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Mumbai madness: The gripes of an erstwhile Dilliwallah

by Shujoy Dutta

It’s Monday evening, I’m auto-ing home from a meeting at Andheri, it hasn’t been a fabulous day, I’m rolling down the canvas curtains in order not to be completely mud splattered, and all I can think about is whether the colony 5x5 football team have dented my car. Why would someone auto home from a meeting you ask, when there is a car that takes up so much of the mind-space, but then you obviously aren’t a resident of Mumbai.

Coming from Delhi-NCR, I think there is a natural resistance to becoming a Mumbaikar.

The first thing you notice, no surprise, is the dirt. In Delhi, you sweep it into corners or piles, avoid it. Out here it lies all around reintegrating back with its environment. The worrying thing is the comfort people have with it. All around you is this volcanic black muck, with something man-made adding texture – paper, plastic, potty or paan. And people are walking through it without a shuffle, wading through it when it rains, playing on it, sitting on it, even romancing in it.

Romancing in Bombay must be one of the pluses of the city. It’s much more evident than Delhi where you have to go the parks and investigate a little to find some budding romance. In Bombay, apparently all you need is a ledge. The ledge could be the wall above the sea, or failing that, a wall above a road and you’ll have couples dotting it, ten yards apart. I don’t quite get what being in love has to do with dangling your feet, but there must be something deep and physiological about it.

Whenever I am on the road I make a mental note to look up love, longing and dangling.  Speaking of roads, I tend to just keep on any wide road, driven by a Delhi sensibility that a wide road must connect to somewhere important. But often it just ends. And this in Bombay is a recurrent theme. I’ve noticed a dozen odd roads or flyover, not including the world-famous Sea-Link, in varying states of incompleteness. No workers, no poking iron rods and an absence of any road-building machinery. You can’t also help but worry that the two sides of the flyover won’t quite clear the railway track, street or the gutter.

Coming from Delhi-NCR, I think there is a natural resistance to becoming a Mumbaikar. Reuters

I mean the Commonwealth Games might have created an artificial sense of building urgency in Delhi but at least things seem to move. Out here the goal is different- to create some parking, as long as possible, for the city’s perennially parking-challenged cars, taxis, tempos and thelas. The actual road or bridge isn’t that important. And for the most part, Mumbaikars are cool with this too. Tunnel/ Sea-Link/Coast road from Worli to Nariman? 5/8/10 years. Never mind, take your time. Just build a little so that we have some more space to park.

But yeah, Mumbaikars are much happier with the lack of development than say an invasion into their clubs. They’d rather candle-march against Dhoble than walk to the BMC and ask why the road to their home isn’t getting completed. This is the opposite of what would happen in Delhi. The NCR nightclubs don’t attract the RTI activists quite as much as the bitumen content in the roads.

Here Culture trumps Infrastructure - I guess you value what you have. And Delhi makes a building while Bombay makes a film. That’s the other odd thing about Mumbai. Everyone’s Creative.  In Delhi if you’re in advertising – you’re at the very extreme edge of the right brain. In Bombay you struggle to meet someone who’s not creative. They’re all musicians, or chefs, or cinematographers, or actors. Either they’re turning the mega wheel of the TV-Film industry, feeding into it, or are planning to. At the last three dinners I’ve attended, I’ve met three guys with non-filmy day jobs, with bhai scripts, printed and spiral bound on their dining table. No wonder the roads don’t get built.

But the thing you miss most about Delhi is the food. No one does a half decent dal makhani. The Kolhapuri-salan tadka is mandatory, the sambar is sweet, the kebabs stringy, and everything has kadi patta. If there were no seafood and no Mohammad Ali road, all the Delhiites who’d come to Bombay would’ve returned. Including SRK, even if Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman was declared the new Sholay. Also there must be some underlying moral judgment about non-vegetarianism, because the vegetarian restaurant is the default setting. And given the price of paneer, I now see why the average guy on the street is slim.

The average fat guy in the mall however, is very much fatter than what you’d find in NCR. That may be from an unhealthy lack of interest in girls post 8pm, and the curse of outsourcing. Jhadu pochabai. Cooking – maid. Driving – driver. Plugging the DVD – Electrician. Getting Milk – Kirana boy. Turning the tap – plumber. Everyone’s on call. In Gurgaon most of the condos don’t allow odd-jobs men on Sundays. Bombay would come to halt if that happened. I mean I know people who order in chai and butter toast. At first I was taken aback at the efficiency. They came on time, they cleaned up after they were done drilling or hammering. They didn’t quote a figure off the top of their heads and nor did you have to speak to them in a mixture of pidgin Hindi and Bangaal to get through. But my God everyone’s addicted. If there was someone willing to offer backside washes there would be a successful business.

Sab ganda dhanda bhi aakhir dhanda hai and dhanda, constant dhanda, I’m told, is what keeps this city moving. I meanwhile have finally come to a stop.

It’s Monday night now that I’ve finally reached home and sure enough my car is covered with the hexagonal telltale of mud splattered football. I speed-dial my mechanic and let him calm me into parking my car at his shop for the night and I assume the next day. I then ask my wife who’s excited to be prancing around in her skirt in Bandra, where no one cares to see more leg, if we should order in and she recommends stew, Appams and a DVD. I feel better, and think that perhaps on the weekend we should go film-star spotting in Juhu.