the no-nonsense space

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Whose Chopper Is It, Anyway

Dear Ms Rumplemeyer,
It was a privilege indeed to read such a finely crafted riposte from an old, weathered yet keen mind to my rather juvenile rants. Ergo, your comments deserve to be posted on my blog rather than unceremoniously consigned to the 'comments' section.

But before I attempt to redeem myself, I must say madam, that your first name reminds me of something that I end up having every once in a while for dinner at an Italian restaurant named Big Chill in Delhi which my fiancee seems very partial to, perhaps the only thing she likes in this big village. I think its called Arrabiatta (I know as a young man my memory should serve me better, but Italian thingies I'm not used to you see..) made using penne, sphagetti or fusilli. I almost always end up ordering Fusilli (you know that cork-screw kinda thing) Arrabiatta, but that's another matter. Your surname though suggests that you are of fine yiddish extraction (if such thing does exist). It is therefore very heartwarming that you, sitting on your Shabbat table should feel so strongly about the city of Bombay than the God-gifted land.
Please find my observations at the end of your delightful letter.
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Dear No-Nonsense Votary,

Your impassioned and sprightly attempt ‘to burst a few myths” has been most charming. I’m even convinced that those with resilience piled high enough to fire up a space rocket or two would be a little under the weather after reading your little.. aah...engaging but hopelessly misinformed diatribe against ‘Bombay’ mythmakers.

An old lady such as me shouldn’t pretend to know much about the goings on the world of news reporting or about the peculiar habits of news people. I’m rather inclined to think, however, that the whole lot of them should be consigned to the boondocks for chronic pomposity and apathy towards facts.

They might be nice boys and girls all of them, but their heads seem to be up in the clouds most of the time. But let me not digress my dear Votary, and ask if that skinny lad Srinivasan (Vasu you tell me he’s called - and that’s a jolly good thing too - ‘Srinivasan’ is too big a name for TV) wasn’t flying that big industrialist Gireesh or Gautam something Singhania’s copter? Why would Singhania’s copter have NDTV written in bold all over it? My sight is failing and it is wholly possible that I missed the big- bold-red letters on the chopp.. chopper’s doors, but it does seem a bit odd, don’t you think?

I also have the vaguest memory, Votary dear, that the office of the news house you mentioned is not located on a high-rise some where in Nariman Point, as you’ve breezily noted. It is in the vicinity of Mahindra Towers, in between Worli and Prabhadevi, if my memory or what’s left of it, still serves me well.

Now dear Votary before I go on any further, I must tell you about a conversion I had with my grand niece a few days ago. Yes, I’m sure it was before the rains pounded Bombay, the way all of us who have lived there know it would some day.

My grand niece, is a nice little thing, you see, very sincere but not at all level-headed, unfortunately. Now this girl is to marry soon and wants to go and live in that very same blighted city you seem to love to hate. She was telling me about a tiff she had with her husband-to-be, who hails from another seaside city, Chennai. That lad, and he’s a fine young man, bright and very committed, just doesn’t understand what it means to live in big cosmopolitan city.

So this girl wants to be in Mumbai and her fiancee would rather be called narrow-minded than live in a city where it is not possible to be at work within in 20 minutes of leaving home and spend not more than Rs 5,000 on living arrangements.

But you dear Votary are wiser, you seem to be all in praise of your colleague who does not complain after traveling 30 kilometers to work. I wonder what encouraging things you will say about those who brave crowded train compartments everyday for anything between 40 to 120 kilometers to get to work in breezy Nariman Point.

Of course, you too might not know what that means, not having lived in Bombay. Well, old lady such as me can bring herself to forgive for that. But my grand niece, she can’t forgive that boy for saying mean things about her city.

I also have some advice for you my dear Votary, next time round don’t go writing things about Bombay that you’re clearly not qualified to do.

In Delhi, I’d like to see a cold wave of unimaginable proportions or a heat wave that fries you straight and simple. I wonder how many people will turn up at their Sarkari offices the next day. The people of Bombay are brave dear Votary because they’ve braved the deluge for days on end in the simple and non-fussy way that most Mumbaikars do. That needs no defense.

Now about the conspiracy that you’ve alleged the rest of the world to be busy hatching, I’d like to point to you a startling similarity between the words ‘conspiracy’ and ‘resilience’. Conspiracy comes from the Latin root ‘conspirare’ which means to breath the spirit together and resilience as you well know, is the ability to survive.

Now the if it’s a conspiracy of hope, that resilience word, then so be it. Otherwise you’ll have to wait for a deluge in Chennai, like that boy whose marrying my grand niece, to appreciate Bombay and its people better.

Thanking You.

Yours Sincerely,

Arabetta Rumplemeyer
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Madam, who would have thought that TV channels in India could become powerful and wealthy enough to own flying machines of their own. Gone are the days when Mr Roy would have to request Mr Singhania for a quick ride on his chopper. Mr Roy and his wife in fact own three such toys--all painted in red and white--I'm told. And do forgive me for my poor knowledge of Mumbai's geography. It's true I cant tell breezy Nariman point from Worli. The Queen's Necklace (is that what you call it?) forms a lovely background when Vasu does his nightly 11 'O' clock jig, and I assumed any place in the vicinity of that road to be part of Nariman Point.
Ms Rumplemeyer, you can assure your grand niece (even I think she'd be a nice, smart little girl having chosen a cultured man from the south of Vindhyas), and those who think like her that I do not hate your beloved city. I only hate the mindless use euphemisms, generalisations and cliches. If you read me carefully I do not praise my colleague for travelling a great distance to work. I'm sure there are a million others in this country who do more to earn a living. It's a neccessity. My whole point was that there's nothing celebrate if people did that. "A cold wave of unimaginable proportions, and a heatwave that fries people straight" sounds like the aftermath of a nuclear explosion. I concede people, sarkari or otherwise won't turn up for work, not just in delhi but anywhere in the world. I'm not sure how many did in Hiroshima or Nagasaki, but by and large, the world considers the Japanese to be highly resilient. Passion for your city it seems has clouded your judgement and dimmed the ability to reason.
But in anycase, please do convey my wishes to your grand niece and the boy she is about to wed. Sounds like a smart guy, that fellow. Anyone who looks for a place 20 minutes driving distance to work and keep the cost of living arrangements reasonable, would have a good head on his shoulders. It would be my pleasure to take you, your grand niece, and her beau for a hearty Fusilli Arrabiatta-and-wine dinner if you happen to visit this wretched city sometime soon.

Yours Truly

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Call me a wimp

A new look blog deserves a fresh post. And in keeping with the spirit of zero tolerance towards non-sense, this post seeks to burst a few myths, and call the bluff of mythmakers who these days seem to be working overtime.

Srinivasan Jain in his white helicopter with NDTV painted in bold, striking red on the doors gives the viewers an arial view of the misery that incessant rains have brought to Mumbai. The chopper ride to survey the floods is no longer the vestige of usual suspects like Shivraj Patil, Manmohan Singh, and Sonia Gandhi. NDTV is infact quicker, and Srinivasan doesn’t fail to remind us of NDTV’s fleetfootedness after every shot of a submerged runway, marooned slum dwellers and endless rows of cars abandoned by their owners on flyovers and main roads. He hops off the chopper, presumably on the terrace of his swanky office somewhere in Nariman Point, and continues to keep us all updated on the record rainfall, this time under the protection of his big red umbrella which has NDTV written on all its four sides in bold white.

Back on terra firma, Vasu (as Arun Jaitley, margaret alva and Jayanthi natarajan call him) started off on the “resilience of the average Mumbaikar”. The public voices captured by NDTV’s celebrity battery of reporters, led by one po faced Supriya Menon said that come rain or shine or another cloudburst they would make the 40 kilometer journey to work the next day. CNBC, Aajtak, Star News, and Sahara (in descending order of their reporters’ celebrity-ness echoed similar resilient voices. Since then the R word has been inescapable. Talk show upon talk show paid tribute to the city’s “character” and resilience to thunderous applause from the audience. True to style Uma Mahadevan-Dasgupta, describing what she saw, wrote: . “The street had that blank, washed look that we see after the heaviest rains – leaves not curled and freshly fallen, but flattened by the force of flowing water and pounding feet. A crushed snail. A plastic bag rolling on the road.” The bureaucrat-cum-artcritic-cum-animallover-cum-mumbaimirrorer-cum-avant garde blogger wrote poignantly on her husband’s five-hour bus journey from Church gate to Powai. She hastened to add: This city is resilient – I remember being in my workplace on the day of the Gateway blasts two years ago, and although we were all in shock, work went on as usual, on that very day and the next. People had run helter-skelter in the first few minutes after the blast, but minutes later, they were back there, loading the injured into taxis and rushing them to hospital.”

It now appears that she has teamed up with bloggers non-pareil Amit Varma, Sonia Faliero, and with the blessings of TS Eliot worshippers, watchcats, and some blabberjacks based in Delhi to further the city’s resilience legend.

I spoke to A~, a proud Mumbaikar who thinks of any other city as unlivable, and residents of other cities to be lesser humans, to understand what the R word means. Her argument too was along the lines of life-goes-on-in-Mumbai-no-matter what. “And if calling the city resilient helps keep its citizens’ morale high, why not,” she countered visibly irritated with my questioning this happy, romantic premise.
According to the Mumbaikar worldview life is a cakewalk for residents elsewhere in India, and indeed the world. Crowded suburban trains, crippling rains, bomb blasts, and the fast pace of life have ostensibly made the Mumbaikars a battle-hardened tribe like no other. Big city life is tough. Nobody gets free lunches in Chennai, Delhi or Kolkata. A colleague drives 30 kilometres to work everyday, without making a fuss. It rains here too, perhaps not as much as in the Heaven called Mumbai, and people do make it to the office. It gets pretty cold here. Visibility is near zero, and if you are on a two wheeler it can be harrowing with the fingers virtually refusing to grip the handlebar. The summers are horribly hot. People die of heat stroke. Nobody calls delhi resilient. Life goes on. Ditto for Chennai, Kolkata, Trivandrum, Jhunjhunu, Srinagar or Patna. The resilience that people attribute to Mumbai is purely due to the economic imperatives. Humans endure great hardships to make a living. It’s a fact of life. I can’t understand the romanticism attached to it.

The promotional montage for NDTV’s Mumbai specific show Mumbai Live hosted by the outsider Vasu has a man saying he likes the city because it’s a “living” city. Such mythmaking is sure to make you feel like a corpse.

Calling a place resilient is perhaps the easiest tool available for writers and journalists who are describing it. It suits them perfectly to paint this picture of irony, and it requires very little effort. The phrase too is a cliché quite similar to the cricketing cliches like “that ball travelled like a tracer bullet” or “ultimately, cricket is the winner”. If you go by the generalisations made by journalists and “experts”, Bagdad has shown great resilience in throwing out a dictator, the Afghans have been a resilient people for god knows how many centuries, the resilient Brits first blunted the German blitzkrieg and now are standing fearless in the face of terrorism, resilience is genetically encoded in the New Yorkers, and the Mumbaikars of course are a genetically modified people having the resilience strain of all the aforementioned cities.

PS: A google search for the words London + bombings +resilience fetched 827,000 entries; 718,000 for New York +9/11+resilience; 31,000 for Tsunami+India+R; 19,220 for Mumbai+floods+R.