And here's the column that goes with it....
Macau is so pacau….!
Unbelievable as this sounds,it was not all that easy to forget Balwa ka Jalwa and A.Raja’s manifold deals in distant Macau. I mean, I gawked at all those impressive buildings, the eye popping flyovers – the infamous casinos that are the size of mini-cities, and wondered who ran this show… and how many Balwas were lurking in the shadows of this surrealistic destination that is giving Las Vegas a serious complex, plus a run for its money. Macau has a compelling, almost sinister charm about it. Even for idiots like me – someone who doesn’t know her Baccarat from Black Jack. And hates to use the word ‘Craps’ because it sounds dirty. I am not poker faced enough to attempt the game. And roulette is something I associate with Russians holding a gun to a victim’s head. Macau is not meant to be my kind of town – but guess what? I loved it! On a much needed break after months of majdoori, we decided to spend Chinese New Year in Hong Kong ( yes….Kung Hai Fat Choy to you, too ). While In Hong Kong, a friendly ghoul suggested a decadent weekend in Macau. It’s only a one hour turbo jet ride away, we were told. Just go! That was it… off we went to check out this high roller’s den, which saw the best and brightest from Bollywood at the fabled, entirely OTT ‘The Venetian’ for an awards’ ceremony a while ago. But here in Macau nobody cares a fig about movie stars, no matter how big. This is a destination for people with a single point agenda – gambling. Forget the bizarre, surrealistic architecture ( come on…. Venice in China?), the vast , vaulted ceilings of the casino with gaudy versions of the Sistine chapel - and focus on the people working those tables and slot machines. They never take their eyes off the main game and barely look up from the cards they clutch on to like their lives depend on the hand that’s been dealt . In fact, some of them forget to go to the loo, drink water, eat or sleep for hours at a stretch. They wouldn’t blink if Kim Kardashian roller bladed into the place, wearing nothing but a sexy fragrance. Better still, if Amar Singh performed the full monty as he threatened to this week ( but seriously, in case of such a calamity, we would all need to shield our eyes). As we strolled through those garish halls, watched by beady eyed bouncers and maybe thousands of cctv cameras, it was a liberal education of sorts. Macau is the perfect example of how the Chinese execute mega projects - emphasis on ‘execute’) . Macau is the apt symbol of mean Chinese ambition.
I have no doubt modern day Macau was created by a Chinese Kalmadi. Someone who saw a gigantic opportunity in positioning this tiny island as a heaven and haven for good time gamblers with enough lolly to blow up a nuclear plant. The financials were obviously calibrated to the last Yuan or Hong Kong dollar. The humungous investments are there for all to see…. and enjoy. From the crazily constructed Grand Lisboa, to the super swish ‘The Wynn’, and the magnificent MGM Grand, Macau has put up monumental, futuristic buildings ( many more coming up) that rival the best in neighbouring HK. The infrastructure is faultless – from the time visitors show up at the busy jetty in those bright red turbo jets that ferry them to and from HK every half an hour, to the limo pick- up at the airport as Russian tycoons ( molls in tow) arrive in spiffy private jets. Floor length minks complement limited edition bags and serious rocks, as pampered ladies float into the dazzling lobbies of these monstrous hotels ( ‘The Wynn’ plays wrap around Frank Sinatra through cleverly concealed speakers in the shrubbery … his velvety voice catching visitors off guard).I swear I saw several Chinese men sporting Fedoras and resembling Oriental Bogarts from another zamaana. Yup, it’s that lunatic! The main thing about Macau is that everything works! It’s all good and tickety-boo at every level. Perhaps we should have packed off Kalmadi and gang to Macau before handing over the CWG on a platter to them … and getting royally ripped off. Not that it would have helped…. mainly because Kalmadi would still have messed up. You and I know why. Chinese bosses are not pussycats and weaklings . Had Kalmadi’s counterpart in Macau not delivered, he would have been chopped up and fed to the sharks in the South China Sea. So would his cronies and contractors. You really don’t want to mess with those guys… the level of efficiency and security one encounters at every stage, is evidence enough of that.There are water tight systems in place… the message is loud and clear. The place bristles with menacing looking cops ( the only people who understand English), who are constantly on the move through those unbelievably crowded shopping areas in central Macau. Talkng of security in India, just two days after I got back from HK, I traveled to Baroda. Idly, I looked at my boarding card and saw to my horror that I was identified as a male and my name appeared as Mr. S. De. Not a single person noticed it – not the airline staff , not the cops ( who often stare intently at boarding cards they are holding upside down ). My ID was nothing more than a club membership card with a blurred, old picture in a corner. No problem. I was waved through regardless.
I remember Vilasrao Deshmukh’s constant band – baaja about converting Mumbai into Shanghai. Unfortunately for Maharshtra’s ex-C.M. he ran straight into me a few days after I’d returned from Shanghai ( this was a few years ago). I pounced on him and asked how he could make such outrageous comparisons. He smiled and smiled ( the man is amazing – he smiles through any and every embarrassment), and answered calmly, “ But madam, I have never been to Shanghai myself!”
I rest my case.
Just hoping and praying Prithviraj Chavan doesn’t talk about making Mumbai into another Macau. Though… why not? If we can get great roads, clean public spaces, super efficient policing, dynamic bureaucrats, no water and power cuts…. plus, casinos!! Hey… that’s a good plan.
Chalo Chavanji… Mumbai ko Macau banao!