18 August 2014 Society features: mumbai

That City We Left Behind

Mumbai—a cramped, polluted, urban hell. Those who can are running for their lives.
That City We Left Behind
Reuters (From Outlook 18 August 2014)
That City We Left Behind

“Ai dil hai mushkil jeena yahan, yeh hai Bombay, yeh hai Bombay, yeh hai Bombay meri jaan” (It’s tough to live here, it’s Bombay, my dear)

—Johnny Walker
singing Majrooh Sultanpuri’s lyrics in CID

Going by his floppy-comic caper, the traipsing Johnny Walker is clearly enjoying his lot; his song a humorous, romantic resignation leavening the manifold hardships of the newly arrived. But numerous Bollywood movies have taken a grittier, grimier approach—from Shree 420 (1955) through to Deewar and Satya, Nayakan, Diksha, Daman and the recently released City­lights. A character in the latest film echoes hundreds of screen protagonists when he says Mumbai gives you enough, but only at a high price.

Contrarily, many Mumbaikars now feel that the city claims too much, while the returns are diminishing at a furious pace. Diana Mascarenhas, for insta­nce, has been a pucca Bandra girl all her life. She married a fellow Catholic from Bandra, had four children and settled down to a busy home-­maker’s life. But a few years ago, Diana and her husband Royston started worrying about their children’s future in this crammed city with crumbling infrastructure. After considering moving to another Indian city, an opportunity to migrate to New Zealand came their way and they shifted to Auckland a year ago. Their eldest daughter, Wendy, is a medical student at Mumbai’s Sion Hospital and will join them shortly.

Why did they take the drastic step of leaving Mumbai altogether? “Where do I start? Everything has become such drudgery. Even coming from Hill Road to my house, which is about five kilometres and should take 15 minutes by car, som­etimes takes an hour at peak traffic,” says an exasperated Diana, who was here on vacation when she met Outlook. “But what really mattered was what we were giving our children—polluted air, cra­mped space in the house, no place to play and not many opportunities when they grow up.” This may seem like the post-­modern angst of an ambitious mother set on a natural-chic way of life. But Diana represents one of the many families who, in search of a better quality of life, are cho­osing to schlep it from Mumbai. They are leaving the city they love inordinately because of a litany of urban woes—the impossible commute in overcrowded tra­ins, unending traffic, pollution, shri­nk­ing open spaces and unaffordable hou­sing. Some even feel the city is also losing its famously cosmopolitan nature.

Photograph by Sanjay Rawat

“Most of my time would be spent travelling to and from work. You know what an evening is only once you get out of Mumbai.”

Subhada Surve
Moved to Gurgaon

Things have come to such a pass that many Mumbai-born urban professionals in their 30s and 40s just can’t take it any­more, and are heading to Bangalore, Hyderabad, Delhi, Pune, even abroad. “Mumbai is fast, fur­ious, crowded. Peo­ple are constantly running after something. The weather is hellish, there is mis­ery on the streets. We would spend three hours on the road daily with no time for ourselves or our daughter, coming home from work frustrated and dep­­ressed,” recalls Sujata Parab, who with her husband Rajesh decided to move to Pune and now are in Hyd­erabad with a better job. “From Chembur to Pen­insula Tow­ers in Lower Parel it would take at least an hour at 8.30 am. My daughter’s scho­olbus would come at 6:45. We never saw the children. It was a difficult life, despite our earning well and buying a house,” echoes Ramya Venugo­pal, a media professional, a south Indian and a Mum­baikar all her life. Their shift to Ban­galore afforded them a hitherto unk­nown ple­asure—watching their chi­ld­­ren grow up. “After getting back home in Mumbai, venturing out again is unth­in­kable. It drains everything out of you. Kids adjusted quickly to Bangalore. Social life was taken care of in the building complex—swimming, tennis, dance.”

Apart from a frenetic nature and crumbling infrastructure, intolerance and environmental degradation force many to leave.

Debates and friendly spa­rr­ing over which is the better city, Delhi or Mumbai, are a well-known parlour game in India. At one point, proud Mumbai would dismiss Delhi as an overgrown village. Diehard Mumbai­kars Shubhada Surve and Fer­oze Talwar have flipped from that hardline position. Even Gurgaon, with its  problems, seems more attractive than maximum city. From a rented, two bhk house in Powai, they have moved up to a huge, spacious house with all modern amenities of a housing society, inc­luding a club, gym, swimming pool, chi­ldren’s park and tennis courts. And all for the same rent. Shubhada used to work in the mills land in central Mumbai, the city’s new business hub. It took her 30 minutes by cab to get to the nearest station. After letting go many fearfully cra­mmed trains, and if lucky, she would find herself squashed inside a women’s compartment. To avoid this torture, she’d often take a very expensive, two-hour taxi ride all the way to her office. In Gurgaon, her office is adjacent to their house. “You know what an evening is only once you get out of Mumbai,” she says.

Photograph by Amit Haralkar

“There is space for everyone in our new house, something unimaginable in Mumbai. It’s hard to go back when you’re used to a better life.”

Kedar kulkarni
Moved to Bangalore

Poems and eulogies have been written about Mumbai’s energy, its undying spi­rit, and generations have paid gra­teful homage to the city that never sleeps. Such totemic encomiums ring hol­low to many who live, and desperately struggle to get by, in the city. “I no longer have the emotional curiosity for Mumbai because I lived there long enough. That star att­raction to love Mumbai doesn’t hold anymore,” says Kedar Kulkarni, who has settled in Bangalore with his wife Shalaka and daughter. What’s more, Kedar’s par­ents too have moved to their new house—something they would never have been able to afford in Mumbai—in Whitefield in Bangalore. “There is enough space for everyone, something you cannot imagine in Mumbai. And once you get used to a better quality of life it is harder to go back,” says Shalaka.

The concrete jungle finally presses down upon you, says psychiatrist Harish Shetty. “Any human being is eventually driven to nature or a semblance of nature. The levels of insensitivity has reached never-before depths in Mumbai. Indifference cannot be called ‘spirit of Mumbai’. This city is crumbling, both physically and morally.” Insensitivity stalks matters of crucial interest, like conservation of environment and the city’s cosmopolitan nature.

Photograph by Amit Haralkar

“What mattered was what we were giving our children—polluted air, cramped living and playing space, no opportunities when they grow up.”

Moved to Auckland

Apart from its frenetic nature and inf­rastructure barely containing millions, environmental degradation and a rising intolerance have played a part in many people’s decision to leave. There are five trees per person in New York; there are 20 people per tree in Mumbai. Ask Uma Asher, a deca­des-long Santa­cruz resident, and she laments the dest­ruction of old neighbourhoods. “San­­ta­­cruz used to be green and shady, full of heritage houses and villas. Now there are hideous towers. The Bandra creek is full of garbage,” she sighs. “For me, it started when I stopped eating fish because it contains high levels of mercury,” says filmmaker Rak­esh Sharma, who is now settled in Goa. “And the decision was hastened because of the changing nature of the city with the growth of the Shiv Sena.”

A concern for open spaces, the prote­ction of mangroves, taking care of the city’s parks and gardens along with a census of its trees—these feature reg­u­larly in environmental activists’ pro­tests and well-meaning pils. Resi­dents, drained of energy and starved of time, are rarely willing to fight for these iss­ues, and end up giving up on the city for other alternatives. Some are hopeful still. Prof Bhagat, a lifelong Mumbaikar, points at infrastructure projects such as the monorail and the Mumbai metro and says that the metropolis, India’s commercial capital, will retain its centrality and importance. “The state has to provide basic amenities such as housing, sanitation and potable water. But the city is not dying, Mumbai will come back to its old glory.”

That optimism, reminiscent of the ori­ginal spirit of Mumbai, still beats apace among its many devoted lovers. But Mumbai better take note. If the trickle of Mumbaikars leaving the city they love—only because of its sheer, infuriating,  life-sapping unlivability—is a sign, that famed spirit may soon be broken.

Top 10 International Cities
Mercer’s Quality of Living Report 2012 covers 221 cities, ranked against New York as the base city according to which the top 10 cities in the world are:

  1. Vienna
  2. Zurich
  3. Auckland
  4. Munich
  5. Vancouver
  6. Dusseldorf
  7. Frankfurt,
  8. Geneva
  9. Copenhagen
  10. Bern

Other important international cities were ranked by the Index as:

  • Singapore: 25
  • Paris – 30
  • London – 38
  • Chicago -42
  • New York -44
  • Tokyo – 44
  • Hong Kong  70
  • Dubai -73
  • Shanghai – 95

The Indian cities were ranked as follows:

  1. Bangalore -139
  2. Delhi -143
  3. Mumbai -146
  4. Chennai 150
  5. Kolkata 151

The Institute for Competitiveness recently analysed the Liveability index 2013 according to which the most liveable city of India in 2013 is Mumbai which was placed at 3rd position last year. Mumbai has performed well on the demographics and business indices. The model is based on eight core indicies that are demographic, education, health and medical standards, safety, housing option, socio-cultural-natural environment, economic environment, and planned environment.

The next two cities, Chennai and Hyderabad have moved down one position each and are placed at 2nd and 3rd rank respectively.

Bengaluru has taken a jump of 6 places and is at 4th rank on the liveability index 2013. It has moved upwards on indices such as safety, housing options and planned environment.

Likewise, Delhi has grabbed the 5th rank on the index and has proved that it indeed should be included in the list of top ten liveable cities.

The other two entrants in the list of Top 10 liveable cities are Noida and Gurgaon which are placed at 7th and 8th rank respectively.

Contrarily, Pune and Nagpur that were in the list of top ten have reached the 12th and 13th rank respectively in the liveability index 2013. The cities scored low on housing options and natural environment.

The bottom five cities on the liveability index 2013 are:

  1. Agra
  2. Raipur
  3. Asansol
  4. Kanpur and
  5. Patna.

Open Spaces: The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation officials put the number of gardens to little over 800 but say the numbers could be more. Of the seven swimming pools, only three are functional and open to public.

As per UDFPI guidelines open space per person should be 11 square meters. In Mumbai it is 0.88 sq meters.

As per chief minister Prithviraj Chavan’s admission in December 2010, Mumbai has 0.2 hectares of open spaces per 1000 Mumbaiites in the island city and 1.2 hectares in the suburbs constituting a mere 20% of the required open space.

Of the 28-odd exclusive clubs and gymkhanas in the city, none cater to non-members. Of the seven BMC-run swimming pools, only three function.

The suburban rail network ferries 75 lakh commuters daily. Last year more than 1500 cases of people falling off the trains due to overcrowding.

Vehicles: Mumbai increased its vehicular population by 1.7 lakh in 2013-14, which is 44,000 vehicles more than what was added in the previous financial year. The total number of vehicles in the city is now 23.3 lakh, a 55% increase in seven years, according to data released by the transport department.

In the private cars category, the number of vehicles has increased from 4.6 lakh in 2006-07 to 7.21 lakh today. In 2013-14, 50,000 cars and 94,000 two-wheelers were added. While two-wheelers and four-wheelers have a vehicle share of about 86% (about 17.45 lakh), they carry only 13% of the total trips across Mumbai. At the same time, just 40,600 buses account for 26% of the modal share of trips in the city.”

Crimes against women: As per the latest NCRB report, Mumbai has been listed second, after Delhi, for 2946 incidents of crimes against women (24895 in Maharashtra).

Also it ranks after Delhi for highest incidence of rape, with 391 reported cases in 2013. The state had the highest incidents, 3063 in 2013.

Mumbai and Maharashtra also rank second for offences of outraging a woman’s modesty with 1163 and 8132 molestation cases respectively.

Top Indian Cities

A recent opinion poll conducted for The Times of India by leading market research firm IMRB across the country’s eight biggest urban agglomerations ranked Indian cities thus:

  1. Ahmedabad - Strong showing in both physical and social infrastructure and on social and cultural values takes the city to the top spot.
  2. Pune - Rated the best city on very few parameters, but is near the top on almost all. Commuting woes are a big dampener though.
  3. Mumbai – Good physical infrastructure, public transport and leisure facilities, but stressful. Bad weather and few open spaces also a minus.
  4. Delhi - Top of the heap in social infrastructure and commuting ease, but loses out due to its low ranking on social and cultural values.
  5. Bangalore - Weather, job opportunities and quality education the biggest pluses, but offset by commuting problems and cost of living.
  6. Hyderabad - social and cultural values, schools and colleges, but traffic and parking hassles and quality of air among the negatives
  7. Chennai Social infrastructure and leisure facilities, barring night life, give it a leg up, but weather and traffic issues pull its ranking down
  8. Kolkata - Ranked near the bottom on most parameters, but among the best in terms of social and cultural values and entertainment facilities
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