Lindsay Pereira: Bombay, home of the brave

Living in this city is anything but easy. We should all be awarded for taking on a broken system singlehandedly every day

I believe the Bravery Awards given out each year are flawed. They award individuals for singular acts of bravery, when they go above and beyond the call of duty to save themselves or other individuals. They fail to acknowledge people who step out of their comfort zones daily, taking their lives in their hands simply by taking a walk or trying to make a living.

You don’t know the horror of trying to enter a local train at rush hour, the desperation of cajoling a rickshaw or cab driver during the monsoons, or getting inside your Audi and hoping you won’t be stuck inside it for a few hours or more. File pic for representation
You don’t know the horror of trying to enter a local train at rush hour, the desperation of cajoling a rickshaw or cab driver during the monsoons, or getting inside your Audi and hoping you won’t be stuck inside it for a few hours or more. File pic for representation

The residents of Bombay are possibly the bravest people in India, with the exception of women in North India who have to deal with men from North India. What we have to deal with is more than just men struggling with too much testosterone; we have to take on a broken system and government apathy singlehandedly, every day of our lives, right through every year. It doesn’t matter who we are, where we live, what we earn or how old we are; each of us wakes up every morning and takes a deep breath before stepping out of a cubbyhole, slum, one room kitchen or sea-facing bungalow to face a day in the life under the government of Maharashtra.

This may sound like an exaggeration to people who haven’t visited Bombay, or to tourists who think they know our city well after spending a few hours at Juhu beach and standing outside Salman Khan’s apartment without being run over. You know nothing, my gullible friends, of what it means to try and get from one point of the city to another without access to a Bombay Darshan vehicle. You don’t know the horror of trying to enter a local train at rush hour, the desperation of cajoling a rickshaw or cab driver during the monsoons, or getting inside your Audi and hoping you won’t be stuck inside it for a few hours or more.

You know nothing of what happens to our filthy city when it rains for more than four minutes, when ceilings and walls leak, roads turn into rivulets, trains break down for hours, manholes lie open and waiting, and potholes turn into death traps that claim lives.

You think of our city as a place where the party never stops, because that is what awful movies starring Akshay Kumar have taught you. You know nothing about women and men being harassed by the police during and after that party, or the way hotels and restaurants have to struggle with a thousand licences before they can even think about serving food to customers, let along granting them permission to party.

We begin our struggles the day we are born, when our harried parents have to run from incompetent pillar to corrupt post, trying to get a birth certificate that insists on labelling us by religion whether our parents want to condemn us to a particular faith or not. We struggle to get into schools; some breeze in, thousands stand at the gate peeking in, millions refuse to enter because the teachers don’t bother turning up.

We confront death around every corner, thanks to any number of broken rules and the blatant flouting of regulations. Some of us die on account of missing ambulances at railway stations, others on account of exploding gas cylinders kept illegally in restaurants or factories; for some of us, breathing is difficult because of chemical fumes from garbage dumps that stay open illegally, for others it is death stalking the germ-filled stairways of public hospitals where superbugs laugh at ineffectual attempts at cleaning. Even our doctors struggle to stay alive, which is saying something.

Our children deal with buses that ply unregulated, with missing attendants and drivers on mobile phones. Our parents struggle to cross our streets, waiting impotently at traffic lights, constantly ignored by angry, anxious people behind their wheels. Our disabled struggle to enter stores, malls and public parks, waiting as they have for decades for a government that barely acknowledges their presence.

Our lesbians and gays, bisexuals and transsexuals live in the shadows, hounded by the police, denied a voice by the people they helped elect to power. We are a brave, foolish people and, without us, India would be a poorer country in more than just financial terms.

The thing is, bravery isn’t always about a single act that saves another person’s life. It is also about people who step out of their homes every morning, leaving their lives behind, not knowing whether or not they will return, forever at the mercy of a government that has never been able to guarantee them safe passage.

When he isn’t ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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