I spent three days in Delhi and am still reeling. It truly is another country with an entirely different culture. But what the hell - at least the food is good. Better than in any other Indian city - more varied and definitely more adventurous. I went back to Bengali Market to check on the chaats and am happy to report the papdi chaat was outstanding with generous slivers of adrak and the unique masala that has drawn crowds for over forty years. There was 'gajak' and there was 'petha' too.... and sarson da saag with makki di roti. But I was with my health freak daughter Anandita who refused to let me gorge. Both of us enjoyed lunch at the smart and casual Smokehouse Deli , where we were amused to see dozens of Ladies- who- lunch, wearing knee high boots, furs, hats... like they were braving an astonishingly chilly winter in Paris! The dinner menu at the Oberoi Maiden's in Old Delhi was charmingly purana era - perhaps the proximity to the Purana Qila rubbed off on the chefs. The sushi at 360 Degrees ( considered Delhi's premier venue for power lunches) was soggy and disappointing, but the very pricey black cod made up for it.
Here's my take on the scum behind the scam....
What does ‘Adarsh’ really mean?
Around seven years ago, when my two older children were that much younger, they had to deal with a situation I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemies. It involved a small army of hired goons sent by an unscrupulous builder to oust them from their ancestral home. It was their aged grandmother who had to face this mob by herself as they made themselves comfortable in her living room and asked for the television set to be switched on. They also informed her casually that this was now their home and they were there to stay. She was a lady with remarkable reserves of fortitude and did not panic for a minute , even when these strangers spread out their beddings, opened tiffin boxes and settled in for the night. I was out of the country at the time. There is just so much one can achieve over frantic telephone calls to the local police station, the municipal guys of that ward, the MLA or the M.P. elected to represent the interests of his constituency. It was evident from the buck passing and evasive responses I encountered that almost everyone was deep in it – on the take - in one way or the other Those desperately traumatic 48 hours of the children being bull dozed and threatened by the builder and asked to vacate or else, shall never be forgotten . Does this story have a happy ending? Ummm. Not really. Left with few options, the family had to accept a lousy settlement and move out with dignity. Too much was at stake – especially an old lady’s precarious health. We were advised to fight the goons with goons, and get some influential ‘higher ups’ to intervene. None of that happened, mainly because the builder’s reach went all the way to the top! And a vastly admired heritage property was unceremoniously pulled down to be replaced by an entirely illegal shopping centre with escalators that open out to an overcrowded street in central Mumbai. So many years later, the builder is in trouble for cheating, forgery and deception. Will anything happen to the villain? No chance. Will the hideous shopping complex be demolished? Are you kidding? This is Mumbai. This is where an ‘Adarsh’ happens. With absolute impunity. What’s a crumbling heritage building worth multiple crores that can be arbitrarily vacated, torn down and rebuilt for several more?
Which brings me to ‘Adarsh’ and the current debate about demolishing the notorious structure. Pretty pointless, don’t you think? Demolish it just to show the world ‘action is being taken’? And then what? If ‘Adarsh’ does indeed come crashing down within seconds, using the ‘implosion technique’ ( wow! Aren’t we impressed?), what purpose will it serve other than to create headlines and get our spiffily dressed minister for Environment and Forests to preen some more on camera and pat himself on the back for showing everybody he means business. Frankly, I don’t see the demolition happening (CRZ issues be damned). Not in the near future, perhaps never. There are at least five buildings in the same area that are disputed structures. These have been around for decades – ghostly and abandoned, with no decision in sight. Like ‘Adarsh’ now, Mumbai had a ‘Pratibha’ , too. Another high profile residential tower that became the focus of a nasty battle. ‘Pratibha’ is still there – we have stopped bothering about its future. Just as we’ll forget ‘Adarsh’ after a couple of months. That’s how it goes. ‘Adarsh’ is considered ‘hot’ by the media. It may lose it’s ‘hotness’ quotient if a bigger scam comes up. And as has been pointed out by various legal luminaries, where does this ‘Adarsh’ imbroglio end and another begin? There are hundreds of similar scandals in the city of Mumbai alone. Each time one turns around to gasp at yet another spectacular construction ( Hello! Donald Trump. Welcome to Mumbai)) selling at an astronomical price, the unanswered questions remain the same – who cleared the project? For how much? If one were to probe a little, nearly every new high rise has irregularities galore. Serious lapses that can endanger the lives of occupants. But who bothers with paper work that has no meaning in the first place? Whose signatures are on those files?Surprise! Surprise! Signatures of the very same bureaucrats responsible for okaying ‘Adarsh’ . If today a Lt.Col R.K. Singh is asking why he, a legitimate owner of a flat in Adarsh is being penalized for the wrong doings of others, what response can he expect? This person is paying rent, plus repaying EMIs on the loan he’d taken to buy that precious flat. Can he demand compensation – if so, from whom? If Jairam Ramesh has his way, Singh’s dream home could soon be rubble. Singh had fought the Kargil war in the Drass sector and paid a substantial amount to acquire the flat. As had Commander Rajiv Pilo, who was part of the naval force at Kochi during the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war.His life savings are invested in an ‘Adarsh’ flat.Will he get his money back?
It would appear there are no honest builders left in Mumbai.The food chain in this highly lucrative business is very inclusive – and everybody ‘eats money’ from the lowly clerk to the mighty neta. Land is getting snapped up faster than lingerie at a Victoria’s Secret sale. The shadowy promoters are known to all, but everybody feigns instant amnesia. And God help us, but the CBI has been entrusted with cracking the ‘Adarsh’ case and we know its dismal success rate only too well. If the CBI sleuths are still searching for Aarushi’s killer, do we really expect them to nail those behind the ‘Adarsh’ scandal? Dream on!
‘Adarsh’ should stay. There is rich irony in both its name and continued existence. Let ‘Adarsh’ be converted into a Museum of Corrupt Practices. It could become a tourist attraction . … like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. A towering monument that commemorates national shame. Who knows, it may even make its money back through ticket sales for the venal Babus who built it.