Take Me Down To Paradise City, Where It’s Not Flooded

While you guys were stuck in gutters masquerading as roads, I spent the past week in a verdant, faraway land, watching majestic grey clouds ride in on the backs of winds, and unleash what can only be described as furious lovemaking manifest as rain.

Of course, when I say ‘faraway land’, I mean New Bombay. During the monsoons, it looks like the kind of place that was Instagrammed with great love, and presented in 1080p.

In comparison, the rest of the city is a badly drawn sketch on a tissue that was used as a loofah by a bunch of homeless lepers. Now I admit that since I’ve grown up in New Bombay, I might come across as biased and smug. But in my defence, when I’m smug, I’m also right.

You only need to step out on a Mumbai road to realise that there is traffic backed up all the way to Jaipur, with cars crawling at the speed of a riot investigation. Also, the fact that we get anywhere is a miracle, considering that the roads are about 80% potholes, 10% smaller potholes and 10% holes dug by the BMC sometime during the Mughal era.

And all this is before the monsoon.

To say that the authorities have a careless attitude towards monsoon preparation is like saying Milan Subway is wet. An example of this would be our CM, Mr. Chavan, who, earlier this month, went to a pilgrimage site 400 kilometres from Bombay, to pray for rain. (It was either this, or R.R Patil doing a rain dance in a leafy skirt.) I’m sure there are cannibals in the middle of a remote Bolivian forest, who are laughing at our primitive nature.

Cannibal 1: Hey, check out this report about the Indians praying to rain gods. LOLZIES!

Cannibal 2: Saw it. Now gimme back my iPad.

Cannibal 1: This R.R Patil sure looks delicious…

That brings us back to New Bombay, also known as Bombay’s Twin City, because the two are twins in the same way that Bruce Willis and Rajpal Yadav are twins. It was designed according to the principle of ‘Look what they did with Bombay. Let’s not do that’. So it turned out to be what they call a ‘planned city’, making the rest of Bombay look like a botched abortion.

The difference is most apparent during the rainy season. We’ve got hills, waterfalls and green fields, all within comfortable driving distance, and if you want to go even further to Lonavala, you can do so in less time than it takes to cross the Suman Nagar junction. Then again, you can tear down a hill, take a dump all over its ecosystem and create your very own fancy hill-station in less time than it takes to cross Suman Nagar. Just ask Sharad Pawar.

We also have a bunch of mangroves, which is just a nice way of saying that we will have a bunch of malls there soon. But mangroves actually serve a very important ecological function: they can be turned into makeshift love shacks. No, seriously. Last year, the cops busted one such operation in Vashi, wherein couples would pay 100 bucks an hour to bump nasties on thermocol sheets that were placed inside 10×10 foliage shelters. It was Survivor-meets-Splitsvilla for poor people, and was a hit with those who like to get frisky and contract malaria at the same time. So if you thought New Bombay was boring and asexual, hah! In yo face, Bandra!

It’s quite sad that I’m so excited about New Bombay though; excited about not having to wade through a pool of leptospirosis, about street lamps that do this magical thing where they emit light, and about roads that do not look like the tar version of Om Puri’s face. This stuff should be boring and commonplace, but efficiency is such a freak event that even the slightest bit becomes cause for celebration. I mean the most pro-active measure taken by our leaders is praying. I don’t think God’s listening though. He’s too busy chilling in New Bombay.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 8th July 2012. See the original here.)

CAUTION: Drive Slow, Massive Stupidity Ahead

Regular readers of this paper – yes, all three of you – may have noticed the ‘Give Us A Pothole Free Mumbai’ campaign that’s being carried on a daily basis, despite the very real risk that it might overshadow other important features such as ’10 Pickup Lines To Use on Hina Rabbani’ (I’d go with “Baby, you can infiltrate my bedroom anytime.”)

Seriously though, the campaign is a great idea (hey Ed, this plug will cost you extra) Even as I write this column, I am seething with rage over these gaping voids of nothingness situated all over our highways. It’s like the government set out to build an efficient pothole system and accidentally ended up putting bits of road in between.

The campaign has thrown up some startling facts. For example, the BMC general body meeting this week was entirely devoted to discussing the renaming of 42 roads across the city. Because really, that’s what needs to be done for 42 important roads that are studded with potholes so massive that even as you read this, North Indians are moving into them and using the ditchwater to make pani-puri.

Potholes aren’t the only reason I’m pissed off. Mumbai offers drivers a veritable buffet of ‘All You Can Handle’ traffic woes. The words ‘Milan Subway’ immediately come to mind, and rightly so, for this little squirrel hole masquerading as a subway is a hugely popular monsoon destination for reporters who’re sent there when their bosses want to get rid of them, but are too afraid to do it outright. And don’t even get me started on Andheri East. If Transformers was set in Bombay, Optimus Prime would keel over and die within seconds of entering SEEPZ.

And that’s just the tip of the crapberg. Take a little trip down the Eastern Express Highway at night in a thunderstorm and marvel at the streetlamp-shaped decorations that line the entire stretch. Lifeless and impotent, these lamp posts are about as useful as that heart kid in Captain Planet.

Driving during the dry seasons is no fun either. That’s because Indians have this innate knack of enabling their own traffic woes. Take honking for instance. Indian drivers believe that honking is mandatory, which makes sense because Indian pedestrians believe that responding to a honk is optional. My favourite pedestrians are those who like to maintain an aura of suspense about their motives, shifting from the front foot to the back foot with Sachin-like dexterity, keeping you guessing until your car is just inches away, at which point they sprint across as if Jessica Alba has just materialised on the other side, begging for a full-body massage.

Such behaviour is less about traffic and more about our inability to follow rules. This seems to be a fallout of the civil disobedience movement launched during the Raj, when it was alright to break laws. We just got so used to the concept that we didn’t bother following them again. A typical exchange went like this:

Leader: We must oppose the British! Stop following their laws!

Indians: Hell yeah! Down with laws! Laws suck!

Leader: But this is just until the Brits leave haan. You’ll have to follow laws after that. 

Indians: Yeah, whatever. LOLZ!

The only good thing about Bombay traffic is that people are too busy to get into a fight, unlike in Delhi, where most workplaces now accept ‘Stopped to kill bastard at traffic signal because I didn’t like the song playing in his car’ as a valid reason for late arrival. (Even the Parliament accepts this excuse – just ask that Navjot fellow)

Mumbai will continue to resemble a post-apocalyptic wasteland for the next few months, after which it’ll go back to being regular wasteland. As my rage slowly subsides, all I can say is that I hope all of you stay safe. And if you act like an idiot near my car, I’ll kill you.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 31st July 2011)