Mumbai seems to be going through a major identity crisis. There are any number of really weird people fighting over the metropolis, like it’s a half chewed bone, left behind by a pack of wild dogs. The scraps left behind are for scavengers of all hues – and yet, everyone is pouncing on them. Why? The answer is obvious – even those measly scraps of this mega city are worth a fortune. And nobody wants to let go of those precious leftovers.From politicians to businessmen , there is just one story worth narrating about this ajeeb city . It is called Real Estate. Take whoever, doing whatever, in whichever sphere - the motive is just one – land grab. Which is why Sachin Tendulkar’s innocuous remark – ‘Mumbai belongs to India’ – has triggered off reverbrations, not just in Sena Bhavan, but across party lines. It has been twisted out of context and given political hues by those who would like to appropriate the city and stake an exclusive claim over it. No other city in India generates this level of possessiveness and passion. And the only reason why Mumbai gets people to froth at the mouth each time the ‘ownership’ issue comes up, is because those who hope to plunder it still further, start feeling threatened. Earlier, this perceived threat used to come from ‘outsiders’ who were determined to acquire chunks of pricey property, using locals as frontmen. Often , these ‘outdsiders’ were underworld kingpins consolidating their hold over their gangs through illegal acquisitions of land in prime areas. The ‘Dons’ continued their dirty games from their hideouts overseas, even after getting chased out during the fierce inter-gang battles in the ‘80s and ‘90s. These old Bollywood- style dons were soon replaced by a new breed - the political dons – but the objectives remained the same – buying Mumbai. And selling it, piece by piece to the highest bidder. Dhanda!
The lines have totally blurred now. Most of the old players are either dead or dying. The new laptop ‘Dadas’ wear Versace ( itself a dying brand, but who’s to tell these designer goons?), and crack mega real estate deals with smooth talking builders in shiny suits. Most of the ghastly construction one sees in suburban Mumbai, is the product of these scumbags who have stripped Mumbai of all aesthetics, in their greed to make a fast buck. I was told by an erstwhile royal who is a globe trotting , card holding member of the Luxe set, that a top Italian designer who visited Mumbai in search of good locations for his stores, actually held his head in his hands and wept after a drive through the city. He couldn’t accept its ugliness. He was appalled by the hideous ‘development’ that lacks character or taste. He kept repeating, “ How could anybody do this to such a historic and important city? Why doesn’t someone stop this horrible growth?” He fled vowing never to return. Yes, he was that traumatized. Mumbai’s ‘ghazab’ story can only get worse. There are no real stakeholders left to protect it from marauders who are determined to exploit every last inch of space available. And these marauders are not the feared ‘outsiders’ , but insiders themselves, who want to hang on to the booty. Helping them in their sinister design are the greedy worker ants of Mumbai – those who sign ‘no objection’ certificates, okay crazy plans, are a part of this dirty nexus . From lowly staffers in the BMC, to hangers- on of MLA’S and ministers, they are all in the conspiracy to own India’s most valuable real estate – Mumbai.
What does the average Mumbaikar do to protect the city… his\her own interests? Very little. The cynicism is so wide spread, the Mumbaikar shrugs resignedly and life goes on. Every time there is a crisis, Mumbaikars are reminded about their ‘resilience’ and the great ‘spirit’ of the city. This is nothing but a cheap alibi that excuses those who are responsible for the safety and prosperity of India’s premier hub. Mumbaikars shrug, laugh and get back to work after each devastation, knowing that if they don’t, they’ll be finished. They read exposes on corruption in high places, in low places, in virtually every place! And are not shocked. They accept that most of the netas they themselves have voted into power are goondas. They don’t react. Nobody wants unnecessary ‘lafdas’, they say tiredly. As long as the goondas get them water in the taps, it’s okay. It’s all a big joke – just like in the current Ajeeb-Ghazab hit movie.Serial blasts, terror attacks, David Headley and whatever else might befall Mumbai in future, one thing is certain – politicians will never get poor. Today, Mumbaikars are willing to say sportingly, “ It’s okay, baba…. paisa banao. Loot maar karo. No problem. Grab what you can while in power. But at least make sure the public also benefits a little.” Is that too much to ask??
I think it is very fair and very practical. It’s time to do a deal. Maybe Mumbaikars should talk turkey with those who are busy plundering Mumbai and work out a formula. We have some of the canniest financial brains in the country in this overburdened city History tells us Mumbai came as part of a ‘dowry’ for a Portugese princess in the early 17th century. Time to file a dowry harassment case, in that case?? It can’t get more ghazab than that for this ajeeb city.