The Great Construction Circus
Nothing just gets built in Mumbai. Not without a weird journey…
In Mumbai, happiness is so hard to find, it’s like a cabbie that goes short-distances. As a city there are roughly two things we can get excited about, and one of them just said he’s played his last IPL. The only other thing that thrills this city is the opening of a new transport link. We now have the Eastern Freeway, that’ll get you from Fort to Ghatkopar in 25 minutes. On an ordinary day, you can’t get from Fort to Fort in 25 minutes. This road is going to change lives; people will get home early, they’re going to tuck their children into bed and eat dinner with their families, and watch this fabled “Arnab Goswami” they’ve heard so much about for the first time. But these better lives will have to wait. Because nobody important is free to inaugurate it. But it’s just another part of the circus that is The Life-Cycle of Every Infrastructure Project in Mumbai Ever:
Stage 1: Hope
A report appears on the front page of a newspaper about a new project that will cut my commute by six hours (each way). The report has shiny graphics in which the distance between Vashi and Colaba is a 2 cm dotted red line. This new project will build a twelve-lane highway in the ocean with exit-ramps and “decks”, and its pièce de résistance will be a “cable-stayed bridge” that leads to a tunnel that will go through the moon and end at Nariman Point. Phase 1 began yesterday and will be completed two minutes from now by Kajol. Oh, and it only costs $6,00,00,000 lakh crore.
Stage 2: Bureaucratic b%$#h-fighting
It emerges that whoever came up with the project didn’t actually run it past the environment ministry. Or the people who live in the slums that have to be scorched “for progress”. Or the World Bank. Or any bank. In fact, he didn’t even run the idea past his mom. His mother doesn’t even know who gave him the crayons to draw it. The project will now take two days. Oh, and Kajol’s out, Om Puri’s in.
Stage 3: Floating of tenders
If the term “tender floating” brings to your mind an image of Kabir Bedi and Sonu Walia in a pool in that song from Khoon Bhari Maang, you are probably CEO of the company that won the bid to build our next infrastructural marvel. You don’t know a damn thing about auctions, but you know more than enough about the way this country works. You’ve won, it’s time to get to work; Om Puri’s history, Sonu Walia’s in. Because now I can’t get that song out of my head.
Stage 4: Construction
Work begins. You build a pillar, someone else files a PIL. Because you still haven’t told the slum-folk, have you? The project goes into cold storage for three years, everyone associated with it leaves. Your lead actress gets pregnant, you have a falling out. Somebody else steps in. It flops anyway.
Stage 5: Delay
(This phase of the column is awaiting clearances from people who haven’t been sufficiently bribed yet, and should be ready by 2017)
Stage 6: Media attention
Your project is in disarray. A crane fell over and killed two people because what should have been your safety budget is now in somebody’s Swiss bank account. The media comes in and breaks news. Your financial practices are probed, and your links to people examined. It emerges that you once played cricket in your building. You are immediately arrested for links to Dawood. Every journalist in the country goes home and bathes in a bucket of rum. The project will not finish until the next continental drift.
Stage 7: Completion
Your project is ready! Except for the signals, lane-markings and the 200 metres that would connect your road to the rest of the city.
Stage 8: The naming
One political group insists the name end in “Gandhi”. A second insists it begin in “Rajiv”. A third beats up cabbies, because it’s Tuesday.
Stage 9: Delay (Again)
No VIP is available to come open your masterpiece. Hungover and crabby after their rum bath, the media chews you up and spits you out again.
Stage 10: GRAND OPENING!
YOUR ROAD IS OPEN! Citizens throng to it because that’s how starved they are for new infrastructure. Your dream comes true, your road changes the city forever. With the longest traffic jam in the history of its existence, caused mostly by people stopping in the middle to take photos.
Stage 11: Failure
Like a fat person in denial, Mumbai tries on the road for size, only to find that it doesn’t fit, it never fit, it wouldn’t have fit 15 years ago. You are cast aside like the broken little piece of elastic that you are. But the next day, a report appears on the front page of a newspaper about a new project that will cut my commute by six hours (each way)…
Rohan Joshi is a writer and stand-up comedian who likes reading, films and people who do not use the SMS lingo. You can also contact him on facebook.com/therohanjoshi