December 29, 2008

A Mumbaikar's tale

I do not know who wrote this article, a Mumbaikar for sure.

I received this as a forward, and for once, I saw a different story unfold than the usual rant about terrorism and nuclear power and so on. This is something which shows how a crack at the edge of a wine glass does eventually leak all the wine and eventually leave just an empty glass.

Here is the article below.


Me Mumbaikar

The gruesome battleground in South Mumbai has left us Mumbaikars fed up, scared, angry, willing to lash out, especially at the politicians.

We now have an incoherent rant against "the other" or "the system". My heart goes out to the victims and this article in no way downplays the magnitude of the human tragedy. Yet as a lifelong Mumbaikar, I have not been able to shake a feeling that people have deliberately refused to grasp the essence of the problem because it is not conveniently gift wrapped with a bow on it.

Simply put, there is no "other" to blame. Mumbaikars over decades of greed and rapacity, have destroyed rule of law and corrupted the systems which should have protected us. We are the system. We are the reality of Mumbai. We are its pestilence. It is convenient to demand action, to demand results, somehow, anyhow.

Can we believe in a fantasy that a bureaucracy, government and law enforcement apparatus which have never delivered anything meaningful which we have ourselves strangled over the years, can suddenly start delivering results in one narrow sphere of security?

AIDS victims don't die of AIDS.. They die because AIDS reduces immunity and invites secondary diseases to feast on the weakened host. An AIDS patient can die from a common cold. Terrorists only descended upon the enfeebled carcass of Mumbai to deliver the coup de grace. They are the opportunistic secondary infection. Mumbai was always a symbol of opportunity and accomplishment, with the accompanying corruptions of any big city. But what is Mumbai today?

It's a ghettoized city of intolerance where Raj Thackeray can rouse lakhs of people into hatred of an "other", where vegetarians can discriminate openly against the "other" in their buildings, where Muslim enclaves make the "other" uncomfortable in their midst, where a parallel economy and a parallel justice system can thrive.

It is a city of corruption, where the police force has been emasculated, where constables have to take bribes to pay off the cost of their postings, where senior officials operate openly in collusion with industrial houses, where human trafficking and child abuse are openly tolerated in plain sight at traffic signals.


It is a city of decay, where greedy and corrupt builders can destroy every last inch of breathing space, documents can be faked, BMC officials bought off en masse, protesters can be bullied and threatened, restaurant owners can dump their daily trash in any quiet street corner.


It is a city of harassment, where kids on loud motorcycles can whiz about unstopped, where loud pandals and religious displays disturb people way into the night, where poor people live in constant fear of harassment by the police.

It is a city of neglect, where we cannot even point to one bylane free of potholes and garbage, not for technical reasons but because it fuels the perpetual motion machine of contracts and corruption.

It is a city where the local governance become an enemy of the people, grabbing parks, destroying open mangroves, dumping huge toxic waste in plain view of its citizens.

Ask a Mumbaikar from the slums what fun it is to get his kid's birth certificate from the BMC, to get past a police check, to get a lawyer who won't cheat him for common things,to get a judge who won't delay his case indefinitely. A poor "unconnected" person or a single woman would think thrice before walking into a police station to get help and even then would not do it.

Above all Mumbai is a city of temporary convenience and compromise with no core values left to hold on to. The euphoria of economic growth justified every short cut and every depredation. Beneath the facade, Mumbai fell apart street by street, tree by tree, victim by victim. Mumbai is not an international city, it is an international joke. It is easier to take offense or retreat behind clich├ęs, than to sincerely ponder the truth of this statement. The city cannot provide roads, fire service, ambulance service, police safety to its people.

Those who feel it is "part of the charm" to walk past open garbage and people defecating, to drive on wretched roads, to not have any place to take your child to play, to have parks grabbed by local slumlords, are in denial about their hometown. They add to the apathy which keeps it in decline. We try to talk ourselves into believing that the human vibrancy covers up the physical dehumanization.

Each and every one of these acts is perpetrated by a Mumbaikar. Each incident is like an incident of unprotected sex which takes the victim closer to the fatal disease. Each instance of apathy is just like one who cannot be bothered to wear a condom.

A successful crime reduction effort in New York is called "Broken Windows". Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building. Small crimes, if not stopped lead to large crimes, hence even a broken window should be pursued and punished by an alert citizenry, equipped police force and effective prosecution system. This indicates of the interconnectedness of things.

Sorry to say, neither protests nor candles nor political resignations can help us. Not even an election. Who will you vote for? Throw out Manmohan and bring in Advani? There is no "One" who will sweep in on a white horse and save us. The world is now too complex and too interconnected for a single Obama or some mythical Kalki to come in and sweep clean with a magic wand. That only happens in films.

Until and unless there is a mass movement of self-realization on the scale of the freedom movement, the city will continue to bleed. A corrupt, weakened and demoralized force is not suddenly going to wake up and become a crack squad. A polity used to the easy days and fat life is not suddenly going to snap into action when it has been unable (despite similar outcries) to even keep the Mithi clear or keep the highway free of potholes.

Let's not glamorize the spirit of Mumbai or the beauty. It is purely money power and film dazzle which keeps this image intact. Neither Mr. Tata with his billions nor Mr. Bachchan with his pistol was there to save us on Wednesday night. We were saved by lower middle class jawans who on a normal Sunday would not even be allowed to enter the Taj or Oberoi by the security, who cannot even afford a Thums Up at Souk. Do we even deserve these amazing young men to fight and die for us when every public figure and Page 3 celebrity is on air spewing verbal diarrhea about our fear and trauma? The very same businessmen who pay customs and excise officers to look the other way ten times a day, now want them to be vigilant the eleventh time and catch the arms. We have forgotten the RDX which landed under very noses of Customs in 1993.. The same citizenry which doesn't care if builders illegally encroach approach areas and roadsides, now want to know why fire forces can't do their job. The same contractors, who cheat and embezzle funds meant for equipment for cops, are now furious about the inadequate body armor and .303s. All because "our" Taj and Oberoi are under attack.

Where goes Mumbai, so the rest of the nation. Governance and rule of law are at an all time low. Rights of poor people and middle class urban dwellers are trampled brutally. The backlog of cases and toothless enforcement makes a mockery of the Constitution which has enough teeth in it for many common problems.

We had a window of unprecedented growth where we could have set systems and infrastructure straight.. We did not, instead revelling superficially in our new -found easy wealth and sweeping any honest inquiry and intellectual thought process under the carpet.

Today we find that the much-feted titans of industry and finance were drunk on a global binge of easy debt and bogus stock valuations, and that the real growth has not traveled to the people who needed it, that real fundamental nation building value has not been created to the extent it was believed.

Today we need the army to throw out Lashkar from Colaba Causeway, what will we say when Naxalite cadets show up in Chennai? We always say "Me Mumbaikar Aahe". This is us. We are the ones who whittled away like termites at the gates and then threw down a red carpet of blood for terrorists to waltz in and shoot up our town like some drug-crazed teenagers on a weekend spree.

Only a Mumbaikar can truly understand that feeling of enraged impotence at the sight of these animals strolling down our historic downtown redefining forever the Mumbai taunt "Baap ka road hai" We are not to blame for their inhuman choice to perpetrate violence upon innocents. No secularist, no apologist, no CNN reporter, can justify that action. But we are to blame for our failure to protect ourselves and we are to blame for our inability to change the systems that made it possible from a fundamental level. Unless we re-engage our civic society as responsible and honest citizens of our own free will, we cannot expect better from our institutions.

Let's start with the hard, thankless and unglamorous task of fixing the broken windows and potholes. We have a very long way to go before reclaiming our Maximum City from what we have allowed it to become. Only then can we show the lead to the rest of the nation as we have always prided ourselves on doing.

With regards and be safe,

Anonymous Mumbaikar

2 comments:

  1. This article is very emotionally written :( it saddens me to core at how we make decisions in life. thanks for sharing, and may we all heal in the spirit of humanity.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Kiran : May all those who have suffered, heal with time, and heal from this horror completely.

    ReplyDelete

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