Castles in the air - they are so easy to take refuge in. And so easy to build, too.

आम्हां घरी धन शब्दांचीच रत्नें | शब्दांचीच शस्त्रें यत्न करुं ||
शब्द चि आमुच्या जीवांचे जीवन | शब्दें वांटूं धन जनलोकां ||
तुका म्हणे पाहा शब्द चि हा देव | शब्द चि गौरव पूजा करुं ||
- abhang of Tukaram Wolhoba Ambile of Dehu

There's No Freedom Like That of a Child's Imagination

கடலுக்கு உண்டு கற்பனைக்கு இல்லை கட்டுப்பாடு

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A bridge too small and expensive

In 1952, Potti Sriramulu starved himself to death demanding India create an Andhra State. It did. In 1990, Rajiv Goswami set himself on fire protesting the Indian Government's Mandal Commission's recommendations. The recommendations were implemented, but the government had to resign. In 2009, Tang Fuzhen set herself on fire in China's Chengdu city to protest the demolition of her house to build a road. The road is being built.

And there are politicians and their voters in Mumbai who dream of making that city into another Shanghai. Malabar Hill-ites from south Mumbai go to Shanghai's Pudong and stand there awed. Who wouldn't be amazed by those great glass-and-concrete temples of modern China? And when they come back, their aeroplane inescapably flies over Dharavi and embarasses them badly. There it sits - huge real estate squat in the middle of Mumbai, an eyesore from the glitzy windows of Bandra-Kurla Complex. Perhaps it is just our fault that we didn't know to hide it from visitor's eyes, the way Shanghai cleverly hides Putuo. Instead we take foreign tourists on 'slum tours' there. There's something wrong with us.

We look at pictures and videos of the Shanghai-Ningbo Sea Link and shit in our pants. It is an engineering marvel of course, what with 300 metre towers and the world's longest span of 1088 metres. Compared to it our Bandra-Worli Sea Link, of which we are so proud, is truly humble - its towers are only 126 metres tall and the longest span only 250 metres. And this in a country that produces more engineering graduates than anybody else. There's something wrong with us.

Though there is one way Mumbai's bridge beats Shanghai's. It isn't stained with blood.

For one, its construction was held up and contested in court by two parties. Environmentalists took it to court protesting adverse effects on the MAhim creek it passes over. Local fishermen protested over the proposed demolition of their houses, as well as disruption of their fishing activity. The cases made painful headway through the courts, through endless hearings, decisions and inevitable appeals to higher courts.

The result - guarantees had to be given they wouldn't affect the river's flow, and the damn bridge had to be completely realigned to skirt the fishermen's colony. Costs escalated, and the city's car owners were kept waiting for the chance to zip across in their glitzy Mahindra Scorpios and Skoda Superbs. The whole thingamajig took ten years, and opened under a cloud over its naming.

In contrast, the Shangainese thing from approval to inauguration took just 4 years. No environmental court battles, no politics, no fishermen's protests. Or atleast no court battles that we heard of, no politics we heard of or no fishermen's protests we heard of. How do you sue the Chinese Communist Party government in a Chinese Communist Party court? How does a CCP powerseeker play politics with another CCP powerseeker (unless you are one of the Soong sisters)? And how does a mere fishing community take on, what is after all the People's Republic?

I can't even Google this information. Or Baidu it for that matter. Google is censored. Baidu is the doormat in Zhongnanhai.

But I can Google anything that embarasses Raisina Hill, and for some inscrutable reason, Raisina Hill would rather be embarassed than bother to find my address for that midnight knock. Despite the fact that it has my address on my passport, ration card, PAN card, and PPF account, all of which it gave me.

I'm going to persist in my opinion that there is something wrong with India. Something is wrong with our government and polity if it gets scared of some fishermen's colony and realign a bridge, rather than send tanks over it. Or even worse, let some court order it about. Deng or Stalin would never have understood. How many battalions does the Supreme Court have, after all?

Or should I be proud of a bridge, that while embarassingly small and expensive, didn't need a blood sacrifice?

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