was provided for business to flourish creating much needed jobs and income for the people and revenue for the government.

Two days spent in Singapore sent me into a depression about the state of Mumbai and from what I hear from Sudipt and other friends likewise has been the case with them in their first visit. Sudipt first visited Singapore in 1998 and then itself the city was world class, which means that starting from independence in 1965, within a decade Lee Kuan Yew was able to set Singapore into the right orbit for it to be world class in less than 3 decades.

Where Singapore prides itself at being multi-cultural, Thackeray’s boys were attacking people who did not display Marathi signage on their shops, or anybody who did the mistake of addressing the city as Bombay or even so much as hinted displeasure with the Thackeray clan. All significant infrastructure was named after Shivaji or some Thackeray clan member. Business started relocating from the city and people felt they could lead better lives in the other emerging cities.

Yes, there are allegations and maybe material evidence of excesses by Lee Kuan Yew and his family members or a close coterie. Maybe they own important businesses and infrastructure utilities. But even a blind person could just by smelling the air make out a difference between the service delivery.  Similar was the advantage and scope available to the Thackeray clan and they clearly have amassed very large amounts of wealth from establishing their fiefdom over Mumbai. But what has their contribution been to the community or the city? Go look at the state of education in the municipal schooling system.

I find myself questioning and faulting the core principles and values of Hindus and Hinduism (or the notions we have of the same) and find them responsible for the state of affairs we see in India. The complete axis between Singapore and Tokyo finds itself in the heavy influence of Buddhist and Confucian values and maybe some where those values have something more superior to offer to their people in how to conduct than those provided in Hinduism.

Look at the level of detail and commitment in concern for human life and comfort that you find in Singapore and in Hong Kong. Look a the incredible commitment to natural resources. Singapore is incredible in its commitment to conserving water, from the taps and WC in the hotel where I was staying to public toilets and other places, conserving water in every use, being reminded of its preciousness and being made a partner in its conservation were an integral part. A culture where people offer water to the sun in the mornings and to the shivling a million times and do kumbh melas and sprinkle ganga jal at every ritual, one would have thought Hindus would be the best people for water conservation? Clearly there is a difference in how some of us look at values and how these very devout Kedarnath and Tirupati thronging Hindus see them as.

Look at the quality of water in their seas and rivers. Look at Hong Kong, which has preserved two thirds of its natural resources for recreation.  Look at the difficult terrain and limited land mass in which they are built. One would think that people who invented the zero and because of whom NASA missions don’t land up in the oceans could do a better job of their cities?

In Mumbai, the deluge of 2005, instead of becoming an inflection point in the life of Mithi River become just another means for a contractor driven lobby of politicians and bureaucrats to make the most of the situation. The river till today runs its polluted course. Where is the Ganga worship and the values?

Look at the sincerity and integrity that is visible in day to day dealings in these cities, at the way the government and agencies understand their relationship to their constituents – the citizens. Service level benchmarks are set for each constituent of urban existence and there is an attempt to improve them continuously. Thus a resident of those cities and cultures see multiple improvements to their lifestyles in a lifetime, whereas in India a person feels good if he sees just one good change in his entire life time.

And these are beef and pork eaters. How could they possibly be humble and quiet and disciplined and have so much empathy?  Holy Hindus and other constituents from this landmass who don’t even kill bacteria coming out from their breath can at most times be vicious and a rage. Violence to the mind and soul are a norm. While the beef and pork eaters ensure that even if casualties take place on their mass transit systems they are always in single digits, the vegetarians see the slaughter of almost 4000 commuters every year in Mumbai on the suburban railways system and are unperturbed.

Double standards and hypocrisy are institutionalised in the land of Hindus and Hinduism. The family is the only good institution which exists in India and that too is a vehicle only for producing obedient sons and daughters who will study as per family diktat, pick up careers as per family diktat, as far as possible migrate to a land mass governed by white man and certainly not get married outside the family choice and so on and so forth. This clearly has meant that we have citizens who have lost all interest or initiative in having an independent voice or action in matters of common good. Let the family or the patriarch decide what should be done – why bother. The same mindset at the family level is visible at the governance level. Any average patriarch in India (including my deceased father) and Bal Thackeray or any other leaders around the country would show strikingly similar behaviour and expectations.

And this is why I was the earliest and one of the strongest critics of the form and shape of the anti-corruption movement carried out in India last year. Corruption was made as the biggest hurdle to India’s growth. No corruption is not the biggest issue for India. It is the most visible malaise, the cause is far different and no body wants to address the root cause. This is a land where even the gods are seeing a decline in values and are prone to corruption.

All through my trip I couldn’t help think that Gautam Buddha almost 2500 years back had got fed up of Hinduism and the people who were running it and so many years down the line the situation seems almost same.

What really is wrong with Hindus? Where really are the principles and values and the Vedas and Upanishads and Geeta? And how are they able to get away with so many bogus claims they make to themselves and to the world about themselves? And then to mask it all with Incredible India campaigns does make me feel very very sick.


A friend coming from abroad after long got into discussing how embarrassed he was with the CWG shame. I had to cut him in between showing my absolute disinterest in discussing the matter and wasting my blood.

I would have thought that the CWG shame and embarrassment would have brought sections of civil society, youth, ‘well wishers’ etc. of the country on to the streets – there would have been riots and an indication of that elusive change. There would have been some public display of the disgust.

But Incredible India and its wonderful people never fail to surprise. I am also becoming an observer now. Not worth it to expend efforts for such a comfortable lot of people. I would have done something in more idealistic and foolish times.

Series of articles on India and Climate Change

Articles from EPW – Aug1, 2009 –

Climate Change: India’s Options

India and Climate Change: Some International Dimensions

Climate Change: Challenges Facing India’s Poor

Keeping India’s Economic Engine Going: Climate Change and the Urbanisation Question

India and a Carbon Deal

Climate Change and the Energy Challenge: A Pragmatic Approach for India

Joining politics

While I have since a decade been sure that politics is where the solutions lie, the past 20 days have been the ones where I have really gone beyond thoughts and peripheral participation. Earlier this year I was involved with the Loksatta Andolan Mumbai Chapter which I sought to get decisively political. Since 2 months I had the thoughts of forming a new party or joining the Congress or BJP in mind and then Nov.26th has happened and created a flurry.

But whomsover I have been in touch with, the one position I have been taking is that I want to disengage from Nov26 as a focal point for getting into politics.

I am keenly interested in standing for the coming Assembly or Lok Sabha elections from my constituency and the next few days will decide where I am headed.

Hindus and Hinduism in a Hindu Heartland

My latest assignment takes me to the Kalbadevi area of Mumbai. Amongst the oldest areas of the city, it could be more than two centuries old. The area was originally the only commercial business district of the city and in spite of the city growing far more in all directions and with much more business districts it still retains its status as the prima donna of trading areas. It is the bastion of members of India’s most prominent trading communities, the Gujarati’s, Marwari’s, Punjabi’s, Sindhi’s and the Jain’s.

The area (even Kalbadevi’s immediate neighbourhoods) does thousands of crores worth of turnover daily in almost every conceivable material and commodity that the country produces, exports or imports.

My assignment is about a project looking into how the area can be systematically redeveloped as per a Master Plan. My role is to engage the community in the area so to understand their views and demands from the redevelopment exercise. Besides, my key area of interest remains environmental sustainability and the project has an interest in incorporating best practices, such that the environmental impact of the new planned development is minimal.

I have a historic connect with the area since my father was born and lived most of his youth a little away from where my site office is. I too would have been born in the area but thankfully wasn’t. As a kid in the 1980’s I would visit this area during vacations or odd times and would be pretty disgusted with the crowds, the dirt, the strained urban nature and complete lack of any civic sense amongst most of the residents of the area. And to top it there would be a certain sense of pride and arrogance in the way they lived – just because they live in Kalbadevi and South Mumbai. I would wish death to most of the people then, and a great fire to the area. None happened and the area is as dirty and the people as incapable of finding a solution for their area. Though my father passed away last year.

My father was every bit the solution finder and imaginative about urban issues as I am except that all he wanted to do was to show his knowledge and impress his ideas upon people. He was no different from the average Kalbadevi-ite in being able to take initiative (at least on such issues).

When I compare my childhood memories then I feel the area has certainly improved in its civic sense and cleanliness a lot. Then I would see these really vicious people whom you couldn’t say a thing if they threw waste from their windows on the street. Or the streets were much dirtier and littering more prevalent then. I think globalisation and the exposure to the world (through TV for most) has made the area cleaner.

Now as I spend ‘quality time’ in the area (almost 12 hours a day at times) in the area I cannot once again but observe in detail the people of the area, their behaviour, their thought patterns, their levels of civility, their imagination levels and their display (or lack of it) of those more elevated levels of behaviour that humanity fervently chases.

The area is pre dominatly Hindu and Jain and I get intrigued about the role of religion and culture in the current state of the area. I live further north of the area in the suburbs in a building which has a compound space where cars can be parked and kids can play. On one side of my building there is a 5 acre garden and immediately facing my 3rd floor balcony is a small garden with palm trees. As I write this sitting in my balcony I think about how contrary the atmosphere is in Kalbadevi.

Kalbadevi reeks of sewage and rotting garbage as they mix in narrow gaps between two buildings called house gullies. These house gullies are areas where the sewage and water pipelines for the buildings pass through. Some of the individual tenements of the buildings find themselves with one window besides the house gully and people do not think twice before throwing garbage into these. Over time the garbage mixes with sewage leaking from decades old pipes and the combination stinks only to be cleaned by the Municipal authorities once in a while. Rats find it a very convenient home.

The people live in dingy buildings with dark and foreboding staircases. Most buildings are supported with stilts and other props which keep them from falling. Most people live in 200-400 sq. feet tenements and share common toilets. An average of 4-5 people live in tenements of this size. For most people at least a generation or two has lived like this. I wonder what kind of lives these people must be living in these units.

Businessmen have over the years carried out their trading from such places and become multimillionaires able to afford posh flats close by and travel all over the world. But the wealth has had no impact in their attitudes towards their neighbourhood.

The area doesn’t have any open spaces and playgrounds. Children play gully cricket on Sundays or sometimes go to Azad Maidan and other grounds a little bit away. While a century back most of the commercial and economic activity was limited to some of the well defined markets in the past few decades a number of the residential tenements in buildings have been converted to various commercial usages including storage of cotton yarn and other products. Labour and business visitors throng the area during the day.

When we come up with the idea of a planned redevelopment of the area I wonder how these people have anyways lived like this all these years. What kind of a culture do these people belong to which allows people to live in these kind of conditions for decades without finding solutions? Is it the same culture which proudly talks of the Mohenjo Daro civilisations, which provided for exemplary levels of drainage 5000 years back.

I have for long been a vocal critic of the jingoism that passes of for Indian culture and Hinduism and its supposed greatness over western culture and other cultures. And in Kalbadevi that supposed greatness gets not only questioned but also cremated. When a culture and people get so busy to get into one upmanship and petty rivalry and arrogance at the cost of even not being able to live in clean and decent surroundings then there is not an iota of greatness in that culture.

The jingoists present India and Hinduism as the one stop shop for solutions to all the problems of the world. We gave the world the zero, which in itself is such an over riding contribution, that the world just need not doubt us about our ability and ask for anymore proof. But still the benign and generous and most intelligent people that we are we can give you the yoga and Ayurveda to take care of all your health problems. Our intelligent techies run the wheels of the world. Our culture is unparalleled and we are a country which respects it elders and where the family is most sacrosanct unlike the defiled West. Number of half truths and unchallenged statements.

Kalbadevi is full of super religious Hindus. I consider myself a rational Hindu – considering the Gods to my friends whom I say hi and bye to and whose counsel I seek in times of need. The Hindus of Kalbadevi are different. They are a bit too much into their gods and temples and rituals and a bit too less in loving their fellow beings. They are vicious lot who like the quote goes “mooh pe ram aur bagal mein choori” can never be trusted with what ill they may have in their minds for their fellow residents.

And when I hear of the same people talking of the problems like the Amarnath yatra and the damage Muslims are doing etc. I wonder what is stopping them from doing some good for their own selves in their own secure bastion? The Muslims or other imagined enemies are not responsible for the ridiculously bad living conditions in which these people live in a completely Hindu area. For all the talk of benevolence neither the tenants or the landlords display any of the characteristics which the thousands of spiritual gurus – which the area follows cultivates – propound. Members of castes and sects, and sub castes and sub sects are so wedded to their narrow community and dogmatic that they will not cooperate with another Hindu also.

I think it is these characteristics – which too me somewhere have become representative of Hindus- which are turning out to be the biggest enemy of Hinduism.

I cant help splitting up when I hear people talk of making the temple at Ayodhya and collecting funds for the yatra and other such things. If Ram was around he wouldn’t have come to so much as even shit in this area. If one were to believe that God exists everywhere then the wealthy and not so wealthy of Kalbadevi need to first do something about the squalor they have reduced their temple to, with absolutely no help from Babar or his tribe.