Sunday, June 26, 2011

Yeh hai Mumbai Meri Jaan

When I was in my teens, I remember thinking how unsightly the TV atennae were, on the terraces (and sometimes outside the windows) of almost every building. Worse, kites and kite strings would be dangling from several of them, adding to the unsightliness.

In my teens, there was one TV Tower, 300 metres tall, that could be seen from almost anywhere in Mumbai. It was like the Eiffel Tower of Mumbai.  I imagined hundreds of such towers springing up in remote corners of India, as I heard news on Doordarshan (TV and Doordarshan were then synonymous) about one new TV station opening almost every day in the early 1970s. Today, we can hardly see the Mumbai TV Tower, dwarfed as it is by tall buildings in all directions. Today, most of Mumbai's arterial roads have become 2-storeyed most of the way, with multiple levels in some places like Kings' Circle.

As I grew up, and technology touched our lives in many different ways, we noticed huge cable TV dish antennae on a few building roofs. I remember thinking as a young college-going student, that it looked so sci-fi-like and quite out of tune with the times.

A few years on, these have given way to DTH dish antennae and mobile phone towers. Equally unsightly, I can assure the younger generation. With the additional ability (?) to roast our brains if we go too near the towers too often, and for too long. However, by now, we have forgotten how to fly kites; indeed, only a small minority of kids have ever flown kites themselves. So, there are no faded paper kites stuck to these towers - anyway, these towers are no longer a few storeys high.

Up to my teens, I gazed wonderstruck  at Usha Kiran, a 26-storeyed skyscraper (the first time I heard this word, I remember thinking it to be very appropriately descriptive). Today, Usha Kiran is barely visible on the skyline of Mumbai, what with 70-storeyed residential towers, and 14-storeyed car parks springing up.

In a few years, we will see the first 100+ storeyed building in Mumbai. Situated off a road so narrow (cannot be made broader because of flyovers already built). Was just imagining what life would be like for the 101st storey residents.

A 10-minute wait for the elevator, followed by a 5-minute downward journey in the elevator that leaves you yawning to open up your ears. This 1,000-foot drop is followed by a 5-minute walk to the car in the multi-storeyed car park. The ultra-rich resident then gets into a state-of-the-art 2,500-cc engine car whose cost matches the cost of the residence he has bought himself, and drives to the gate, where he joins a queue of other residents' cars, all waiting to join the traffic outside. He takes 25 minutes for the 3 kms to his place of work, never once going beyond the 2nd gear of this 7-gear monster with a low-pitched growl. The higher gears are for use on weekends only. Or for return journeys on nights out, if one is not drunk. That too, only upto Gear 5 for a few seconds at a time. At home, they cannot open windows on both sides of the living room, because the sheer force of the cross-ventilation breeze might easily suck and carry with it some of the Swarovski display pieces into the void of the city down below. (Who knows, some of these homes may even feature oxygen tubes and masks for asthmatics, due to lower levels of oxygen in the air at that height. Future builders may offer this as a unique amenity!) Worse, they will still be low enough to be able to hear the blare of the Bhangra and Disco music in the slums, 100-storeys below, and 1 km away as the crow flies, if they keep a window open.

Yeh Hai Mumbai, Meri Jaan!