Wednesday, December 17, 2014

#FixOurRoads: Opp. Comfort Banquet, Zirakpur

The Old Kalka-Ambala Road, that led from Zirakpur to Ambala used to be an abandoned road for a long time.  It had agricultural land on both sides and lay green but forlorn. Now the place is humming with activity.  All thanks to the various housing societies that have sprung up adjacent to this road. An overbridge that leads to Kalka from Zirakpur light point cuts free access to this road from the Chandigarh end.  People commuting to Dhakoli or Peer Muchhala from Panchkula have to take this road.  Their numbers grow day by day.  Comfort Banquet is a well known landmark right at the Panchkula end of the road.  It is a busy hub.  You see, there are two daaru ka thekha (alcohol shops) here. There are some small joints selling food here, a few shops and a shanty market selling vegetables.

I have to commute along this road everyday as I live in Dhakoli and work in Panchkula.  I drive a scooter and leave office by 6 PM in the evening. It is dark and bitterly cold by that time.  The drinking population rejoices at the early darkness as it means they can ‘party’ early.  The atmosphere is of happiness for a few and fears for some.  If everything was good, one can pass by this little stretch of barely 5 or 10 meters in the matter of a second or two.  But things are not good here.

The bit of road in front of Comfort Banquet always sags.  It has been filled with pebbles and built over at times, but within a few weeks it is back to its pockmarked self.  There are huge cavern sized pot holes on the road.  Two wheeler drivers have to slow down and find a good patch to drive on that will not upset the scooter.  On dry days it is still possible, as the cavern is visible and one can slowly pass it by.  But on rainy days everything gets waterlogged and it is harder to spot a good bit of road to use.  By the way, whatever light we have in this spot is thanks to the shops and the Banquet.  Move up the road and you are left in total darkness.

I have no idea who I should contact for this.  But I am putting these pictures here and in social media, hoping that someone wakes up to the difficulty the population of Dhakoli face on a daily basis.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Two faces of Mumbai

I passed through Mumbai twice in my young life. I had a different experience each time. It had something to do with how I stepped into Mumbai. I am pretty sure about that.

The first time I stepped down at Mumbai, I was a 13 year old girl, accompanied by my 15 year old brother. This was May 1973. We were traveling from Jamnagar to Bangalore (where we lived) by train. We had to switch trains in Mumbai. Our connecting train was to arrive late in the night. My father had written down the address of a friend of his where we could spend the time.

It was the 70s and telephones were a rare thing. Our only option was to just get to the place where the friend lived. We went outside the railway station, and my brother tried to get directions to the place we were to go to, by asking some people passing by. They kept walking on, throwing a cursory glance at the paper where the address was written, and not saying a thing. We got no help at all.

He tried to talk to a taxi driver about getting to the place. The taxi driver quoted a big sum. My brother backed off, thinking it better not to visit the friend after all. The taxi driver raised a hue and cry about being looted of his fare, though my brother had just asked about the fare. A lot of people jumped in, siding with the taxi driver, and my brother had to shell out some money to appease him.

We opted to spend the time on the platform. We visited the bathroom in turns, one person remaining behind to guard the luggage. I had just been gifted a big white go-go bag (that is what large bags were called in 70s) by my cousin. I had stuffed it full of some treasures - photographs, some certificates and a little empty scent bottle that had once belonged to my mother. No money. I left the bag on top of the suitcases and went to the loo. When I returned, my brother was loitering rather far from the luggage, and there was no sign of the bag. I had lost my treasure.

Later in the night, we were lounging near our luggage, when a policeman came and asked us to go outside the Railway Station and wait there. That scared my brother. We were looking around for help and saw a group of Army men waiting to travel by the same train. A kindly officer of the group asked us to sit close to them and said the policemen would not harass us if we were with them. We were able to wait unmolested and carried on with our journey without a hitch. I really don't know what would have happened if we had been forced to wait outside the Railway Station.

By August 1973, our family moved north for good. My older brother was already in Jamnagar. I was set to travel with my parents up to Mumbai by air. From there, I was take a flight to Jamnagar and my parents were to take a flight to Delhi. Again, we were to reach Mumbai by late evening and stay overnight in a hotel on the airport and take our separate flights the next morning. We reached Mumbai and wanted most of all to get to our room and rest.

We went to check in at the hotel where we were booked. The clerk asked us to wait in the lounge. From the waiting lounge I could see how everything was lit up, clean and shiny everywhere. What a lovely place Mumbai is from this angle, I thought. It had been grimy and dirty and insolent when I had been there from the Railway Station. This is how the rich feel, all sanitized and glittery. They get used to people kowtowing to them. For us, taking a flight was necessitated by the fact that I was to travel alone from Mumbai to Jamnagar, and also that my younger brother was a babe-in-arms.

An hour passed and the hotel clerk showed no signs of showing us to our room. My father went to the hotel desk to inquire why there was a delay. The room we were to be shown into, had no soap, the clerk told us. He had sent an attendant to get a bar of soap for us. This was the reason for the delay. My father said, we have soap and wanted the room right away. It seemed so different from the reception I got when I visited Mumbai first. Then people would not attend to us or tried to browbeat us because they thought we were not rich. Now, a room was not supposed to be good enough for us because it had no soap!

I do not wish to blame only Mumbai for this attitude. It is just that being from a laid back place like Bangalore, or being raised in a small town like Jamnagar, I was not used to the hustling ways of big city. Now that I have lived a bit, I know all cities have these two faces. One is a smooth shiny, courteous one it shows to the moneybags. The other face gets stonier and ruder and angrier, the lower you are on the poverty scales.