Tag Archives: Mumbai

A DASH OF COLOUR TO OUR STATIONS..

It is just over a month since Mumbai’s  railway stations  got beautified as part of the Hamara Station Hamari Shaan initiative. 36 stations, across the 7 days of Daanutsav painted by over 25,000 volunteers and supported by close to 100 institutions. 

Now, as I sit back, trying to take stock of the month that was, October, or the quarter that was, from June, I still cannot believe that what we have managed to pull-off is,nothing but magical. (beep beep beep grumble the detractors).hshs2016-272hshs2016 435.jpg

It all started exactly four months ago, on a lazy Saturday afternoon at a regular daanutsav (daanutsav.org) meeting. I had been away all of the month of May and, had promised that once back; I would be a ‘regular’. The meetings were crucial and critical as the count-down to the Joy of giving (or daanutsav as it is popularized), had begun. Daanutsav volunteer is one of the many hats which I wear (www.shishirjoshi.com will give you a sense of what else I do).  In my full time role, I head Mumbai First (www.mumbaifirst.org) a not for profit think tank, as its CEO).

This time you MUST come, Umesh, Venkat and Shibika had warned me, there is someone we would want you to meet at any cost, they said.

At the meeting, I met a bunch of volunteers of Making a Difference Foundation (www.Makingadifferencefoundation.org) led by its Founder Haresh Shah. Truth be told, after the meeting, if you were to ask me if I remember any of those faces, I would say no. Probably, it would have been the same answer from them as well.

What we all shared around the table (apart from several cups of chai made out of water from a questionable source) was positive vibes and infectious energy.

The MAD team had earned a reputation of having beautified Matunga,Borivali and Khar stations in the past and this Daanutsav, they had offered to beautify one or two more stations. As discussions peaked that day, I remembering offering to lead the project and take up all stations, as opposed to a handful, when conversations had got initiated.

How many?  41, said one, peering into the Dr Google screen.. 22 on the Western Line and 19 on the Central. What about Harbour line? Maybe yes maybe no. The answer remained in suspended animation till we met again.

The core team was quickly formed and the first of the whatsapp groups got formed. (Within a month after that, my phone had nothing less than 44 of such whatsapp groups. Only for the Railway Beautification project. One for each of the railway stations, design teams, core teams, Railway teams, artistes, sponsor teams, etc. just to name a few. ).

The first meeting was scheduled at Matunga, at Haresh’s workplace. That was the first formal meeting and was very constructive. A bunch of us met and drew up an action plan and we all seemed much on target. Design teams were set up for each station with themes gradually getting identified, roles were assigned and a broader structure was laid out. We were still in June and October seemed so far away. We were happy that we were well within our target and deadline.

Then Haresh slipped and injured his knee in a freak accident in his building compound. With Haresh and I front ending the entire initiative, it was quite a blow. All the more because even we were just about getting to know each other leave aside knowing other members of respective teams. But what kept us going, was the common underlying selfless commitment.

Kuch Karna hai boss. Kar key dikhayenge.

Gradually, as the clock ticked, station teams started getting populated. Team leaders. Design leaders. Art work discussions started.

Haresh’s knee injury was (according to him) something minor and he would be back on his feet within a fortnight. That was not to be. As I met him for one of the meetings at his residence, reclined on his bed with a pillow supporting his back, it reminded me of Ashutosh Gowariker, who directed Lagaan, the movie, lying on a charpoy as his back had given way.

Haresh and I were spearheading the project and with him out of ‘action’, the front ending had to be done by me. While the back end coordination was left to him. The most important being, setting up team leaders and design options. (Then there was paint, budgeting, mapping of stations, paper work, communication, branding, PR…gosh. We soon realized there was so much to be done. ).

Critical among them was dealing with the Railways. All I can say here, was that it was not easy dealing with Central Railway. Much of it I can attribute to the constant change of guard taking place at the senior level there.

But I must concede, the Western Railway, be it  DRM Mukul Jain, ADRM Saurabh Prasad (who spent early mornings in the control room, afternoons with us and nights at home waking up to his newly born baby) and SRDCM Aarti Parihar (who made it a point to hop on hop off at as many stations as possible before and during the project to ensure work is moving at the desired qualitative level accompanied by our design expert Manisha,)  ensured that we believed in the efficacy of the ‘system’.

Permissions started pouring in. We were already inching towards end of August when we realized, time was moving faster. Our actions were not keeping pace. After multiple exchanges (and whatsapp played a huge role), we zeroed in on Hamara Station Hamari Shaan as the title. Then the warrior in Ragesh (his family name is Warrier) surfaced.

He first designed the logo (which went through a few hundred changes thanks to the democracy on whatsapp) before settling into the (almost) final version which got circulated, and appreciated.

With branding gradually picking pace, reaching out through the media was next. And we are grateful to the FM networks and newspapers who were generous in their initial coverage, which soon let to the wave of citizen support and social media chatter.(A big thank you to Mumbai ki Rani and Radio jockey Mallishka, and her team including Meetu, Ankit and Ankur of Red fm, who were our eventual exclusive radio partners for carpet bombing Mumbai with the Agla Station Beautification line).

“I heard it during a dinner conversation and I want to sponsor” said one. Someone whatsapped me a link and I want to adopt a station said another. Heard you on radio, messaged many. How do we register.

Friends came on board. Volunteering. Strangers began calling, Offering all that they could. Money. Time, energy. Skill. Support. Advice.

Soon, (and we realized we were in September) with budgets being structured, As the word started going out, MAD and Mumbai First divided their roles of tasks while Haresh and I played the roles of mentors and chipping in whenever required. Before we knew, more media had begun writing.

The power (and impact) of social media as well as word of mouth got us a tremendous response. (Possibly the only place I concur with Donald Trump.) The commitments came first, cheques and money a little slower but yes it began coming in too.

The response from Volunteers was like an avalanche. Before we could say Hamara Station…our otherwise quiet office resembled that of a call centre. Incessant calls, several queries, requests and more contributions to volunteer and enroll.

Everyone, someone and their relatives wanted to be part of this MOVEMENT.

There were the skeptics and there were the Optimists. There were the Opportunists and there were the Philanthropists. There were those who said it cannot happen. There was Haresh and I who always believed it could.

Then almost by quirk of fate, a chance attempted meeting with the Chief Minister in Mantralaya, led us to a few of his key aides. On their offering, suggestion and guidance, we were back in Mantralaya the following day. It was a janmashtami holiday. Our purpose, to present the HSHS logo to the Chief Minister. How, we had no clue.

We were ushered into a closed door ‘By invitation’ meeting. Chaired by the CM himself. Flanked by his senior cabinet colleagues. And. Industry captains. And. Bankers. And. Experts. AND Anand Mahindra, Dr Abhay Bang. AND Amitabh Bachchan. AND Ratan Tata.

Just close to the end of the meeting, I was invited to speak about the HSHS initiative and on our request; a gracious Chief Minister unveiled the logo, as the august gathering stood to applaud this initiative. This picture (of Haresh and me offering the logo to the hon. CM in the presence of the various ANDs ANDs went viral. (I must concede, much to the annoyance of the Railways who felt we had planned this but had not kept them in the loop). The real story, you now know. We had no role to play except pray. Rest was Luck by Chance.

Much of the last week preceding the October 2 launch went in a tizzy. So much happened. So much materialized. So much fell through.  Many of the committed sponsors opted out. Many new ones came on board. Jotun came on board offering paint. We accepted. Manish and Manisha Rangnekar took charge of the designs. We were grateful.

Then old friend and colleague Akhil chipped in to handle the facebook profile of the initiative while Aloka Syam helped in the outreach. Harshit came in with support for the painting equipment and Rajyashree Kshirsagar, Sridhar rao, Utkarsh Mishra and Isha Jhunjhunvala put in their might to ensure the history and design boards at every station became a reality.

In all this, the back-ends of both offices remained 24×7. Be it Amita Shah and Alpa Haresh Shah at the MAD end, Shibika at the Daanutsav end or Rosaline, Ronjyoti, Ashwini and Madhukar at the Mumbai First end.

The cavaliers (Enfield bikers) thundered across Mumbai for us from Dahisar to Churchgate and Thane to CST. Gratis. The drummers charged the atmosphere. The team leaders started working to the countdown.

In the interim, the inauguration ceremony had to be planned. It had to be grand. But work had to continue. Last minute planning and mapping continued as Rail Mantri agreed the disagreed and then finally, chose Bandra station. Member of Parliament Poonam Mahajan took charge to ensure the inauguration in her constituency goes flawless. Thanks to her, the Chief Minister made a last minute surprise entry at the inauguration. Catching even the Railway police off-guard. The heritage precinct of Bandra station turned jhakaas with Anil Kapoor taking the mike and walking down memory lane, and his local train stories.

I recall every moment of October 1, 2, 3, 4,5,6,7, and 8. How time went by. How volunteers worked hard. How the paint almost never came and then it came and how. The designs. The spitting the cleaning and re-paintings. The pain and the agony of a defaced art work. The welcome rains which sadly delayed work.

By this time, even the core team had become large. Everyone was playing a significant role. Everyone had a story. Of joy. Of agony. Of Frustration. Anger and then satisfaction. Of ego crushes. Of applause. Of joining the wave as strangers. Of departing as friends.

In the end, we had managed to pull of the unthinkable. 36 stations. 7 days. Over 6000 volunteers on day one and 5000 on the last day. Young, not so old and the not so young. Abled and differently abled.

There were so many of them whom I wanted to thank. Many of them I managed to. Some, I still try to reach out to. I wonder if I will ever get to thank all of them personally. There are so many. Large-hearted. Mumbaikars. Most of whom, like Royston of Jubilant foods, who often called to say, listen is there anything more we can do?

A brief moment I did get, at the closing ceremony. Attended by hundreds and thousands of our volunteers. Our heroes. Champions as our guests of honour. Held at Bhaidas hall in Juhu, it was a memorable morning of celebration dance and bonding.

For many, it was time to put a face to the faceless whatsapp messages and friends.

They say fortune favours the brave. Yes, brave ones we had in the form of over 25,000 volunteers.

Let’s reach out to the Guinness Book of records suggested someone.

Did it really matter?

We did not create works of art comparable to the best stations in the world (which some of our critics expected us to and I am sorry to have disappointed them). What we did manage was, to bring people of this city together. And for them to believe that it is Possible. Yes  Which did.

I always believe everyone has a good bone within them. As leaders of this pack, Haresh and I, Shishir Joshi, were plain Fortunate to be offered the good bone of so many warm- hearted citizens who helped bring colour to commuting in Mumbai.

Hamara Station Hamari Shaan is a joint initiative of Mumbai First and MAD Foundation, supported by the Central and Western Railway to celebrate Daanutsav.

I would have loved to mention the names of all those (and there are so many un-sung heroes) who entwined their fingers into ours, creating a stronger bond.   

The least I can say here is THANK YOU.

THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

If I do get the chance to meet you all again (and there is a project round the corner where I for-see us meeting again) I will personally come across and shake your hands with gratitude.

By the time you read this, I would be back from Spain having presented the Hamara Station Hamari Shaan citizen initiative as a model of Public Private People Partnership best practice, before a  gathering of city leaders from across the globe.

Ends

 

 

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SO LONG BALDY………

SO LONG, BALDY…….

It wasn’t just another face staring at me from Page 10 of the Times of India. That’s where the dear departed are often featured. The Obit (Obituary) page of the newspaper.

For some reason, day after day year on year, irrespective of how much of the remaining sections of the paper that I consume, this is one page I spend a lot of time on.

Faces of the not-so-young. Or sometimes, young. Occasionally, even younger, obvious from the year and date of birth.

There would be some faces I had grown familiar to, possibly because they would appear with such unfailing regularity. The displayed picture would more or less remain unchanged.  The brief prose, or sometimes poetry accompanying the picture betraying the deep pain and anguish of those left behind.

For instance, it has been 13 years last month, (September 19, 2002), but, every year, conspicuous is a small stamp size picture and a few touching words of remembrance to a lady called Priya Tendulkar. My generation would recall the fire-brand television actor who became a household name through her character Rajani, which took on the corrupt.

On Monday, October 6, 2014, my eyes remained transfixed to a pair of eyes staring at me from the obit page. It wasn’t only because the picture was much larger in size compared to the other departed names.

A Gentle face, not so young and surely not so old. Cropped hair. But oozing warmth and an unusual calm in the eyes.

It was, but obviously, an untimely demise. I tried to make some meaning of the possible reason of death or the antecedents. Or what the person’s occupation or family background was. The names, a large mourning family left behind going by the printed list, too, did not reveal much.

Felt sad at this early departure.

The same morning, another newspaper, in one of it’s inside news pages spoke about a young business tycoon and heir to a family empire having died after a massive heart attack while jogging, during a business trip to Maldives.  It was the same name.

This helped me join a few dots this time. Kind face. Large family. Young children. Untimely death. Business tycoon, I thought to myself.

A single paragraph news piece in another broadsheet newspaper the same morning caught my eye. Sports page. ‘Cricketer of yester-years and Sachin Tendulkar’s first captain in first class cricket passes away.’ A few cricketers had mourned the untimely demise. It was the same name.

Sportsman too.

Later that day, on facebook, I saw common friends, with different professional interests and age groups, commenting on the untimely end of this person. Each ‘friend’ contributing a new and fascinating aspect to the departed one. Donor, Helper, Good Samaritan, friend. Ever smiling.

I was amazed at the multi-dimensional persona of such a young face. And to add to it, was the aura.  And yet, he was gone. Just like that.

Two evenings later, stepping out of my office, my ears caught a soothing strain of music and vocals. It did not seem far away. Trying to trace the source, it carried my feet to the auditorium adjacent to my office. The otherwise desolate entrance had a queue almost half a kilometre long. From the entrance, inside, I could see another hundred odd people making their way up, to the first floor auditorium even as a parallel line inched its way down. They all seemed in shock. But for the gentle music, all the people around seemed bound by a common thread of sadness and voluntary silence.

It is a prayer meeting, said the security guard.

I wondered what made me do so, but I silently merged into the queue and about 45 minutes later, managed to make my way into the auditorium. The place was packed. Overflowing. People from different age brackets, some seemed businessmen, corporate types, young and old. Men, women. Youngsters. Some having come straight from work.

What could have brought so many people together? Who could have? It takes generations of hard work for someone to have such a following. For people to come across and admire you for whatever you may have done. Especially in a city like Mumbai, where you have no time for the living. Pray, what could have led so many to assemble for someone who was no more?

My eyes gradually traced the queue, all slowly making their way to the front of the stage, where the family of the bereaved, stood. Folded hands and fingers held tight together, almost as if, as if, the clasped fingers holding the spirit from crumbling.

Behind them, was the portrait. Of the same young face. Smiling eyes. As if watching his friends, well-wishers, asking them to continue showering his family with the love that had brought them here. Overwhelming was the moment.

Here, I quote a portion of the Obituary written by my friend Shishir Hattangadi, for Rajesh Sanghi. The young man who was no more and for whom, so many had chosen to change their routine.

“He played golf, ran the marathon, did all the right things to stay afloat in a world that can easily distract you with temptations. He liked a laugh and was always around for a chuckle, for old-time’s sake.

One is shocked and confused, can’t even imagine what his close friends and family are going through.

Time, I am told heals, I’m yet to find a balm that can give us the answers we spend a life time searching.

Rajesh Sanghi be happy wherever you are, and Mr. Destiny you owe his family and friends an explanation, and it better be a bloody good one.”

It is rare to find good Samaritans. Rare to find ideals. A species extinct as we look around us. People for whom life is so much more than just living. And in death they leave behind such a rich legacy. (https://shishirjoshi.wordpress.com/2010/09/23/the-man-with-the-umbrella/)

I didn’t know Rajesh. Baldy, as I am told he was popularly known across circles.

I first met him in the Obituary pages of the Times of India. I so wished I had the privilege to met him outside of that.

Yet, he left me with a deep sense of void and a lump in my throat.

What a way to have gone…What a way to have lived…

Ends

Mumbai-An orchestra without a Conductor

Why does Mumbai smell so much?  Is a question I have often been asked, by friends or family, whenever and whoever makes his maiden visit to this city. Smell? What smell? I remark. Maybe you have got used to it, they grumble. Maybe I have, I mutter back.

 

Do you know Mumbai is changing? I once asked a friend, a fresh Non-resident-Indian convert now based in New Zealand, over the phone. Will it ever?  He shot back. That was a couple of years ago.

A fortnight back, I was at the International airport terminal’s arrival lounge to receive the same friend.  As I watched him emerge, all that I could see him do was gawk in amazement. Wide eyed. Disbelieving. Whats wrong here,he gasped, in amazement. It has changed.

 

But there is nothing surprising in that look of his which I saw. I have in recent times seen many with those  dumbstruck looks.

 

I am a Marathi speaking Mumbaikar, yes. A hardcore one at that. But, I am also this city’s staunchest critic, if I could call myself one.  And in the role that I am, officially, heading a public trust which aims at transforming the lives of the citizens of Mumbai, I think my dual role helps me best.

(For the uninitiated, I recently completed 100 days as the CEO of Bombay First, or Mumbai First which can also be trached on http://www.mumbaifirst.org

Bombay First has a mandate and vision to transform Mumbai in to a better place to live, work and invest in. It aims to serve the city with the best that private business can offer. It will achieve this by addressing the problems of today and the opportunities of tomorrow, through partnerships with government, business and civil society. Catalyst. Joining Dots. A model of Private-Public-Partnership.)

 

Not many in Mumbai travel to the International Airport, the T2, as is popularly known, every day or even once a year for that matter. Thus, to expect them to shower heaps of praise on the “marvelous”drive to the airport and back, would be unfair. They would not even know it exists, but for the countless hoardings and newspaper ads and write-ups which spoke of the airport terminus when it was inaugurated. Who trusts the written word anyways, can be the argument.

 

And for staunch advocates of a transforming (which is a far cry from a transformed) Mumbai, the criticism is unabated. But yes, Mumbai is changing.

 

In the first half of this year, 2014, alone, Mumbai’s transformation  programme has offered the citizens the T2 (the International airport terminal and a fancy driveway to support it),  an elevated Eastern Express Freeway, the Metro rail, the elevated Mono rail and a lounging connector road between the Eastern suburbs and western suburbs called the SCLR (Santacruz Chembur Link road).

 

Then there is also the elevated road in the western suburbs which replaces the Milan subway and the freshly inaugurated Kherwadi flyover along the Western Express Highway which was a reason for many a traffic snarl for the better part of this summer.

 

For the lakhs of people of this city, all these are non existent. Optimists talk about the hundreds and thousands who take the metro train from Versova in Andheri (a western suburb) to Ghatkopar (in the eastern suburbs) every day.  But there are lakhs and lakhs who still wait in queues or plead to the auto rickshaw wallahs to take them to routes where the trains do not even dream of reaching.

 

Even within the city.  For them, Mumbai hasn’t changed. But worsened. The story is no different for those taking the Monorail. What’s that?  It’s that little toy train up in the sky which we may see in some parts of the city in the next generation.

 

The two works of art which have seen some appreciation and significant use, has been the Eastern Freeway, which connects the distant eastern suburbs to south Mumbai’s CST  cutting down travel time to almost one third and an almost similar, first-of-its-kind connect between the Western and Central suburbs from Kalina in Santacruz to Chembur, called the SCLR. The story of Mumbai is almost like that of the office of the  MTSU or Mumbai Transformation Support Unit, a body headed by bureaucrat, so typical in attire and yet, competent to the T. B C Khatua sits on the third floor of a rickety building adjacent to the beautiful and historic Horniman circle.

 

His job on behalf of the MTSU is to coordinate, advise, and monitor projects undertaken by the city’s multiple governing bodies.Multiple no doubt, as I would like to explain later. MTSU’s one-point agenda: to facilitate the transformation of Mumbai into a world-class city. It is ironical that the man keeping an eye on the city’s transformation sits in a building that could do with a lick of metamorphosis itself.  But, that is the story of Mumbai. There is so much happening. But the city is moving faster than the growth. The development, if one would call it that, has been more reactive, that proactive. The Metro project, for example, is a multi phased project.

 

The 11.4-km line was built over six years. The entire project should have been completed by now. What we have, is only the First phase, which has taken close to a decade.

 

One can imagine the state of the city, the population and its plight, when the project gets completed a hundred years later. Maybe not that many, but you get my point.

 

The Metro is not the only delayed project. One of the other projects which I have spoken of, the SCLR earned the epithet “world’s most delayed road project” from the World Bank. The monorail was greeted with sceptical jeers as the project in its current state hardly connects populated areas.

 

Mumbai’s list of woes is unending and like the delays in every project, is only growing.

 

The Mumbai Metropolitan Region [MMR, which includes Mumbai and its satellite towns like Navi Mumbai and Thane] is about 4,350 sq km. Of this, Mumbai and its suburbs account for 482 sq km, just 11%. But the population is largely focused around Mumbai and its suburbs.  We now have have a situation where nearly 12.5 million people out of the 22 million [in MMR] live in just 11% of the city’s land mass. A situation now gradually changing with people moving beyond Mumbai city limits and its suburbs to its satellite towns in search of more affordable dwelling. The 2011 census showed, the population of the island city of Mumbai came down from 33.26 lakh in 2001 to 31.45 lakh in 2011 (down 5.4%).

 

During this period, Navi Mumbai grew by 59%. Which is why, among the list of demands that are being pushed forth by the city planners, is the new International airport closer to Navi Mumbai.

 

Orchestra without a Conductor:

 

For every right that takes place, there are ten wrongs, remarks one town planner, who has been associated with this city’s infrastructure  project since the time he has living memory.

 

As Adi Godrej, Chairman of the Godrej group told a journalist, “Mumbai is not in a decline… things are changing, but not at the pace they should be. The city has to keep up with the times.” Seventeen agencies are involved in the city’s governance. It is like an an orchestra. You have 17 players — each one of them good at what they do — but without a conductor…it simply can’t work, I remember Narinder Nayar, Chairman of Bombay First once telling me. There are multiple bodies doing the same work, be it in the Railways or the Public works and infrastructure, almost competing and sometimes fighting with each other.

 

What Does Mumbai need?

 

First and foremost, Mumbai needs a CEO like officer and an institution which can be the conductor of this unwieldy orchestra. This should be supported by a ministry in the government which looks differently at mega cities and their growth and issues. For instance, much of Mumbai’s mobility woes have been attributed to the increasing number of vehicles on the roads, which have left pedestrians with no choice but to either stay indoors or come under the wheels of these vehicles.

 

The alternate option is to have a coastal road. Mumbai being a coastal city. But, the stringent CRZ (Coastal regulatory Zone) rules, which apply to all coastal cities, apply here and prominent citizens have been advocating that these rules be eased for mega cities.

 

Mumbai also lacks open spaces. Landsharks seek out any bit of open land before the public can get to it. What town planners have found as a safe alternative is the under-utilised land of the Mumbai Port Trust.

 

There is a huge track of land, completely underutilised. Along the South-east coast of Mumbai. Free this up and make it available to Mumbaikars for recreation, has been the voice of many a campaigners, including former banker Meera Sanyal, who twice contested the elections from South Mumbai but lost on both occasions. What Mumbai also needs is a kinder eye to the problem that masses face every day. A significant number of people of this city commute by the rail system every day. Under extremely pitiable conditions. The suburban rail network desperately needs a coat of modernisation. Bombay First has also been campaigning for a body which can integrate all forms of public transport and uniformly transform it, modernise it and make it a place of pride for the citizens.

 

Almost in the manner that the metro rail has been for this city. And then make the entire travel air-conditioned.

 

Then finally, citizens will get an opportunity to breathe easy. The sigh of relief can come later.

 

THE TOUCH AND FEEL OF THE CHIEF MINISTER

 

(A fictional account of the Chief Minister’s travel to Mumbai. I mean, to the city beyond the airport.)

One year back, I had urged the Chief Minister of Maharashtra (https://shishirjoshi.wordpress.com/2011/09/03/open-letter-to-the-chief-minister/)

to some day  try travelling towards the Mumbai which exists beyond the domestic/international  airport and experience  life on the moon, with all craters intact. (Clichéd and sic, but true).

Last week, Mr. Chavan finally agreed. Here is his touch-and-feel account.

Mr. Chavan was to attend a bhoomi poojan ceremony of a mall promoted by a fellow politician who had joined hands with two others; a suspended cop and a reputed builder. This was to be held at Andheri east, closer towards the Sahar international airport. The scheduled time of the event was seven pm.

One option was to take a chopper, but since that would  have meant taking to the skies after sunset (not permitted by  DGCA laws) , that idea never took wings. The other option was to hit the road. With four pilot cars and an equal number of escort vehicles behind him, the joy ride would have taken not more than 25 minutes to reach Andheri. (Peak traffic time rules do not apply to lal batti gaadis) . It otherwise takes nothing less than 2 hours on a normal day from Church gate to Andheri by road. Mr. Chavan dropped this idea too as, in the wake of growing unrest against public servants, he wanted to prove a larger point.

How long will it take me to reach Andheri?, he asked his man Friday, 45minutes, pat came the reply from an eager beaver, “just 45 minutes sahib, our public transport  shystam is very paarfect. “By train, he hastily added.  It was 4.30 in the afternoon and there was still a full 30 minutes for Mantralaya, the state administrative headquarters to officially stop work for the day. “Sahib you leave at 4.40 pm saheb, so you will get a direct ladies special bus from Mantralaya to Churchgate station. We all leave office early anyways to catch that bus. So nothing wrong in you doing it”, he said.

 The conscientious leader did not want to be seen sneaking out of Mantralaya before time, least of all, into a ladies special. So he covered himself under a burqa, and leapt into the ladies special bus, reaching Churchgate in a jiffy.

He was shocked to see so many trains. Never known to take instant firm decisions, he dithered, once again. He lunged to a public assistance booth. It was unattended. He was running late so he scampered to the Railway police chowki. Two uniformed cops were busy entertaining someone at the other end of the line. After a three-minute wait, one of them asked the burqa clad leader if “she”had lost a child or a mobile.  If not, don’t waste my time, was the look he gave her.

Ändheri key liye train kahan sey?”  enquired the burqa PRC (Prithvi Raj Chavan ). 
“Mere chehre pe 197 likha hai kya?” (Does my face have a telephone enquiry tattooed on it??) bellowed the cop and  told PRC to take any train, since  “they all go via Andheri”.

PRC ran towards a train inching out of the platform, managing to cling into the gate rod and footboard in the nick of time. It was the general (read MALE) compartment of a Virar fast.

Even before Prithvi bhau could catch his breath, there seemed men in all shapes and sizes offering theirs. At every station, the number of hands, fingers, palms, groins, thighs, paan-stained faces and knees played doctor-doctor with Prithvi bhau. Periodically, a wave of people surged in, or were pushed out, a fresh pairs of hands made it a point to explore the unexplored. With renewed vigor.

Prithvi bhau had once seen an award-winning  newspaper  photograph of a man sandwiched  between two BEST buses. Fear painted on his face. Those images came flashing in front of Prithvi bhau’s eyes, as a stock man inched deeper and closer into him, softly humming, Jaata kahan hai deewaaney…sab kuch yahan hai sanam..(where are you trying to escape my love, all that you want is here…)

It was the longest Churchgate to Andheri ride that Prithvi bhau had ever undertaken.

As the train neared Andheri, he sensed a light at the end of the over-bridge. His relief was short-lived. First, Virar loyals refused to allow an Andheri Indian to disembark. When Prithvi bhau finally did, his farewell it was not without the accompaniment of a few pinches, blows, touches-feelies, slaps and choicest of gender abuses marked his harried and hurried farewell.

In great pain, Prithvi bhau managed to take the foot over-bridge, clutching on to what remained of his burqa.

In the surging crowds, Prithvi bhau was surprised how many people, especially men, suffered from what he thought was a “temporary elbow problem.”  “From a distance they seemed fine, as soon as they came closer, their elbows would jut out”, he told a friend later. “Ï wonder why?” he questioned. He also never understood why most women who negotiate these bridges hold their purses and bags in front of them, cross-armed.

About to take the steps down, his eyes popped at the sight of an elevated  runway. Paused long enough to notice very few people walking onto it. Most others choosing to wade through the sea of human miracle. “That is a sky walk”, shouted out a vendor, responding to the quizzical look. Before he could say thank you, he had been knocked by another wave of people coming from the next train.

 It took Prithvi bhau twenty minutes to come out of the railway station. Another fifteen to wait for a bus stop before giving up and choose to stand in line for an auto rickshaw.  He had left Mantralaya at 4.45 pm.It was nearing 7 pm.

After three auto rickshaws had turned him down and a fourth ran over his leg,  bhau finally managed to get a shared rickshaw, sandwiched between two men.

He had no energy to fight back. He just let the guys help themselves. Too tired even to take heed to what Aasaram bapu preached on Monday. (For the uninitiated and unaware, Aasaram bapu in a public discourse blamed the victim of the Delhi gang rape for what happened to her. He said and I quote from television news clips, the Delhi gang rape victim would have saved her life if she had pleaded and made the alleged rapists her brothers”.)

Prithvi bhau was beyond  new relationships.

He somehow managed to reach the venue. Clothes intact but dignity in tatters.

It was 7.45 pm. It had taken three hours for him to reach Andheri East’s Sahar locality.  “Tumcha chehra  itka utarlela kasa? Amhi roz ashech ghari pohochto  saheb”. (Why are you looking so pale sir? This is how we travel and reach home every day”, one of the women at the venue told him.

The event got over in ten minutes. One of the middle-class Mumbaikars was planning to take a train back to Churchgate. “Nako rey baba”, pleaded Prithvi bhau, when they asked if he would like to join them. He chose a taxi drive back.

Prithvi bhau was drained. He somehow managed to send a text message to Madam ji in Delhi, to tell her how he braved Mumbai’s commute and hoping she is now proud of her as he has finally identified with the “Marathi manoos”.

One is not sure if it was Madam ji or chottey sarkar. But, orders were given for every Congresi  leader to follow suit.

One local leader  said she wanted to emulate Chavan saheb. No, not by travelling in the Delhi metro. 

Last heard, she was seen at one of the deserted bus stops in an old Delhi by lane. .. You don’t want to hear what happened next….Do you….?

ends

 

 

WHEN THE PUSS-BOIL BURST…..

 

Four years ago, exactly a week after the attack on Mumbai, hundreds of thousands of people swarmed to the Gateway of India. They were expressing ‘solidarity’. To whom I do not fairly remember any longer. Because there were almost as many posters, banners and demands as there were people.

Some condemned politicians, some the police, some of them were hate Pakistan messages while a few hated their own country too.

It seemed the entire nation was on a boil. But, nothing happened after that.

A few months ago, Anna Hazare decided to give up food, championing an anti corruption crusade. (Bhrasht aachar is basically corrupt behaviour and not financial corruption, which he was fighting against.)

Again, gas burners came on full throttle. This time it was pan (urban) India. Unlike the December 3, 2008 Gateway of India candle-light slogan-shouting which lasted an entire evening, this one was far prolonged; it took about a week of action before the ‘solidarity’ drama simmered down.

Delhi is on slow fire again. The sea of human anger is this time displaying ‘solidarity’ against the pathetic state of human life and security /sexual harassment towards women/the State/Delhi police/police brutality/ and /or the government’s inability to handle a situation well.

It is too early to predict the longevity of this agitation. But whatever the duration its and outcome, what makes me wonder is the Why This and Why NOT that.

(Mumbai 2008 saw the then Home Minister and  Chief Minister of Maharashtra resign whereas the Anna agitation saw news channel TRPs shoot up and Ralegaon Siddhi coming on the national map),

Why is it that a (quoting a Union minister)  “rarest of rare rape case” (whatever that means) on a given day sees us out in the street but for similar or worse offences in our backyard we tend to show a damn.

Why is it that we raise slogans against corruption as we are precariously perched, triple-seated, whistling and ogling at the opposite sex, and do not even have an iota of misgiving about the mess in our home constituency?

What is it that drove us to the Gateway of India one Wednesday evening in 2008?  Was it the desperate desire to bring change? Instantly?

Was the candle-lit march to the Gateway post the Terror attacks nothing but an orgasmic display of machismo on one Wednesday promptly replaced by a shrivelled up manhood a week later when a similar call for arms did not even evoke one finger?

Why is it that Anna Hazare’s fast undo death evoked within many of us a hunger to ‘do something’? So desperate were we that we paid our way systems, dug into loopholes and broken every possible traffic rule on the way to make it in time to show how keen we were to see a clean, law abiding India.

But then, if we were so desperate, where has our bravado gone when it comes to taking to the street when countless instances of eve-teasing are reported or seen by us day in and out? Or at least sustaining the agitation we had so bravely championed.

Hundreds and thousands are taking turns to face water cannons near Rashtrapati Bhavan every hour, in the last few days. Protesting against a system, callous statements, administrative bickering and wanting to ‘do something’.  The very mention of the Delhi gang rape makes the blood boil and take one to the streets.

Less than a decade ago, two teenagers , in the want of some extra buck broke into their teacher’s home and unable to find much money, brutally murdered the sixty-something lady teacher. Unable to pacify a wailing and petrified child in the room, the two boys used a telephone cord to hang the innocent two year old from the ceiling fan.  In the almost Maximum (rape) city, Mumbai.

In the last 24 hours, another two year old, in the western Indian state of Gujarat has died. Raped by a house guest. Two year old.

”Is my child’s rape and death  less brutal, that no one is out on the streets protesting here, but choose the Delhi gang rape matter to raise?” is the question from an inconsolable father of the two year old. Why is it that hundreds have turned up in Delhi, to protest a gang rape and none have displayed a public outcry to the Gujarat incident?

What makes our stomach churn? What causes the tipping point? Why is it that situation A makes us go ballistic and sometimes, a case as brutal and heinous, or worse, not even provoke us to leave the breakfast table? Why?

I remember many years ago, and every time Mumbai’s underbelly was ripped open by a terror attack, we in the media would say, Mumbai will bounce back, because it is a city that never sleeps.  People will be back in office within a day or two.

It has taken many an underbelly ripping for us to realise that Mumbai, is in fact a city which has no options.

Why is it some situations make us take to the streets? And other situations, we are back at work? Is it because we, like the dying city of Mumbai, too have no option but to close our eyes and believe that everything will soon be normal again?

 

Disclaimer: My heart goes out to the family of the girl who was brutally assaulted. And to the countless victims of pain and assault of all forms. Secretly, I do wish the alleged perpetrators were born in a country where the rule of law is public stoning without a trial.

I must also confess that I am a diehard optimist. While I often question myself on this lopsided behaviour and reaction of us Indians towards crime and human pain, I am always amazed and grateful that despite hundreds of cases which go unnoticed, there are those rare instances where people do take to the streets, expressing their heartfelt..

Having said that, the question refuses to leave.  What is it about or cerebral wiring or the chords of the heart which tell us, not this one but that one?  Why?

I quote a friend: The issues that irk people happen to them all the time but they find collective expression difficult. But, as anger subsides, so does euphoria and madness.  Does life allow ordinary people to continue such struggles?

 

 

 

Ends

OPEN LETTER TO THE CHIEF MINISTER

 

Dear Mr. Chief Minister

 

I should have written to you almost one year back, when you took over as the driver of the elected machine in Maharashtra. The idea was to give you a brief about the state of affairs. Or, affairs of the State. Since you would be(relatively)  new here.

Mercifully, it is not too late. You remain as clueless and as far from reality as you were then.

I wonder if you were any point interested in handling this State? (Your disinterest seems a bit too obvious). After all, you are Prithvi-raj (one who rules the world) pray then why would a tiny inconsequential state like Maharashtra, however MAHA  it claims to be, should interest you?

Or is it that the hangover of your previous portfolio, MOS in the PMO,  still remains and hence, matters  of  a state, belittle your competence.

Having said that, I must confess, you are ideal for the state of Maharashtra.  Why, that I shall justify later in this note.

Talking of ideal, at least you are ideally better off than your predecessor, who seemed too engrossed in his ‘ideals’ ( Adarsh),which  led to his downfall.  How can we trust a Chief Minister who can disown his mother-in-law and say she is not family, at the drop of a hat, or in this case,  at the sale of a flat.

But that apart, I think it is high time you knew something about your State.

To begin with, a lesson in state capital, Mumbai’s Geography and contours.

Mumbai is not seven kilometers  in radius, from Mantralaya to Varsha. (For the uninitiated, Varsha is the official residence of the Maharashtra Chief Minister).  Mr. CM, you may live in Varsha, but, the real downpour happens in the rest of Mumbai.

 Central Mumbai for instance, once had mills which Mumbai was recognized  for.  Mills have made way for Malls. What remains are chimneys, more as a heritage fascination. Obviously you don’t seem them billowing with smoke as in the past. Strangulated off their last breath by DBuilders , or people who have more filth in their veins than that flows through Mumbai’s archaic drainage system.

The little hope, from public representatives has been dashed. In central Mumbai itself, one such rep  notorious for his stone chawl which even cops fear to scale, while another is popular for his dahi handis rather than ‘upliftment’.

.

But then, people have given up expecting much from the likes of elected representatives. Many of whom have criminal records and share space with you in the cabinet, or under the same roof  in the legislature. You , Mr CM, do not have the courage to enquire why the most inconsequential of leaders manages to travel in the fanciest of cars the moment he gets elected.

.Lower your cr windows and look at their convoys too, Mr CM, You could pick a tip on which car to use for your convoy the next time round.

As I maintained earlier, Mumbai is not only the road from Mantralaya to Varsha. You must some day, drive into rest of Mumbai. Oh yes, there is actually life beyond Dadar too.

Bandra, yes, the same where the sea link begins or ends. Yes the same Sea link which your party leaders and alliance partners squabbled, over the naming, the day it was inaugurated.

What? You haven’t heard of Andheri is it? It is one of the biggest suburbs of Mumbai. Yessss….that’s where Bollywood is. Oh Bollywood you have heard of, is it? How come? Yes, Correct, the same Bollywood where one of your predecessor’s son is gainfully employed. Yes the same chap who went with Ramu Verma into Oberoi hotel shortly after the 26/11 attacks. No wonder.

 

Honestly Mr. CM, Mumbai has grown. Oblivious to your information, some of your colleagues, hand in glove with the builders have managed to make this city’s geographies extend to far and beyond.

‘Ab Dilli Door nahin’, was once used by politicians who eyed a ‘influential’ seat in the Delhi political circle. Your men in Mumbai have redefined it, by promising land to the hapless Mumbaikar in far-flung areas which may appear closer to Delhi than to Mantralaya or mainland.

When (and if ) you do travel to the suburbs of Mumbai, don’t be shocked to see vehicles with just three wheels bobbing up and down.  These are not smaller jet planes going through air pockets.

These are called auto-rickshaws, which are going through crater like pot holes.  (A little word of advice. Instead of filling up pot holes, your civic admin can simply join all pot holes by breaking the edges. The road will get leveled. It is far cheaper and faster. True there is lesser money to make, in such a scenario. )

I invite you to a ‘sponsored’  auto-ride. (Of course, the first test will be if you manage to convince  an auto-wallah  to stop for a passenger.  Nope, the cops are very unlikely to pay heed.

 

Talking of locals and cops.

 I think you need to look at the police machinery too. Of the 33,000 police force, as of last count, only a handful are busy in investigating crimes. (Yes some have committed them and some have been shielding those who have committed them). Rest are busy guarding VVIPs, political morchas, clear traffic when your party’s President or the country’s President also from your party visits Mumbai, the latter, so very often.

 

There are also some in uniform, too busy hiding behind trees and bushes to jump onto the road and scare the shit out of an unsuspecting driver and pocket some money from him for traffic violation.

Net net, you don’t see them doing what they ought to be doing.

The locals are next.(here I mean the local trains and not the Bihari babus  who Raj bhau seems to be fixated upon) The scores of massage parlors which were fronts for sex rackets have now extended themselves  to the local trains too. Ummmm…..This is a feel you have to feel.

Talking of Local trains, I sincerely urge you to board a Virar fast local, and try getting out at Andheri.  Don’t forget to inform the Congress Hi-kamaan (HQ) to start looking for a replacement in the meanwhile.  The term Molestation gets redefined in such locations, whichever gender you may belong to.

Well, Mumbai as I repeat, is much more fascinating than your eight minute drive.

 In some suburbs, after you get off the train(or get thrown off ), stop by a paani-puri wallah and gently bend down to look under the stall. Hello Mr. ,  I didn’t ask you to look at the paani-puri wallah’s  fingers pacifying his itchy lower half. What I want you to gaze, is  at the ground below. These are called foot paths, meant for people to walk. (Some of these relics  are visible in paintings of Old Mumbai and  portions of Ballard Estate).

Your over-zealous money-maker partners-in-crime  have done a magic trick. Like you. They have made the foot paths disappear. Filled them up with hawkers and, converted them into elevated footpaths, which most senior citizens find it tough to climb. But, who cares.

It is all a blame game.Your guys blaming the cops, cops blaming the system and  everyone making hay, waiting for Madam’ s son to shine. Just a little note to tell you that in all this, your Executive, who are meant to execute what you guys legislate,  are busy playing God to anyone with grease.  This is one lot, who do not need palmists for sure.

Net net, Mr. CM, you need to wake up. You need to smell the coffee. When you start smelling, you will realize that Mumbai smells like crap. Different suburbs, different smells.

 

As I said at the beginning of my piece, this city deserves you. You deserve this city too. For someone who is now known across political circles in Maharashtra as too good and too nice a guy, let me tell you,  translated, in hindi, it is not a very charitable way to describe a person.

But, as I mentioned earlier, Maharashtra  and Mumbai deserves someone like you. We, of recent past, now belong to the state of  anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare. With great pride and excitement we attended his rally. Some of us also packed our cars with booze so that we could party the night away after the day was spent waving at TV cameras in our designer ‘I am Anna’ caps.

 Many piled onto bikes and scooters, a-la three idiots,ignoring traffic laws, whistling and passing remarks at women on the way.(How dare any one stop us, we are Anna’s brigade and fighting corruption you see).  Some were also stopped by cops but a hundred rupee note ensured , that our rally-party wasn’t dampened.

Some also told their respective office that they want leave to attend Anna’s victory rally, but headed off to Lonavala. Booze and butter chicken zindabaad.

Dear Chief Minister, we have pot holes and no footpaths. We have traffic and no roads. We have rainfall but no water and we are such a huge and large city, but, your men have made it unaffordable for the average man to buy a place here.

We have to make a living, but we have no life.

We are proud to be Mumbaikar’s,  Mr. Chief Minister.  But, we don’t really care about Mumbai.

Somehow, we are like you. Same-same, but different.  You claim to be there, but, do you also really care?

 

ends

THIS India, THAT India and PREGNANT India

Which India do we really live in? ummm…which one do we really want to be in? And more precisely, which one do we belong to?

There as many answers to this question as opnions on how  Sachin Tendulkar misjudged a Warney off-spin.

There is that India which DOES. The rest of India watches.  Sometimes, it is This India which DOES  and THAT  India watches.

Each, wanting a slice of the other. An invisible F divides the two. Fence.

One often wonders, whether this India even knows  what goes in the mind of the Indians in the other India. The twains never shall meet. Except on screen.

I remember when Mumbai was drowning almost six years ago. I was in the August company of a few celebrity salesmen.  One endorses shampoos the other laptops while two others were champion salesmen for luxury car brands.

All hard core Mumbaikars.

During the July rains, before during and after, all of them were art home.  “What? “ Reallly””? You mean a double-decker bus was submerged in water in Andheri Lokhandwala?” You mean this happened in Mumbai yesterday when I was at home? “ Oh FXXXK, and that’s why my cable wallah was not responding to my phone calls as my cable wasn’t working.

Finally, a week later, the salesmen were out on TV, appealing for likeminded people to loosen their purse strings. The meeting of minds did happen. On screen.

Their Mumbai and our Mumbai.

Do you know that they have a 27 storey house, only for themselves. Their car park is six floors and can fit in 168 cars and one floor for a car servicing station. That means, even if they fall on bad days, financially, the3y can make enough money only by renting the six parking floors through BMC for a car pay and park and make both ends meet, isn’t it? It means when it rains even if their ground floor gets submerged they can move to the second floor without extra cost? Wow.

The house is ready but the hose-warming will be next year. Saw it on TV.

Our India and their India.

Then there is an India which merges somewhere. I call  it the Then and Now India. When the young and the not so young compete for scores in the Tenth and Twelfth standard. When good marks are as easily available as a back rub in a Mumbai local train. My neighbor’s  not-so-bright teenaged brat  was depressed because he scored only 93 per cent.  His equally not-so-interested partner in crimes had scored 96 per cent.  Cool, is all that he reacted.

If 96 was cool and not a  big deal, I wondered how they would have reacted  had they heard what the topper in my tenth standard batch had scored  a whopping 63 per cent and had become  a school hero for his scores. Ummm….I was happy looking at my name in the “Passed” list.  Yes 34 per cent was actually passed, even in those days. Then India.

And just heard that a college in Delhi has kept a first cut off of 100 per cent.  Now India.

I Enough of reflections. This  India. That India. Then India Now India. Their India. Our India.

I decided to sit back and watch some TV.  The screen which binds the two Indias.

Watched  the previous morning’s images of  One India trooping down streets, some on hunger strike and others with candles, demanding strength to the world’s most populated democracy.

 Switched channels. This time, the evening image. The same India. Having changed into chiffons and silks.Candles replaced by candle-lit dinners. Ready to step out for a party. To celebrate  the good news that OUR  daughter-in-law was finally pregnant.

For newspapers, it was page one no doubt. So what only a single column. For TV (smoke) screens, it was the  Big (B) story.

Should India  worry that Lok Pal was still a distant dream or should India celebrate that the Bahu was pregnant.

This India and That India. We had chosen Both.

We are like this only. Same same. But different.