The Two Faces

(Above photo by Yanidel – http://www.yanidel.net/category/round-the-world-2011/stage-20-india/page/4/ )

From the air (a view only a few of its citizens will ever see), the peninsula of the city of Bombay appears like an open hand – reaching and grasping into the Arabian sea.

By Yousuf Bootwala

S. Y. B. Chem

Just as the foot of Italy’s boot-shaped peninsula, poised to strike the island of Sicily reveals Italy’s footballing obsession, then the grasping hand of Bombay is a metaphor for the city’s force that holds the city together and that makes it the world’s fastest growing city (poised to become its largest by 2020). The pursuit of dreams – wealth, power, fame, security or even just a living wage. It is what brings the multi-nationals, the wannabees Bollywood starlets, the businessmen, artists and writers and the countless thousands of virtually destitute migrants from across the country to Mumbai every day. It is, quite simply put with the clichéd term “The City of Dreams”.

It is astonishing that this hand operates even without an adequate infrastructure for its ever increasing population. Mumbai is one of the largest cities in the world to run without an underground metro network. The railways operate at far beyond their capacity and the roads are (in)famously congested. Mumbai has a population density of 30000people per km2 which puts immense pressure on the existing infrastructure-water,electricity. But the city, like India is held together by its sheer strength of will and desire to survive in such inhuman conditions. The city also survives due to the symbiotic relationship between its rich and the poor.

The city is primarily has two divisions-rich and poor. The divisions based on religion, sex, caste and creed all take a backseat in Mumbai. That’s one of the highlighting part of Mumbai. So, here we can see an industrialist constructing a 30 storey skyscraper for his family. And then there is the city’s poor who stay in the slum-where 60% of Mumbai’s population resides, where Rps50 as daily wage is considered a sizable amount and where your “house” faces a constant threat of being torn down if you fail to pay bribe to the policemen and the municipal people on time or, when a foreign dignitary is coming to visit the city, on the pretext of beautifying the city.

But the relationship is mutual and accepted; each side of the city needs the other to survive. The poverty stricken clean the houses, wash the clothes, cook the food of the rich. . And for the poor, Mumbai offers a chance to work their way out of poverty and to escape the caste straightjacket of the villages. Mumbai’s freedom is the one of the few opportunities of escape for those at the bottom of India’s complex and rigid caste system.

The city is divided and is unlikely to change in the near future. With India’s growing wealth seemingly shared amongst only a handful of (mostly Mumbai -residing) people and the flow of migrants into the city increasing – the wealth gap is growing. As it stands, the forces keeping the city as it is(read Government and bureaucrats) are stronger than those urging change. Mumbai will grow and it will develop but the slums will remain because the city cannot exist without them. It doesn’t need to change and probably can’t; it will remain for the moment a city divided, a city of rich and poor, a city where almost everyone gets an equal chance, a city called Mumbai.

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