Monday, December 12, 2011

The Dirty City

‘Clean Mumbai! Green Mumbai! Beautiful Mumbai’ – These few phrases are a rude bundle of crap from BMC and all the politicians who have made the Shanghaification of Mumbai a colossal joke.
Apart from the many popular polluting elements of air, water, sound that afflict Mumbai, one which is less talked about but one of the most rampant forms is ‘Visual Pollution’. 

Huge ugly looking vinyl hoardings with ugly politicians with creepy smiles grouped with sycophants dot every road and square.  Those very smiling goons bash up sincere lads who go to remove the illegal cost-free advertising hoardings and threaten BMC workers who order them removed.  Bah! to think, multinationals shell out money to pay for the almost as ugly OOH (out of home) advertising.

The airport road was once upon a time supposed to be ‘beautified’ to avoid foreign visitors from getting headaches from all the ugliness that hits them suddenly.  After seeing a sea of blue, which is not the Arabian sea, visitors and Mumbaiites come out in the open in grubby taxis, to see people peeing, squatting, shitting on roads, picking lice on their heads etc. If that were not enough to make them want to turn back, they get to see the unavoidable unseemly sight of people spitting usually that revolting red muck every five seconds on pockmarked roads.

The ugliness continues on the unpainted roads with construction rubble lying everywhere –on the sides, below flyovers, on the unpainted dividers, with dried up and dead ‘beautifying trees’. No lane markings are present on any roads, and the dividers broken wherever convenient for motorists to make illegal passes and turns. New flyovers had come up were supposed to be gleaming and shiny new structures.  Then I saw these weird metal contrapments, probably cellphone towers all along the flyovers.  God! More ugliness! Talking of unpainted, rows and rows of dilapidated buildings with peeling dirty paint look on with shanties at their bases all along every large road in Mumbai and in smaller bylanes.

‘Clean up!’ dirty green Garbage trucks of BMC freely ride the roads at all times of the day and one sees a ‘Mera Bharat Mahaan’ painted on some unsightly broken granite obstruction in the middle of the road. The whole city is a dustbin for one and all where people litter as they please, where they stand, leaving their legacy behind for someone to clean up after them. Shopkeepers dust their shops driving the garbage to the middle of the road onto unsuspecting pedestrians.  A pile of garbage that should not be where it is, collects for days together.  Numerous flea ridden dogs and scraggly cats are seen loitering near these dumps or the middle of roads. 

One would escape the ugliness that abounds this city once one was home; I would have liked to believe, but there, as I enter, dirty shoes of all the family haphazardly kept by my building people greet me on the staircase. Across the window, in the opposite building, I am forced to look at my neighbours’ chaddis, banians and bras hanging out of their living room windows to dry.
Call me intolerant or just a foreign returned NRI even if it was for a really short while, or call me snooty, a snob, or whatever, but could we PLEASE stop exhibiting all our clothes to our neighbours, and stop littering alteast!?

And to think, people call this morbid place a beautiful city. Mere wishful thinking probably where we refer to the ‘indomitable’spirit and resilience of Mumbaiites as beauty. I wish we stopped talking about beauty like that in the Miss Worlds where they unnecessarily discuss ‘inner beauty’ on mugged up answers. I am done with the inner beauty, I want to see some physical beauty in this city! It is nice to sit on to Marine drive and stare out into the sea out of Mumbai.  Staring out of Mumbai makes it beautiful you see.  The city is a damn dump.  Can anyone at all do anything to reduce disgusting habits, really clean up and to make this city less of an eyesore than it can be helped? I love this city despite its short-comings and heaven knows why I want to return always to it and I always did, but indeed, it is being abused way beyond its tolerance limits. One day, it will exact its terrible revenge from the denizens of Mumbai unless something were done about it.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Book Review - The Best of Quest by Laeeq Futehally, Achal Prabhala and Arshia Sattar

Daring, illuminating, and inspiring. These best describe a journal that took birth not so way back in the pre-emergency days in 1954.  It was called Quest – ‘a quarterly of inquiry, criticism and ideas’. With a prolific writer, poet and social commentator Nissim Ezekiel at its helm, this magazine commented on the political, social, philosophical, cultural and ideological environment of a newly liberated India.  The magazine featured a motley of brilliant writers and poets of the time that included great names such as the zesty Dilip Chitre, sociologists such as Ashis Nandy and Sudhir Kakar, and the feisty Khushwant Singh and the haunting poet Agha Shahid Ali to name a very few of those geniuses.

In its short life of 2 decades, this insightful magazine was forced to down its shutters, but fortunately for our generation today, The Best of Quest, an anthology of the very best essays, critiques, poems and stories from an era bygone provides us with a superb insight into the thinking of the intelligentsia of those times.

The Best of Quest edited by Laeeq Futehally, Achal Prabhala and Arshia Sattar showcases writers from different backgrounds, and conversations on a myriad themes and topics. Divided into seven parts interspersed with old ads and including a worthy introduction and endnotes, this book features in three parts, Essays and Opinion, Poetry and Fiction.  Several translated works are thankfully included in this volume that might just have been lost.  At the end of the book, I am already wishing, there was a second volume in this series!

In the Essays section, what struck me was that so many of the articles commented on the questions that are still raging more than 50 years down the road. This section, includes writings on the still debatable caste system, the place of women in an evolving society in articles such as Women’s Lib in India, The Married Woman and Our Sex Morality, Fair and Free; cultural discussions on the Konark temple; the Islamic connection in a still relevant article Am I a Muslim. On a lighter note, the spirited two articles, On Caged Chaffinches and Polyglot Parrots and a reply to it in Indian Writing in English on the usage of English as a medium of expression were uplifting.  Movies have always been ingrained in the fabric of India and these were seen in caustic critique of Satyajit Ray juxtaposed with the hit movie Bobby by the then mysterious ‘D’ aka Dilip Chite and in the Charm of Rajesh Khanna. I wish I could quote or just list down all the well researched articles that said so much in so few words and truly provided a glimpse into the world which barely seems to have changed since then.

Poetry included works by the editor and great poet himself, Nissim Ezekiel, Kamala Das, A.K. Ramanujan to name a very few.

Some lines that I think will stick on in my head are in

Stance by Nissim Ezekiel
Elusive for ever,
the middle road
is never
in the middle.

From Three Cups of Tea by Arun Kolatkar –
i went to Burma
i was arrested and sent back
            to Manipur
no passport
                        the police commissioner asked
why did you go to burma?
                        Prickface i said
what’s there in India?

I also particularly enjoyed ‘City Streets’ by Santan Rodrigues which echoes what I think of Indian cities today with the scum and filth in them. 

In the fiction section, a fantastic array of haunting, satirical and charming stories has been selected with great care in this book. I loved the twist in The Departure, the simplicity in Aunt Matilda turns ninety and the poignant story The Accompanist.  Again, an enthralling anthology of fiction.

The endnotes and the story behind the magazine Quest were illuminating and I felt privileged to read so much more about Nissim Ezekiel, Dilip Chitre and the other scintillating men behind Quest. Kudos to the editors for the incredible collection of the essays, stories and poems in this terrific book.

My verdict is a thumping 4.5 on 5 for this book.

About the Editors -

Laeeq Futehally is a writer and garden designer. She worked as the Literary Editor of Quest for over twenty years.
Achal Prabhala is a writer and researcher in Bangalore
Arshia Sattar works with classical Indian literatures and teachers at various institutions across the country

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!