Rich Cities, Poor Cities

CitiesWe pulled up, forty minutes later, outside the slum in Cuffe Parade, beside the World Trade center. The contrast between the adjacent and roughly equal plots of land was stark. To the right, looking from the road, the World Trade Center was a huge, modern, air-conditioned building. It was filled to three levels with shops, and displays of jewels, silks, carpets, and intricate craft works. To the left was the slum, sprawling ten acres of wretched poverty with seven thousand tiny huts, housing twenty-five thousand of the city’s poorest people. To the right there were neon lights and floodlit fountains. To the left there was no electricity, no running water, no toilets, and no certainty that the whole shamble and bustle of it wouldn’t be swept away from one day to the next, by the same authorities that reluctantly tolerated it.” Gregory David Roberts in “Shantaram”

They say, Gregory David Roberts does for Bombay what Lawrence Durrell did for Alexandria. The authentic saga , “Shantaram” truly immortalizes the spirit of Mumbai (Bombay) , through vivid descriptions and detailed imagery. One can almost smell the stench of the slums, feel the dampness of the sea and hear the deafening traffic of the city. What he does best and what is exemplified in the passage above is the impeccable manner in which he brings out the paradoxical state of not only Mumbai, but all the metropolitan cities of India. The stark divide between the very rich and the very poor, the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ , startlingly seem to increase with the passage of time. On one hand real-estate and property prices sky-rocket, and on the other acres and acres of slum-land continue to decay with people living under inhumane conditions.

Why this rich-poor divide has widened in the decades gone by is a question in itself. The rich continue to get richer whereas the poor seem to be trapped in the vicious circle of poverty and disease. The world talks about India as one of the emerging super powers as corporate honchos race for stakes in global enterprises, the economy is on a roll and the growth rate of the GDP seems to impress everyone, however who bothers about the fact that the per capita income in India is still one of the lowest in the world

New Delhi, the capital of the world’s next super-power, Mumbai-the commercial hub with the Sensex at the Bombay Stock Exchange touching 15000, Bangalore -our very own silicon valley, Kolkata- the gateway to eastern India , Hyderabad-the next big player in the IT-sector. All this… yes, its true. Hold on… we seem to be overlooking a few things… What about the thousands of unemployed graduates in Delhi who work as drivers and waiters, the lakhs of slum dwellers in Mumbai’s notorious Dharavi ,the desperate hand-rickshaw pullers of Kolkata, the uncountable tarpaulin huts which have mushroomed all over our cities which are washed away every monsoon, the little children at traffic signals in all our ’metros’ who incidentally sell pirated copies of ‘Shantaram’ and ‘The Argumentative Indian’?

There seems to have been a popularization of a ‘feel-good’ feeling about our country. Not that it’s wrong to ‘feel-good’ about ones nation, but the deceptive portrayal of circumstances is obviously not welcome. ‘Incredible India’, they say, indeed ‘incredible’ with all its extreme contradictions and ironical inequity.

Vatsala Tibrewalla

Delhi, India