Lata's Neighbourhood Of Rip Van Winkles(Pix: Mumbai Mirror)
Didn't expect Lata Mangeshkar to stand by her attack on the new Pedder Rd flyover. The denial that followed was almost inevitable. Particularly since the heat got a little unbearable. And she was being pilloried for stalling development et al.
Yes, the whole city of Bombay is polarised over whether we should have a flyover here or not. This is the part of Bombay, south, where influential people live. So, you can't have flyovers sailing over their balconies so to speak. Particularly when one of the Bombayites sipping a cup of tea in the evening in one of those balconies might be singer Lata Mangeshkar.
But a Lata Mangeskhar and her ilk can hardly be expected to welcome a flyover that whizzes past their drawing rooms, with open arms. Their protests are understandable. What is not understandable is how all of south Bombay, where all of the city's most influential and richest people reside didn't see this coming. And worse, how they slept through all the decades they should have done something about it.
The Peddar Road problem flyover or the need for it didn't materialise last week. This is the second attempt to push it through. The last time around, in 2001, Ms Mangeshkar threatened to depart for Dubai if it was built. Most people were more stupefied by her choice of destination than the fact that she opposed the flyover. Anyway, the project was buried. But it didn't strike too many people that there was an urgent need for a larger solution. As there is not now.
And that's a serious problem. The Pedder Road issue represents a complete and total failure of anticipation and planning. Including by politicians like Sharad Pawar who live there. Correction, own property and have lived there. Who have ruled over the state and city off and on and have never thought or acted on what the city's needs could potentially be. Not since A R Antulay tried to create a New Bombay has there been a serious attempt to address the city's economic and people balance.
Of course there have been hundreds of proposals, thoughts, ideas. They've been followed up with zero action. And finally that's what matters. Bombay should have had a western sea link connecting Nariman Point to Worli and Bandra 15 years ago. The concept if I remember right is at least 30 years old, if not more. Here we are still debating it, even as the island chokes itself to a standstill.
At this stage, obviously a Peddar Road flyover makes some sense. So does, possibly, a bypass surgery for a patient who has had cardiac arrest. Has it struck anyone that Manhattan does not have flyovers zooming all over. Or central London. Many cities actually choose to go under rather than over. Sure, Manhattan does not have the same dimensions as Bombay but the traffic crush is similar. And of course it has an efficient metro, like London. Which we are still debating over.
Peddar Road's residents have reacted by rejecting the flyover. They still fail to comprehend that their very neighbours could have acted a few decades ago to save this city. To ensure that economic activity shifted in such a way and infrastructure created in a manner that the whole city was not moving in one direction in the morning and another in the evening.
Today, its both ways. And its choked on either side. And we are slowly but surely entering a permanent gridlock. Join me on my morning ride and I will be happy to demonstrate. And its going to get worse because there is absolutely no solution in sight for a few years. Of course there are many plans on paper. So, a flyover is but one of many scotch tape jobs that this city might unfortunately have to settle for.
Waking Up After Two Decades
The reason we need scotch tape and band aid jobs is not because the city has grown to unmanageable proportions. That it has. Its because, we have a whole half-island of Rip Van Winkles who've just woken up. They include some of the country's richest businessmen who've created billions of dollars of assets, powerful politicians, noted artists, media barons, legal eagles to name a few. And of course singers. Even the period fits, twenty summers, from around the time Bombay began its irreversible decline to now. The question is: will they will now smell the coffee.