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.