'The city I knew looked after its citizens'
Ahead of a talk, Gerson da Cunha on why Bombay became a shadow of its former self
You see, I am 90. So, I happen to have a few memories to share," quips veteran adman and theatre personality Gerson da Cunha in his baritone, when asked about his talk, The Bombay We Knew, this Sunday. But age isn't the only reason that gives him a perspective on the city, which few can boast of. While his granduncle Dr J Gerson da Cunha wrote The Origin of Bombay in 1900, regarded as the first book on the history of the city, da Cunha started his career as a journalist and remains actively involved with NGOs and citizen groups that work towards the preservation of open public spaces, solid waste management, and improving life in Mumbai at large.
Speaking about the fond memories of Bombay that he plans to share at the session — which was adman and Bandra Gymkhana trustee Roger Pereira's idea — he reminisces, "The city I knew was better run. It looked after its citizens much better than it does now. Housing, power and water supply, and roads were better suited for the population.
Gerson da Cunha
"People who come to Bombay to look for a job, find one, but they are left to themselves by the city services. It's as if the city says to them, 'Look after yourselves. The housing, power and water is up to you.' As a result of this, migrants are encouraged to encroach and so, slums are formed," he elaborates, pointing out that we live in a city two-thirds of which is covered in slums.
What does someone who has recently moved to the city, or a millennial born in a Mumbai of collapsing buildings, water-logged roads and endless traffic snarls, not know about its past, we ask da Cunha. "That the water here was such that you could drink it from the tap, and that the roads used to be washed with chlorinated water," he says.
In the talk, he is also going to devote some time to the BDD Chawls, which the Bombay Development Department after which they are named, took on as a massive project in 1947 to provide housing to the mass influx of labourers in Bombay from rural India. From a city that embraced its new denizens with open arms, to a city with cruel real estate prices that turn a blind eye towards its vast majority, it wouldn't be wrong to call Mumbai a mere shadow of Bombay.
On: August 11, 6 pm
At: The Bandra Gymkhana, D'Monte Park Road, Bandra West.
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