The city that never speaks

Jun 08, 2014, 06:47 IST | Rahul da Cunha

Five yellow-and-black cabs refuse to stop, almost running me over

Five yellow-and-black cabs refuse to stop, almost running me over. The aggressive guy at the pedestrian crossing spits in front of me. Then, he starts complaining about real estate prices and how he hates living in the city.

“Why don’t you just leave if you’re so unhappy?” I advise stupidly. He looks at me with annoyance, spits again, and mutters under his breath, “This is my home, and Mayor Bill de Blasio keeps me here, you bloody Bangladeshi!”

Ah, I forgot to mention — I’m in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Not Lower Parel.

Illustration/ Amit Bandre

For a second, just for a second, you might mistake Manhattan for Mumbai. There’s garbage on the streets, people spit, rudeness rules, incredible energy prevails, and we both have a potpourri of communities co-existing here.

And then, in a flash, the comparison ends.

You suddenly sense the presence of a strong public sector at play. There are invisible leaders at work. Striving to make its citizens live a fruitful life — not stand in their way.

Mayor Bloomberg’s achievements vary from introducing rented cycles in the city to withstanding pressure to convert the gigantic Central Park into real estate.

His predecessor, Mayor Rudy Giuliani, magically cleaned up the crime-ridden city. More importantly, he took control of a city reeling from 9/11, put a district back together brick-by-brick and restored a then shattered psyche. Compare that to RR Patil who, post 26/11, stated, “In large cities, such small incidents are bound to happen.”

Understand — this isn’t a Manhattan vs Mumbai story. Or a ‘where would I rather live?’ argument. I’m interested in the nature of leadership. Specifically, local leadership. What is the point of power when it doesn’t extend to the people? Take Maharashtra, for instance, where men are more concerned about hanging on to a seat rather than serving the people.

Take the example of our own beloved city. I’ve never felt the presence of a leader who truly chooses public gain over personal greed. It doesn’t matter to me who our Chief Minister is. Because none of them, irrespective of their party, have really concerned themselves with helping the common man. Not their fault — it’s just not in the psyche of the Indian politican to serve. So, over the years, I’ve experienced empty pulpitising, election promises and excessive plundering. Even the more earnest of our CMs have spent their terms looking over their shoulder, wary of a backstabbing, floor-crossing rebel. Where’s the time to govern?

A New Yorker can think about the future because his present is secure. A Mumbaikar has no future, because his present is so fraught. So, ostensibly, toll nakas across the state are pulverised for my benefit, and I’ll have to, of course, pay for their repair. I’m promised that the Amboli murder case will be fast-tracked and justice will be served. I’m reassured that post the Shakti Mills gang rape, women in the city will feel safer. And our roads, don’t get me started. I’ve only ever witnessed regression.

But we stay silent. So, here’s the thing. We have two cities, both are on the edge. But, while Manhattan is aggressive, Mumbai is angry. In Manhattan, people aren’t civil. In Mumbai, we’re heading for civil war.

Rahul da Cunha is an adman, theatre director/playwright, photographer and traveller. Reach him at

The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.

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