What Bombay needs is more statues

Published: Apr 06, 2019, 07:30 IST | Lindsay Pereira | Mumbai

We spend too much time on pointless things like infrastructure. Our priorities should be aligned with what our govt thinks is important

The Statue of Unity in Gujarat. What we definitely need are more statues, because big statues compensate for everything else that is tiny about us. Pic/PTI
The Statue of Unity in Gujarat. What we definitely need are more statues, because big statues compensate for everything else that is tiny about us. Pic/PTI

Lindsay PereiraThere have been way too many complaints about how our city is crumbling, which has started to annoy me. Yes, it's crumbling. Everything built by the British has been repainted and destroyed by people who can't tell a Vada Pav from a Van Gogh, our roads have more potholes than bitumen, and the collapse of another bridge a few weeks ago did take some lives. And yet, does it really matter? As a former Home Minister so eloquently put it a few years ago, these are small things that happen in all big cities. Should we really complain about infrastructure when there are more important things to focus on?

The problem lies in how we, as common taxpaying citizens, think. We assume everyone cares about us because we are taught to believe that all Indians are our brothers and sisters. We assume human beings are important because our religious texts tell us to respect life in all its forms. We believe we deserve better roads, more public toilets, more security for our children, larger green spaces and decent public hospitals just because we hand over part of our salaries every month without complaining. What we fail to do, unfortunately, is think as our politicians do.

It is hard to become a politician because it means one has to give up a lot of things. There's common sense, for a start, because when was the last time you heard the leader of any political party in Maharashtra say something sensible? Then there's integrity, because everyone knows that moral principles are as fashionable as movies starring Shakti Kapoor. Finally, there's that overrated thing we call a conscience. One can't be a politician and have a conscience at the same time; the two are incompatible. This is why most leaders chose to campaign for elections instead of finding out why that bridge collapsed. Lives don't matter when there are votes to be captured and regions to be divided.

We should stop obsessing over infrastructure and start obsessing about the only thing that really matters -- perception. Bombay needn't have great infrastructure as long as people living outside the city perceive it to be great. We don't need trains that run on time as long as we have one bullet train permanently parked at Churchgate for selfies and Facebook posts. We don't need roads without potholes as long as we have a long coastal road that makes us look good on tourism brochures. What we definitely need are more statues of people who didn't do anything of any importance for our city, because big statues compensate for everything else that is tiny about us.

Perception plays a huge role in everything our successive governments do, which is why it is also such an integral aspect of how the BMC always functions. Consider the latest bridge collapse, for instance, or choose any of the ones that collapsed over the past couple of years if you have a preference. In this instance, the bridge was a mere 35 years old and, given the expertise that we bring to everything we build in this city, it ought to have survived at least a couple of thousand years. Naturally, those in charge were surprised to see it fall so quickly.

Apparently, it was last repaired in 2010 or 2011, depending on whom you ask, because anything that sees high volumes of traffic really should be examined every 10 years or so rather than every year. Most importantly, the northern end of the bridge was supposedly taken up for beautification, not repairs, in 2016, under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan that has already turned the rest of India into a spotless, stunning country where garbage hasn't been seen since 2014. This beautification plan included changing the bridge's tiles and giving it a new coat of paint. Unfortunately, neither the tiles nor the paint managed to prevent the structure from collapsing under the weight of pesky pedestrians who made the mistake of using it instead of simply photographing its beautiful new colours.

Our priorities need to change because it's clear that no amount of anger, outrage or appeals will make our politicians realise that what they think we want isn't the same as what we actually want. They won't stop focusing on things that don't matter, projects that make no sense, or statues that no one needs. We won't get roads, toilets or hospitals, so we might as well learn to accept that statues are more important than people can ever be.

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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