Helplessness, thy name is the spirit of India
Yet, the great city has many redeeming qualities spoken about romantically in countless articles, documentaries and books.
Another monsoon season is on, following the age-old script of building collapses, choked drains, flooded cityscapes and the cities and towns across India looking like a chain of rotten garbage pits. In the other India, too, it is the show as usual, with natural disasters bringing death and destruction with gay abandon in a country where life is so damn cheap. Monsoons may have been hitting the Indian sub-continent even before the first humans had walked on earth, but our authorities were caught unaware and unprepared every year the rains hit our shores.
Monsoon has turned Mumbai, the city I call home, into a vast, squeamish, sticky, gooey and messy construction site from a giant, dusty, noisy, rattling construction site, where the work is perpetual and eternal. Yet, the great city has many redeeming qualities spoken about romantically in countless articles, documentaries and books.
The most famous of such qualities is the ‘spirit of Mumbai’. Come flood, fire, earthquake, terrorist attacks, stock market crash, chain bomb blasts, underworld wars, political slug fight, Bollywood starlet divorce or alien invasion, the Mumbaikar is unfazed. Within a few hours, nay, minutes, the city is back on its foot, and people get back to work. Or so it is eulogised and immortalised by wags.
I am sure every city in India has such myths about the spirit of its people or the goodness of its citizens. Who doesn’t want to hear nice things about themselves? So the government gives you filthy streets, never collects garbage, allows encroachments and illegal constructions and takes you, literally and figuratively, for a back-breaking, neck-jolting ride through a giant pot hole of a city with patches of roads here and there. If you even dare to whimper, you get this ‘spirit of your city’ thrown at your face.
Can such people of noble spirit, energy, enthusiasm, penchant for handwork, committed, ‘never say never attitude’ complain about the crumbling infrastructure of your city? Where is your spirit, man?
The spirit of Mumbai or any other city is another name for the helplessness of its people. People return to work after a devastating flood or a terrorist attack, not just because they are heroic. Anyone surviving in the crumbling infrastructure, traffic snares, water and power shortages and crowded public transport to make a living is a hero, no doubt. Still, people are back to work because there is no other way for them. We are not living in a war zone. No significant conflicts are happening anywhere near us. Nor are we going through some challenging phase of history, haunted by famines or epidemics of the Middle Ages.
On the contrary, we are supposed to be living in an era when the country is booming. Yet, why do we feel we are in the middle of a siege? After paying 15 years of advance road tax while buying a vehicle, laughably high cess and surcharge on fuel every time you fill your fuel tank, feeding private contractors through tolls every few kilometres, are you getting a half-decent road? You can’t walk in the city as a squatter or an illegal vendor occupies any patch of pavement that has not caved into the choked drain. You can’t take a mode of public transport like suburban trains unless you are ready to fist fight, push, shove to get an inch of foot space in a rusty old coach.
Why should earning an honest living be so harsh for an average citizen? Is there any country in the world, which is not in a conflict zone, that renders its citizens’ lives so perilous and harrowing to live? The daily commute, whether Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata, or Chennai, sucks out the better part of most people’s lives. It is not just taking a toll on our physical health, but also on our mental well-being. Just observe the din on your city streets. With incessant honking, traffic snarls, perpetual traffic blocks, and street fights over minor accidents, Indian cities look like they are frothing with rage.
Nothing will change as long as the politicians can fool us by calling our helpless resignation to our fate our ‘spirit’. Unless we force them to find solutions to what matters to us most, like making our daily lives a little better, providing us with some decent public transport, city roads that can be motored with something better than a tractor and drains that don’t flow into our drawing rooms after the first shower, they will keep fooling us with real and imaginary slights that happened to our forefathers during some epic or historical age.
Author of Asura, Ajaya series, Vanara and Bahubali trilogy