An inside view on a city of a million dreams and as many nightmares —
-by “The Metal Head Economist”
I had recently gone back to Mumbai for a short while, and did a little summer job there. Not much of a vacation really. Once you’re used to the slow, lazy and rather incompetent lifestyle of any other Indian city, Mumbai is a mountainous challenge. I had developed the mental strength required to survive the “Maximum City” and its transport system during my days in one of the town colleges out of sheer compulsion. Being a resident of a suburb, I had to travel quite a bit to get to college during my intermediate. However, you need to be habituated to Mumbai. You can’t just show up two years later and expect it to be as simple as it was. It’s not the bars, pubs and malls that sets Mumbai apart from the rest of the country (or the world). You get those everywhere. They maybe lesser in quantity, but there isn’t really much of a difference between going to a pub in Mumbai or any other city in India. What really gives Mumbai its unique flavor is that it is nothing short of ruthless. You could fall right off a train and get run over by the next one. Unless you’re travelling with someone you know, in all probability, no one will even bother to look back. This place can intimidate the living daylights out of anyone. Every time I walked on the bridge at Andheri station, I’d realize how insignificant I (or anyone) as an individual was to the city. There were just so many people. I was so easily replaceable. My contribution was minuscule. Mumbai could easily do without me; I practically had no significant existence. But then it’s when I’d halt for a second on the bridge, and look down upon the platforms, that the significance of each person became so evident. While you’d have a train coming in literally every minute, and a massive crowd of thousands of people being refreshed at an alarming rate, it was also pretty obvious that in that massive sea of people, if even one person were missing i.e. if there were to be even the tiniest of gap in that crowd, it just wouldn’t be the same. It would go from being, quite literally, an ocean of humanity, to just a really huge crowd. It’s then that I realized that I’d halted to look for way too long, and I’d missed a train or two. As the days went by, I had started getting used to seeing things like old men and little kids getting pushed around by young and middle aged men and women or drunken fragile old guys getting their beaten black and blue in front of a million people. What was really amazing though, was that no one complained. The passersby had no time to do anything more than just pass by, the younger guys have to get to work on time and the old men/women, kids and handicapped people know that there’s no point whining and that they’d better get back to their lives. It’s a nasty, heartless city and that’s why it’s the best in the country and one of the best in the world. Everyone has a life. The news may make it look like political elements manage to often disrupt life there, but they really don’t manage much. People there don’t have time to give them attention. The rain and bomb blasts do manage to create some sorts of disruptions, but only to a minimal extent. There’s too much competition. Even a roadside Pani Puri Wallah has to deal with 10 other hawkers around him selling the exact same product. It’s all about quality, quantity and efficiency there. You could be poor, lower middle class, upper middle class or even rich, you aren’t likely to have much time to rest. The efficiency that the public transport here displays is perhaps a little too much. There is no human element to it whatsoever. It’s very simple and straight forward. You go by the meter (in rickshaws and taxis). No more than three people per auto and 4 per taxi. No one cares if you’re out of cash and you need to get to the hospital to meet a dying friend or family member or anything. You have to pay up. And again, no one complains. Everyone knows their duties. Personal negotiations (on a day to day basis) are minimal. The levels of specialization are very high. Parts of Mumbai display capitalism at its pinnacle. To a Mumbaikar, the government makes no difference whatsoever, since government intervention is minimal anyway. It’s a well oiled machine and if you try to mess with it, you’ll probably end up dead. I love the city, it’s like an addiction. You know there’s so much wrong with it, but paradoxically, it looks so perfect. No one who has spent a decent amount of time there would ever mind going back. The money, the glamour, the development and also the pain, the suffering, the selfishness and lack of human compassion in many places makes the city an irreplaceable monument that the rest of the country can only marvel at. India cannot have more than one Mumbai, but would be powerless without its economic capital.
The MetalHead Economist is a Free Minded individual, who dares to opine, anonymously, at the end of the day he is a student of Economics – very much like “The Invisible hand”
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