Vantage point

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Resilient Bombay: The epitome of self-denial and subservience

This is a post by Tony Xavier, who will be writing occasional guest pieces for Vantage Point

Disclaimer: There might be nothing wrong it might just be me.

My experience of Bombay up until the February of this year has been intermittent and privileged, the former because of the duration of my visits and the latter because I did not need to transact with the city like an ordinary or rather like the superhuman citizen of this selfish city. I did not need to transact like a Mumbaikar because I was either luxuriating in the plush comforts of the residential training center of my erstwhile employers or I was staying with my friend at his Carter Road residence (a one room kitchen with my friends room being the kitchen converted into a bedroom) and did not need to travel at all. I liked the city for the two things, Toto's and freedom. But I realize that the freedom is illusory or rather experienced by a very small minority, either the visitors or the people who can afford live in their islands within this island city.

There is a give and take relationship between every metropolis and its residents, Bombay just takes and I have had the opportunity of living in all of India's metropolises and Bangalore. There is a tacit understanding and acceptance of the fact that the city is the boss. You have to be subjugated to it. It almost borders on slavery and that too no ordinary one. I call the people here superhuman because of the immunity they have developed to the hardships they are put to. Commuting daily to work is an ordeal that is an affront to human dignity. While traveling by the local in peak hours, (that is when people need to travel) they are no less than animals that are being packed and shipped. New entrants will find it abhorrent and their faces would more than give away their feeling of impotent anger. Yet slowly but surely they will push shove and jostle and find some ground beneath their feet and something to clutch on to. Millions of people who live in this city have no other choice but to fight and survive this city and live, just like the gladiators of Rome. Those who survive, live. Those who succeed to get a ticket into their own islands are glorified. It wouldn't need any explanation that while commuting is the most intensely inhuman part and there are other aspects like the roof above your head, which are no less exacting.

All this is life in normalcy. There will be seasonal rains and bombs to make things more difficult for most and may be end things for some. What is most exasperatingly ludicrous is the celebration of the Spirit of Mumbai and its ability to bounce back from the rains the bomb blasts and every thing that is thrown at them. How long will the media and the islanders celebrate this? There will more rains, more chaos, more bombs and more deaths and each and every day after people will turn up at work and their spirit will be hailed.

This is not resilience but a lack of self-respect coupled with a lack of voice. As long as people put up with shit, they will get shit and their ability to take insurmountable heaps of it will be celebrated. I don't see industry making any loud noises at least the way Premji did in Bangalore. They did it in Bangalore because business was getting affected due to the lack of infrastructure and maybe also because they could afford to move out. In Bombay business will not get affected, people will report to work through sweat, nausea and rain.

The day people bring the machine to a halt they will get the respect that is due to them. It is not something that we Indians have no history of, if under Gandhi we could use non-cooperation as a tool to get our rights and dignity from the British we can as well use it against our current rulers. All that needs to be done is for all the people of this city to decide that they will not go to work till they are provided with means to transact with this city, means that are human. Only then will the city come to a halt, the cash registers stop ringing and the common man's voice be heard.