A few years ago, this was touted as the new dream road, a toast to West Bengal and Kolkata's (Calcutta) future. The New Town/Rajarhat road which leads from Salt Lake to the airport was as smooth as silk. I remember racing towards the airport at a 130 kmph and wondering how Kolkata had changed so much. This road strikes out from the city and heads out into open fields, now earmarked for IT parks and the like.
Construction is on but the road is in shambles, as I discovered last week. After getting thrown around like a doll for some distance, we were mercifully transferred to the other lane. So, most of this once gleaming road has been closed off, for pothole covering work. The ride into the city after clearing Salt Lake was not much better. But than who ever expected Kolkata to have good roads. So on we went, bumping along, negotiating potholes and tram tracks till we reached Alipore.
Last month I drove to Pune. This is an uplilfting experience since there are very few moments you are actually seated. For the roughly 50 km run from Mumbai to Khargar, its like flying over the lunar surface. Then you touch the Mumbai-Pune expressway which is obviously a dream. And then, its the last 25 km into Pune city. I thought roads could not get worse than this. Actually, they don't...because they are not roads any more..its very simple, just a change in nomenclature. What I thought was the Aundh road turned out to be a dirt track most of the way.
A National State Of Mind
I am not even talking about Mumbai roads because there is nothing to talk about them, except perhaps gaze in utter amazement and initiate scientific studies on how mankind could create something so beautifully random. Or contemplate how this randomness can actually be used as a weapon of mass destruction.
Imagine, if you let our road contractors loose in Baghdad, then Bush would have been saved a lot of money in Iraq and misery at home. Every Baghdadi would have had spinal failure by now. I mean, I have nothing against Iraq specifically, but lets say we wanted to invade someone. Think about it..now outsource from India..Strategic Pothole Disability Weapons (SPDW). Incidentally some Iraqi roads are the world's best even now - a friend did a Amman-Baghdad run, more than 1,000 km in 8 hours last year !
Potholes are a national problem. And they reflect a national state of mind. One of the ultimate Indian disregard for workmanship, the supreme chalta hai way of life. The quality of products and services put out by India's private sector have improved dramatically over years. So have those served by the once moribund public sector. Though not to the same extent. But when it comes to roads, we are treated to the same standards that applied when governance and controls were at their worst and apathy highest..maybe the seventies or eighties or both. Tackling this is going to be one mighty challenge.
The Last Big Hurdle
I always wonder, as I negotiate the roughly 300 or 400 potholes, bumps and uneven roads that I do in Mumbai, everyday - what makes these guys do such shoddy jobs ? Are they blind ? Can they see, feel, experience, or are they bereft of some of the senses which you and I are thankfully or perhaps not so thankfully blessed with ? Yesterday, I wondered if I could somehow unhook my spinal cord and place it in some cyrogenic freezer, to be retrieved at a later date.
And do our civic authorities and officials not experience these terrible roads themselves ? Do they know not what a basic evenly laid out road is ? Did they study geometry in school ? Or is schooling not a prerequisite to bag contracts with Mumbai's BMC or whoever the giver of contracts in your city is. I am pretty sure not. I have questions but no answers.
I do know that our central and state government services are the last biggest hurdle we have to cross, if we are to aspire for anything that resembles a decent quality of life. And they will kill you for even trying..as they put me to slow death everyday. Till then, suffer along !