Saturday, April 22, 2006

Addicted to Bombay

As part of a lively debate on his Bombay v/s Delhi series, Dhoomk2 asked me to put in a post on Bombay. This is my attempt.

Bombay is a drug. Prolonged use is lethal. Highs include money, wealth and success. That's what draws the droves into the city everyday. From the uneducated exile arriving at VT with Rs10 in his pocket dreaming of becoming a film star, to the IIT-IIM grad arriving at the airport dreaming of heading Citigroup India.

For this, they are willing to endure a painfully low “quality of life”. As is oft said – “People in Bombay don’t live, they exist”. Commuting in jam-packed trains or stuck in traffic jams. Walking over perennially dug-up streets, choking from the dust in the air and nearly drowning in the rains. Living under a polythene sheet supported by two poles, with a gutter flowing below you, and sharing that space with three others. Or staying in matchbox-sized flats paying rents that could feed an entire village. And dreaming of buying an apartment at a price that could feed a hundred others. It's all part of the dream.

So, then what is it? What is that keeps everyone going? X factors, sex factors, Y factors and why factors. Here’s my take.

Welcome to the jungle. Bombay throbs with activity. Enterprise runs in its blood. From the fish markets of Sassoon Dock to Lion Gate, to the Stock Market to kapda bazaar, Dawa bazaar, Chor bazaar, Null the tanneries in Dharavi, the tabelas of Jogeshwari, Film City in Goregaon...and on and on. Each place an industry on its own. Each place with thousands of people chasing their dream.Too many places, too many people, too little time..too many dreams. All in one city.

For all its crowds, Bombay also gives you privacy. Even if you share it with a million others, your space is still yours. With the sea as your constant companion. For each harried commuter that pushes you to get ahead at Churchgate station, there will be many others who won’t care as you ponder life’s vagaries over a sunset at Marine Drive. Or Chowpatty. Or Worli Sea Face. Or Carter Road, Band Stand, Chowpatty and Juhu. You will come here again when you fall in love. And probably when it’s raining.

Bombay doesn’t believe much in sleep. Its lifelines – the local trains – sleep only for three hours. Buses, I’ve heard even less. You can find a taxi almost anywhere at any hour. The driver won’t fleece you, unless you’ve taken him from the airport.

When the trains do wake up at around 4am, life’s already gathering pace. On the first trains out, you’ll find a man with a large basket of gendas (marigolds) sitting next to you. He’s headed to Dadar’s flower market, where there are already hundred others lined up on the roads. Once he’s gone, you’ll be joined by the newspaper-wala grappling with a bundle of papers under his armpit, defying various laws of physics. There’s even a good chance now, that you could be joined by dance bar girls. Perhaps you won’t recognise them. Away from the dance floors they rule, and devoid of their make-up, Roshni, Chandni, Huma, Rupa and Mona look like the girls-next-door. They are.

Dance bars. That quintessential part of Bombay nightlife. No, dance bars aren’t about sex. There isn’t any. Dance bars are about the yearning. And the money. It’s about the garlands of Rs10/100/500 notes (depending on which one you visit). After showering garlands of marigolds on his God, the same man now showers garlands of currency on his girl. And oh, how he yearns for a smile from her. It’s the only time he realises the true meaning of “Salaam-e-ishq meri jaan zarra kubool kar lo, tum humse pyaar karne ki zaraa si bhool kar lo”. The mohabbat ka maara to his maseeha.

And then the people. Bombay belongs to its masses. Bombay belongs to Sailu, the nariyalpaani-waala, who personifies the typical quiet do-gooder in our city. Bombay belongs to the street kid who peddles a whole array of books at traffic signals. And then asks you for a lift from Mahalakshmi temple to Worli Naka. He’s not worried if you refuse. This is Bombay and he’ll get his lift. His day is over. It’s time to study. Under the streetlights on the road next to the Doordarshan TV Tower. And there are many others like him at the steps of Asiatic Library. They will make it in life. In their own way, all of them will. If they will, so will you. This is Bombay.

Money, wealth, opportunity, lust, agony, ecstasy, crowds, loneliness, privacy, space, fun, people, food, Gods, demons, poverty, affluence, effluence, greed, power, movies.

Life. Bombay.

Suketu Mehta took 584 pages to narrate his Bombay stories. And his publisher is now thinking of a companion volume with the stories that didn't make it.

Me? I think Bombay can’t be defined and is beyond description. Just like the high you get from a drug. Bombay is a drug. And I’m an addict.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Phoenix Mills - because the story must be told

This was a long overdue post. I’ve been wanting to do it ever since my Mill Land Blogs (links in the sidebar). Then I stumbled on this brilliant and well-researched case-study by Shekhar Krishnan. My post is based almost entirely on that report, which was done for the Girangaon Bachao Andolan and Lokshahi Hakk Sanghatana in April 2000.

Cross-reference on the Phoenix Mill issue can also be found in the submissions of the Girni Kamgaar Sangharsh Samiti (GKSS) to the High Court in the Mill Land case. (para 195[ii], page289, PIL Writ Petition No. 482 of 2005). (The 368-page Oct-05 High Court judgement can be downloaded here).

Incorporated in 1905, Bitia Mills was later christened as Phoenix Mills and is located in Lower Parel, Bombay. What follows next is how “High Street Phoenix” was born. Or how Phoenix Mills was killed. Its story is proof of how some mill-owners bended laws to shut down their mills, siphon off funds and cast aside their workers like an unnecessary liability. It’s a story that needs to be told.

I’ll start with an extract from Meera Menon and Neera Adarkar’s comprehensive and moving book – One Hundred Years, One Hundred Voices. The book is about the history of Bombay’s Mill Lands (Girangaon) as seen through the eyes of one hundred of its inhabitants.

Gangadhar Chitnis (73 years). General Secretary of the Girni Kamghar Union. Excellent academic record, joined the Communist Party as a fulltime worker. Worked with S. A. Dange in the GKU.

“Bitia Mills had a lot of women, at least 1,200 in the reeling and winding departments. In 1938, the mill management increased the workload by asking each woman worker to handle two wheels instead of one. The women went on strike. They gheraoed the manager and Ruia, the owner. That was the first time gherao had been used as a weapon by the workers. They sat down on the stairs outside Ruia’s office and wouldn’t allow anyone in or out. Morarji Desai was the Home Minister in the Provisional government then. Morarji was totally anti-communist, anti-worker and pro-capitalist. He could not tolerate this action by the women. He asked the police to move in, but he was warned that there would be a bloodbath, so he withdrew and invited both parties to the negotiating table. Then the union leaders got Ruia out of the office. There was no settlement so the mill went on strike and in support, all other mill-workers also went on strike. Known as the Bitia Mills Strike, it was historic because of the role played by women. People collected money and food from the neighbouring chawls for the striking workers. Subash Chandra Bose came to Bitia Mills to support the struggle. There was no road in front of the mill the, where there is now Tulsi Pipe Road (Senapati Bapat Marg). There was a paddy field. That is where the meeting took place. It was raining on that day. The workers were all holding umbrellas. Then Dange said, “Subhash-babu wants to see all of you, but all he can see is umbrellas.” In a moment all the umbrellas closed, and the workers stood in the rain. Subash-babu was taken aback.”

Yes, all of that happened on the same ground where cars are parked today, on the same ground that the Bowling Alley exists today and on the same ground where scores of people shop today. Remember that the next time you’re at “High Street Phoenix”.

Timeline to destruction:
1977: A fire destroys the Blower Department of Phoenix Mills. The entire four-storey structure was razed to the ground. No cause was established. The Mill was closed for three years and 700 mill workers and 400 office staff were rendered jobless.

1979: Govt of Maharashtra sanctions a rehab scheme, which included development of a commercial complex. Funds generated from this were specifically to be used for revival of the mill. The mill was never revived and relief schemes never implemented. Workers were not paid their dues and work was not restarted.

1982: The great textile mill strike. Phoenix Mills management moves to declare their mills as “sick”. Work is shifted/outsourced to the unorganised powerloom sector. It is also alleged that shortly after this strike, the land-scams begin. Sai Motor Services currently today stands on the land that used to be the workers canteen.

1984: Govt attempts another relief and revival scheme. The Mill was allowed to develop 69,085 sq. mt for office space and 22,400 sq. mt was converted from industrial use to residential use. The Mill takes back 1,200 workers released after the strike. But, all are taken on badli (temporary) basis including erstwhile permanent workers.

1995: Yet again, the mgmt moves to declare the mill as sick and approaches the BIFR. The approved revival scheme allows tax concessions. Mgmt is directed to upgrade machinery and constitute a committee accountable to banks and financial institutions to oversee the modernisation and revival process. Once these tax concessions were approved, no revival scheme was implemented.

23rd April 1998 – The mgmt applies to the BMC for adding recreational facilities such as table tennis, health clubs and – of course - bowling alleys. On the grounds that its workers are “continuously demanding these facilities, and went on agitation in Jan-98”. Yes – workers demanding bowling alleys, sauna steam baths and billiards tables.

April and May 1998 – Mgmt begins to terminate services of staff across various departments. The processing dept is closed abruptly. Second and third shift at the Mills are stopped.

July 1998 – Labour Court issues an order to the Mill to restart closed departments and reinstate workers. Workers allege that just before the orders, mgmt had introduced a voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) for retrenched workers. In the meantime Phoenix Towers is constructed over what unions allege was space reserved for a municipal school and a public garden. Not a single paisa from these constructions goes to the workers.

Early-1999 – Phoenix Mills submits a report that it is no longer sick (i.e. turned net-worth positive). Till date, no one knows how.

Epilogue - May 1999 – Bowling Company opens at Phoenix Mills. This is an extract from their profile – “So many options, so little time. Presenting, ladies and gentlemen – The Bowling Company – India’s premier leisure centre. 30,000 square feet of state-of-the-art fun – that’s a first for Mumbai, we can tell you”.

The history of Bombay's Mill Lands is one that has not been largely told. And one that has been easily forgetton. All in the name of progress, in the name of redevelopment and freeing up of land seen as essential to bring down the sky-high property prices in Bombay, and in the name of making Bombay a financial hub like Singapore, Hong Kong, etc.

My attempt is to document what I can. So that we (or at least I) never forget the history of the grounds that have been cleared to make way for what stands today. As Santayana said "Those who forget the past, are condemned to repeat it".

Thanks, Shekhar, for that study.

Referenced Links
1. Shekhar Krishnan's case-study
2. The Oct-2005 High Court judgment on the Mill Land case
3. One Hundred Years One Hundred Voices: The Millworkers of Girangaon: An Oral History by Meena and Neera Darkar Menon
4. Also read Ripping the Fabric : The Decline of Mumbai and Its Mills by Darryl D'Monte

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Bombay v/s Delhi

My regular posts have been severely hit by this Bombay v/s Delhi post on Dhoomk2's blog as well as work pressures. He has started off with Part I on food. I'm furiously commenting in favour of Bombay and will resume regular posts in a bit.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Bandra Worli Sealink - the view from Band Stand

Here are some snaps I clicked of the Bandra Worli Sea Link (BWSL) from Bandra's Band Stand. (My other posts on BWSL are here and here).

Click on the snaps for better resolution (recommended).

800 metres of construction has been completed on the BWSL from the Bandra side.

Vehicles are also moving there - note the Tata Sumo. There's also "P" sign, which looks suspiciously similar to a Taxi Stand road sign!

BWSL with the DD TV Tower in the background.

This snap is titled "Jail" - or my daily experience of being stuck in the everyday (and horrid) traffic jams on Mahim causeway. The BWSL aims to free us of those jams.

Some waves lashing on the rocks that separate the Band Stand Fort from the BWSL. I was lucky to get high tide.

A closer view of the above view taken from a lower angle.

The view from the Bandra Reclamation side.

PS - on a different note, I also clicked snaps of a procession in Bombay today, which I think is to celebrate Thaipusam. Those snaps are on here my other blog. Help needed from Tamilians who can tell me what exactly is the procession about. Thanks.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Just another day in Sailu's life

Three friends walking down Marine Drive. 8pm. Bright lights, big city.

Me, Jigs and Jayant. Jigs was leaving for America in a few days. He’d just come back from the US Embassy. All his vital papers – bank statements, house records, education degrees, et al carefully stacked in a file. Finally headed for greener pastures. Leaving the city and the country behind.

Jayant was getting to grips with the bull-run on the stock market. A sub-broker, also working for a bigger Parsi broker. His life was all about hot-tips, what to buy, what to sell, how to make money, how to lose our shirts and then some.

So, there we were, sitting at Marine Drive. Staring at the vast expanse of the sea. Fobbing of channa-walaas, beggars, cold-drink sellers, masseuses and the like. And ignoring the lovers, snuggling away in a corner, enjoying their privacy in open space. That’s the beauty of the city. Your own private space among a million others.

One hour of thinking, contemplating, talking and cursing later, we turned around on the parapet to head back home. Jigs knocked off his file and it fell. Fell below into the tripods and rocks that form the barrier between the sea and the wall. Tripods filled with darkness in the night and infested by crabs, cockroaches and even humans. We had no way of seeing where it fell, leave alone chances of recovery.

Three friends now in a considerable state of disarray, panic and chaos. Jigs was cursing himself furiously - Damn ! how could I be so dumb? Flight tickets booked, visa in place, everything ticked off in that list. And then I lose all my papers. Kick them all myself into the tripods at Marine Drive. Oh ya, you’ve not heard that before. All of a sudden, the romance of Marine Drive and the beauty of the Queen’s Necklace were lost.

So Jigs runs across the street to buy a torch and batteries. You can find a Baskin Robbins, a Gaylord, a Pizzeria, a Berrys, a Shiv Sagar and an Indian Summer. But I’ll be damned if you can find a “general store”. Yet, somehow he got them. Ran back to us and three furious heads thinking of a way out. No, it’s not the usual Seinfeld situation. Desperation, yes, humour no. We couldn’t jump down, could we? Nah, we’d simply break our bones and still not find that file.

Then we spot a naariyal-paani waala. Would he ? Could he ? We’d pay him of course. Sure – three dudes at the start of their careers. How much could we have? Hey, we’d chip in Rs100/each. Rs300 is a lot of money, right? For a naariyal-paani wala ? Oh yes, it’s a lot. So, we approached him with our situation.

He asked us where it fell. There was no “X” that marked the spot, so we pointed vaguely below where we sitting. Our potential rescuer. Dressed in a shirt and lungi. Could he save the day and send off Jigs to the US?

Without further ado, he took the torch walked off to a corner we hadn’t seen. There was a hole there through the parapet that everyone sits on at Marine Drive. It led below to the tripods and the rocks. Before we knew it, he’d already climbed down, through the wall and into the tripods and rocks, infested with c, c and even h. We ran back up on the parapet, guiding him towards where the file had fallen.

He vanished between the rocks for what was definitely eternity for us, but not more than 5 minutes.

And then he surfaced. With the file in his hand. Yes ! V for Victory ! We have lift-off! Jigs was headed to the land of the brave and the home of the free (yikes, I think I mixed that up).

So, up comes our hero, our saviour. We ask him his name – he says, Sailu. He hands us the file and starts walking towards his stall. [No, hang on. No naariyal-paani wala has a stall at Marine Drive. He just lays out the coconuts, breaks the top, puts in a straw and there you have it. Only those who brave the Bombay summer every year now the absolute, sheer joy of naariyal-paani. Pepsi and Coke are for the wusses]

After thanking him profusely, we fish out Rs300 and offer it to him. He refuses to accept it. There’s a small language problem, but then anyone who sells anything on Bombay’s roadsides rarely cites bhaasha as a barrier of entry. He says he won’t take a single rupee. So we have three naariyal paanis. Rs30. That’s it. He doesn’t even talk much. He’s not giving us any speech of honesty, hard-work, tough life, screwed city, etc. He just went on to do what he did for a living. Sell naariyal paani.

Thirst satiated, hunt over and totally relieved, the three of us then figure that hey, we could give him our visiting cards – in case he needs our help. So Jigs is leaving India and he doesn't even have a card. And there’s also no point him giving his phone number and address. Me? I’d run out of my cards. Jayant gave him his card. Telling him to contact us in case he needed any help at any time. And that was that. Completely humbled, and perhaps even guilty, three lukhas walk away to their lives. And Sailu goes back to selling naariyal paani.

That was in 1999. Till date, Sailu hasn’t contacted Jayant.

Sometimes when I go back home, I think I spot Sailu at Marine Drive. Was that him ? No.., it was too dark that night to see him clearly. Where could he be? What would he be doing? We’ll never know.

Even as I blog this, I doubt Sailu would even remember the incident. Why should he? This is Bombay. Everyone’s gotta work for a living, rush to reach work on time for a living, slog for a living, brave traffic jams for a living and endure crowded trains for a living.

Yes, this is Bombay. Where Sailu also sold naariyal paani for a living.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Mumbai Metro Rail - a time to hope

Reading and commenting on Dilip D'Souza's blog on the Peddar Road Flyover, coupled with Vishal's comment on my earlier blog, has prompted me to check out the Mumbai Metro Rail Project.

We all know the success story of the Delhi Metro. It's website made me frustrated as a Bombayite and proud to be an Indian. But I digress. Let's get back to Mumbai Metro.

This is what it is supposed to be

Proposed cost: Rs19,525crores

Phase 1:
- Colaba-Charkop - 36km [Cost: Rs7,432crores].
- Consists of an underground stretch of 11km between Colaba and Mahalakshmi.
- Of the 36 stations on this route, 11 will be underground.
- Line to be completed by 2010-11
Phase 2:
- Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar - 13km [Cost: Rs970crores]
- Entirely elevated
- This leg will have 13 stations.
- As I mention below, financial bids for this leg have come in.
- Mahim-Mankhurd - 12.8km
- Charkop-Dahisar - 7.5km
Phase 3:
- Bandra Kurla Complex-Andheri-Kanjur Marg - 19.5km
- Andher(East)-Dahisar(East) - 18km
- Hutatma Chowk-Ghatkopar - 21.8km
- Sewri-Prabhadevi - 3.5km

Implementation timeline - Till 2021
Total length: 146km, of which 111km will be elevated and 32km underground

Let's now look at the history

This article informs us that the idea of the Mumbai Metro Project is more than thirty-years old. In 1974, the Indian Railways had proposed a 22km-long underground railway from Colaba to Kurla, which was shelved due to high costs. In 1999, the then-CM, Mr. Rane had met a "Mumbai Metro Planning Group" promising them that the Rs9,000crore project (in 1999) was "under consideration by the Cabinet sub-committee".

Five years later in Jan-2004, the MMRDA presented the masterplan for the Mumbai Metro Rail to the-then CM, Mr. Sushilkumar Shinde.

A year and three months later, in April-2005, the Delhi Metro Chief, Mr. E. Sreedharan presented phase I of the project to our current CM, Mr. Vilasrao Deshmukh, who approved it.

The Indian Urban Transportation Society's blog informs us that in early-March 2006, the Maharashtra Cabinet finally approved the Versova-Ghatkopar and Colaba-Charkop links of the project. As per this news clip, financial bids are in for the Versova-Ghatkopar leg and the shortlisted bidders are (a) the Reliance Energy -Connex combine with a bid of Rs1,254crores and (b) the IL&FS-Unity Infrastructure Projects combine with a Rs1,296crores bid. We await the winner.

For more details on the Versova-Ghatkopar leg, here is an Executive Summary from the MMRDA. This is an entirely elevated leg parallel to the Western Express Highway. That's the good news. The bad news? 3,000 structures, mostly in Asalpha village, will have to be demolished.

So, that is where we are. The Mumbai Metro Rail can single-handedly change the face of our city, and more importantly, public transportation as we know it. As always for anything good in Bombay, it's still on paper.

This project will take another 15 years, i.e. by 2020 it should be functional. It's easy to be sceptical and rant about how this won't happen and/or can't happen. Yet - I hope it will. Things today are different from what they were 15 years back, in 1990. I'm sure that if I had crystal-gazed on Bombay in 1990, and seen Bombay as it is now in 2006, I'd have fled the city. I couldn't so I didn't.

We didn't have an option of blogging in 1990. Institutions like the MMRDA didn't have websites . The Right to Information Act didn't exist. Neither did the many newspapers and TV channels we have now. Yet, politicians were as corrupt then as they are now. And Bombayites were as frustrated then as they are now. And probably as indifferent now as they were then.

My point - we, as citizens of this city, should no longer play the indifference game. Form an informed view and hold the relevant authorities responsible for their actions and inactions. Ranting is easy (and cool?), but changing things isn't. How's this for a dream - a concerted effort on the part of Bombay bloggers (form a community?) to take up various issues on an organised scale ?

I'd hate to end on a note of depression. And hope is my latest addiction. Hope for the city. And I hope that the metro is up and running by 2020. So that when I look back at 2006 then, I feel good that I chose to hang around in this city - and more importantly hope for it.

Referenced links: Delhi Metro, MMRDA, The Indian Urban Transportation Society's blog. The news articles referred to above, and others, can be found on my Metro tag.

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Sunday, April 02, 2006

Peddar Road Flyvover - Surely you're joking Mr. Sanghvi.

I always read Mr. Vir Sanghvi's column in the Sunday HT. Besides taking firm stands on issues, the man writes succinctly and normally makes imminent sense. However, in his column today, I can't find myself agreeing with him on the Peddar Road Flyover (PRF). Yes, yes, bear with me for my third post on the PRF (earlier ones are here and here) .

Let's take some of his statements.

1. "If this monstrosity is built, it will completely deface South Bombay, obscure every heritage building and totally alter the city's character".

"Monstrosity" - Is this an aesthetic issue or an infrastructure one ? So am I to assume that flyovers must now comply with aesthetic guidelines and should also look good?

"completely deface South Bombay" - The JJRF was built over Byculla, Pydhonie, Masjid, etc. etc. Were these also defaced? Ditto Dadar flyover, Sion flyover, etc. I doubt a comment on the PRF is possible before first gauging the impact of these flyovers. After all, flyovers are not admired for their architecture. They are built to address serious traffic issues - past, present and future.

"Obscure every heritage building" - Here's an indicative list of buildings from Haji Ali to Chowpatty. I don't know which of these can be classified as a "heritage building" in danger of being obscured. Jindal Mansion, Cadbury House, Vijaylakshmi Mafatlal Centre, Jaslok Hospital, Villa Theresa School, Vama, Hanging Gardens, Parsi Colony, Ratan Tata Institute, Babulnath Temple, Wilson College, Sterling Apts, Vama Shopping Centre and of course Chowpatty.

"and totally alter the city's landscape" - How can a 3km-long flyover change the landscape of a city? Unless Mr. Sanghvi implies that obscuring heritage buildings alters the city's landscapes. Why then does Mr. Sanghvi, earlier on in the same column, support the SC verdict in the Mill Land case. This same redevelopment will "obscure every heritage building" in that area as well. Perhaps South Bombay is a bit different from Parel?

2. "The case against the flyover is a strong one. Apart from the environmental objections, there are very real fears that it will be a waste of public money that will do Bombay no good at all.... The solution is not to build more bridges on these roads, but to use the sea to open up more routes." So the PRF has environmental objections but not the Sea Link? Fishy, fishy, fishy. And I thought the Bandra-Worli Sea Link had been held up in the past because of environmental reasons, impact on fishermen, etc.

I like Mr. Sanghvi's writing and I'm a big fan of his Sunday column - by far the best in Sunday papers. In fact the title of his today's column says it all "Get up, Bombay, Stand up!". But for today, I find his objections to the PRF a bit baseless.

By the way, the same HT's front page informs me that 9 out of 10 Bombayites (yes, Mr. Sanghvi, even I'm not going to call myself a Mumbaikar) support the PRF.