Saturday, January 11, 2014

Mumbai's T2 : A gorgeous mirage???

This appeared in the Asian Age...
                     Mumbai’s T2 …Jaye He!
There are two ways to look at Mumbai’s spanking new terminal – we can be proud of it. Or we can be embarrassed. Let it be stated there is a lot to be proud of. It is indeed magnificent.  I would go so far as to say it is possibly the most impressive airport terminal in the world today. Impressive  on all counts. Architecturally, it is awe-inspiring. In practical terms, it works  -  or we would like to believe it does ( untested at the time of writing). It is Mumbai’s pride. An apt showpiece that will join that other modern Mumbai landmark,  the Worli Sea Link. All good, thus far.  Everyone agrees Mumbai desperately needed a new terminal to handle air traffic. It  goes without saying that Mumbai’s heart is bursting with pride as people go gaga  over T2. But a few niggling questions will be asked by those who’ll question the scale and extravagance of it all. Before we get to the cynics and skeptics, let us generously give credit where it is due. And acknowledge the guts and vision of Sanjay Reddy who took the quantum leap and went ahead with such an ambitious project. As I pumped his hand, two days before the formal inauguration, he was beaming and seemed to have grown a few inches taller in  front of my eyes. Given his impressive height to begin with, this was also a feat which required a step ladder for me to make eye contact with the man behind T2. I overhead invitees to the preview telling Sanjay they were certain the T2 would raise India’s prestige in the eyes of the world. That  it would  beef up our international image. And put Shanghai’s airport in the shade. This got me a little worried. The T2, spectacular as it undoubtedly is, will definitely grab eyeballs and attract global attention. But equally, let us be warned, it will generate  strong comment and criticism from those who will view it as yet another symbol of India’s over reaching ambition. India dazzles, but does not deliver!
Not even two kilometers from the glittering T2, just after visitors drive down the broad GVK Ramp and towards the city, Mumbai’s notorious shanty towns demand attention.  They pretty much line the entire route all the way up to the Sea Link. Garbage heaps, the size of hillocks, remain uncleared for weeks. Nobody follows traffic rules as buses, cabs, autoricks, pedestrians, cattle, the occasional pet elephant, clog the old road  creating the worst snarls. Beggars thump on car windows at traffic signals, and jostle for space with semi-naked children selling everything from balloons to China-made toys. The entire scene shouts ‘Third World’. And the picture doesn’t really change along the rest of the highway. It is only after weary passengers check into their luxury hotels or residents reach home, that the real Mumbai withdraws, leaving  people with the impression that there are two, or maybe even two thousand Mumbais co-existing unhappily… uncertainly…uneasily.
A great deal of Mumbai’s energy and angst are encapsulated in the spectacularly curated art works that dominate T2. For that alone, T2 has earned a very special place in not just Mumbai’s heart, but India’s , too. Skillfully put together by Rajeev Sethi and his accomplished team, the world’s first airport ‘museum’ offers a rare treat to jaded passengers in need of some relief from their travels. Whether or not a person appreciates art or is an art connoisseur, what Sethi has achieved is stupendous in terms of visual impact. He has cleverly incorporated Mumbai’s many eccentricities and paradoxes in ambitious installations that reflect all that makes up the mad narrative of Mumbai. The works on display are so intriguing, exciting and innovative, there are jokes doing  the rounds about mesmerized passengers  missing flights  as they stop and stare at the incredible art! Sethji has cleverly sourced and used the talents of local and immigrant communities  that make Mumbai the only real melting pot of India. This in itself is a gigantic triumph. Given that forty million annual footfalls are expected at T2, this would make T2 the most viewed ‘museum’ in the world, comfortably beating the Louvre which attracts a mere nine million!
 So, while we continue to gasp and rave over T2 – already  dubbed  the 8th Wonder of the Modern World, we’d do well to pause and consider a few ground realities. Maharashtra has been identified as the most corrupt state in India, after a recent poll. Mumbai is crumbling and falling apart on each and every front. Mumbaikars are a seriously disgruntled lot right now. There’s little hope in sight. The 2014 Elections aren’t far off.  So far Mumbai  does not have a single worthy enough candidate to represent its interests. The city trundles along somehow, managing to beat the considerable odds. But for how long? The T2, in such a grim scenario is like a grand mirage , gleaming and glittering tantalizingly in the far distance.  90 per cent of Mumbaikars will never get inside those sleek portals or take advantage of the many high tech, state of the art facilities on offer. That shouldn’t matter. But it does. The answer is to exploit the T2 to remind everyone about the art of the possible. If we could have got the T2 off the ground and running , if we can have such a glorious showpiece to brag about in our midst, surely we can do something about the rest of the wretched city as well?
 Sanjay Reddy along with Rajeev Sethi have ably demonstrated that Mumbai is more than capable of creating a  world class terminal  not just Mumbai but the rest of India can be proud of. Mumbai can justifiably  strut and preen for the next few months as the T2 garners compliments and wins global awards . Let the T2 become more than a mere  symbol of excellence. Let it become a true catalyst for change and growth. Let every Mumbaikar  believe he or she is a real stakeholder in T2. If that indeed happens, all those zillions invested in it, will be worth every paisa spent.

Jaye He!


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Latha said...

Very well written. Poverty, mountainous garbage, flouting of rules & traffic chaos are nightmares in juxtaposition with the glitter & glamour in every city in India & unfortunately this is what describes the character of India. Phir bhi dil hai....

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PYRAMID said...

if we Need Foreign Investments to Flow,Most of the NRI who are Interested in this Country Genuinely,They Can enter the country only through a Flight not Rail.It is not extravagance as You had Mentioned it is a Gateway to drive Investments to Spur Growth.Without Investments Poverty will not Reduce.It will Take Many Many Years to see the fruit.It is a Big motivator to Make Better things Happen.

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nav-justanyrandomtopic said...

Aptly put Mam.
Also the connecting highways lead to SOB, what about the rest of the suburbs. They will still have to beat the traffic snarls to get to the airport, many hours before the takeoff.
The administration has cleverly planted trees on the highway, to cover the slums below?
T2 is for commercial use. The current infrastructure cant handle the flights and their fliers, wasnt it common sense to grow the infrastructure with using T2 to handle some part of it. So much land,money,efforts put in to display art & create more money?

Hari TSV said...

Have seen the breathtaking visuals of the Mumbai T2. Gawd! Surely they look real good!

I, however, have a few notes of caution:


Will the looks be maintained for the times to come - like they do at - say Heathrow? I will not be too sure because of our peoples' pan-chewing and spitting habits - for one thing.


Secondly, will there be the helpdesks - like one has in the same Heathrow - from where one can book tickets to virtually anywhere in UK by train/bus/car whatever? I doubt it. Perhaps none has even thought of it. Perhaps you should write about something like that, Shobhaa!


The closest rail head to the airport is Vile Parle railway station whose platforms on the farthest east of the station are in complete disuse. Perhaps the idea of a special train - taking passengers to Bombay Central/CST and/or Dadar [Central Railway] and/or Bandra and/or Kurla termini to help outstation passengers to entrain towards the Maharashtra hinterland - especially to those coming into India from abroad would be a good idea. To facilitate this, creating a moving floor from the airport to the rail-head would be even better. The east end platforms of Parle station can be put to very good use thus - and the trains that ply on those platforms can be of a special variety - the ones we encounter in New Delhi that takes passengers to the airport - from some of the parts of the city - for instance. Perhaps you could talk to your architect and builder friends about this. Cheers! Happy 2014! TSV Hari

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