No full house, please

Updated: Jul 13, 2020, 08:21 IST | Fiona Fernandez | Mumbai

When the time comes to reopen museums, galleries, the zoo, aquarium, and other tourist spots, we will need to have a robust, phased blueprint, with ample backing from the govt

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Fiona FernandezPhotographs and videos floating across social media have been offering visual evidence that makes for disbelieving footage for folks like us who are used to seeing quite the opposite. Truth is, an eerie-like calm seems to have taken over most of our public landmarks and tourist attractions, barring CSMT (formerly Victoria Terminus), where human life is slowly trickling in and out of the grand structure, purely on need-based requirements. Likewise, with frames of the city's other notable icon — Gateway of India. I find myself checking the dateline each time a deserted frame pops up on my timeline if it's a recent photo. Because, I, or for that matter, any Bombaywallah, has never seen the landmark and its vicinity, in such an abandoned avatar until now.

I was reminded of an episode from six months back. A friend wanted his US-bred nephew and niece [both were born here] to appreciate the sights and sounds of Fort and Colaba, and had requested me to accompany them. Despite it being a Sunday morning, an invite for a walk in SoBo is rarely refused. And so we were off, soaking in the peace and calm of the near-empty streets in and around both neighbourhoods, gazing at the gorgeous Victorian Gothic Bombay architecture and marvelling at the interiors of Holy Name Cathedral and St Thomas Cathedral. All seemed well and on song until we took a turn from one of the back alleys of Colaba to reach Apollo Bunder promenade. The crowds made us believe that a film shoot was underway. There was no shoot. This was just another Sunday at the Gateway of India.

The two teens were taken aback, almost scared. In fact, the serpentine queues to reach the structure reached all the way to Regal cinema circle. "I can't believe I came all the way to Bombay but couldn't see its most famous landmark," the nephew sighed as we walked past it from a distance, craning our necks to read the text carved on the façade, announcing the arrival of King George V and Queen Mary. "I've learnt about this in history, and I was looking forward to soaking in the lesson in its full glory," the niece rued.

I felt it was an opportunity missed to give them a fitting end to the walk around this historically significant landmark.

Now, as the city battles the pandemic, and contemplates phase-wise reopenings, it might be a good idea to review crowd control, especially at such public sights and landmarks. No doubt, such options are always going to be a challenge in the Maximum City, and especially so in places like the Gateway. However, if we start with measured caution and intent, it might make for workable solutions in the long term. The Louvre, we read recently, is expecting an 80 per cent drop in visitor numbers based on their focus to maintain social distancing and other safety requirements can be followed. The museum's director in the interview admitted that he is also hopeful that footfalls and revenue will pick up by the end of 2020. An important fact that he underlined was the financial support it had received from the French government to get things restarted.

Coming back to Bombay, the reopening of public landmarks and tourist attractions will need a comprehensive 360-degree plan backed by all arms of the government, especially because of the expected high volumes of traffic. Already, we are seeing how large numbers are oblivious to the prevalent threat and throw caution to the wind when they step out in public. It's tough to imagine the scene at the Gateway and if some method to the madness will actually be possible. Now is the time to act and set the guidebook in order with tough rules and fines for offenders. Before these spaces are thrown open, a blueprint will have to be rolled out and shared with all folk concerned, with inputs from the right minds. A middle path will have to be implemented where safety and economics can work in harmony. And to ensure that our public places of tourist interest are able to tide over this financial slump, it is up to the state and the Centre to come up with a uniform stimulus package not just for Bombay, but for such places that are high on tourist itineraries across India.

The new normal is here to stay, and any attempt to jeopardise public safety will be like committing hara-kiri. Bombay needs to reopen smartly but sensibly, too, because we are all fully aware of the kind of havoc that this merciless pandemic is capable of causing.

mid-day's Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city's sights, sounds, smells and stones...wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana
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