Friday, October 31, 2014

Indian coalitions are treacherous

Prithviraj Chavan
Prithviraj Chavan, the erstwhile Chief Minister of Maharashtra, gave an explosive no-holds-barred interview to a Kolkata newspaper as the campaign for the last Maharashtra elections came to an end earlier this month. It was a tell-all interview and the revelations made presumably were born out of disappointment and frustrations of having been ditched by his seemingly corrupt coalition partners. The interview clearly reveals how unscrupulous have a field day in coalitions. It happened at the Centre and it also happened in Maharashtra, both being ruled till recently by congress-led coalitions.

Chavan agreed to be interviewed late in the night after campaigning ended during which he happened to confess that he did not take action against two of his predecessors, late Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sushil Kumar Shinde and Ashok Chavan for allegations against them in the now (in)famous “Adarsh” building scam as, he thought, sending them to jail would have “decimated the Congress in Maharashtra”. Curiously,, he expected the Congress to be returned to power despite its wrongdoings – a hope that predictably proved to be false. The party has tumbled down to a miserable 42 seats from 82 it had in the outgoing Assembly. In protecting the two of his predecessors (the third was being probed by CBI) he hoped to save the Congress and expected to survive as chief minister. But voters seemed to have had other ideas and jettisoned Chavan and his Congress from the government. Only time will tell whether the party will survive in the state as a political entity

Likewise, Chavan also confessed that he did not initiate action against Ajit Pawar, his deputy chief minister from the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), only to save his coalition government. Pawar, also a nephew of his party chief, Sharad Pawar, was involved in a serious irrigation scam that is yet to be properly investigated. Chavan said, “I did not order a police inquiry, I did not ask for a judicial commission report — all for the sake of keeping the alliance intact…” It is such a nice repeat of what Manmohan Singh did, who too remained a mute and blind spectator to all the shenanigans of several of his ministers, saying his inaction was because of the “coalition compulsions”. However, despite Chavan’s good turn, the NCP walked out of the coalition, pulling down the state government. Curiously, this happened almost simultaneously as the years-old compact between the BJP and Shiva Sena, too, broke down. Perhaps, the NCP had sniffed an opportunity for foraging in new pastures.

The Congress, especially its President, Sonia Gandhi, has always been accusing its political opponent, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), of having an acute hunger for power (satta in Hindi). But the revelations of Manmohan Singh a few years ago in front of the national media and now Chavan’s confessional interview clearly indicate that the lust for power is more evident in the Congress than in any other political party. As has become evident, the Congress permitted loot and plunder of the nation’s resources without any qualms just for the sake of wielding political power and authority. The loot need not only be by its party men; even its allies could help themselves and make unscrupulous money. Manmohan Singh’s regime was exposed doing it in Delhi and now Chavan has gone and confessed doing the same in Maharashtra. A very poor commentary for a party that has wielded power at the Centre and in the states for most of the post-independence period! Presumably, whenever it had to relinquish power it probably bequeathed its expertise to its successors who also made merry. No wonder the political class is so rich today. And again, unsurpringly ambitious people would give away their right hands to be in politics only for its power and consequential pelf

Although Chavan expressed regrets for the interview, yet its candidness was remarkable. Politicians are generally circumspect with journalists and mouth inconsequential inanities, taking care not to be offending anybody, especially a political partner with whom a government was run till only the other day As they say, there are no permanent friends and foes in politics and nobody knows when today’s enemy becomes a political supporter tomorrow. And, yet the interview was marked by its forthrightness, actually calling a spade a spade. Perhaps, hereafter the Pawar clan and its NCP or even Ashok Chavan, another of Prithiviraj’s predecessors, will think hard before associating themselves with the likes of the latter in the Congress.

Admitting during the interview that the “Adarsh” probe had brought as many as three of his predecessors, viz. Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sushil Kumar Shinde and Ashok Chavan under the scanner, Prithiviraj said that if he had sent all of them to jail it could have hit the Congress organisation leading to probably a “split”. He also said that as the Central Bureau of Investigation was already looking into Ashok Chavan’s role his government could not have possibly instituted another inquiry.

He literally nailed Ajit Pawar, his deputy in the government. The great Irrigation scam had been festering for quite some time – actually ever since Ajit Pawar got the charge of water resources department. Curiously, he was in charge of the department for as
Ajit Pawar
many as 15-odd years, apparently first as a minister and then as deputy chief minister during which, according to the government’s Economic Survey, there was nothing to show for the Rs. 42000 crore that were spent during his long tenure. Chavan, instead of ordering a probe, seems to have asked the department to produce a white paper with all the facts. This was construed as a charge sheet by Ajit Pawar. Then, a Special Investigation Team (SIT) comprising, inter alia, all parties was set up the findings of which, too, were scuppered by Pawar. Chavan said, “
I could have been proactive and I could have insisted that it was a judicial commission and that Pawar should be summoned and questioned. But I was running an alliance… my hands were tied.” Pawar found setting up of SIT obnoxious and resigned but, as an afterthought, quite shamelessly rejoined the cabinet. “I could not have put my foot down. The government would have come down at that moment. I was also the leader of the alliance”, said Chavan.

NCP is known to be a corrupt party. Narendra Modi has described it as a “naturally corrupt party”, which is largely true. Sharad Pawar holding the Food portfolio for two terms of five years was never investigated for his wheeling and dealings. Even Prafulla Patel, allegedly the killer of “Maharaja” of Air India, too, was never investigated. Perhaps, at the Centre, too, the same considerations, as in Maharashtra, prevailed and the Congress too helped itself to part of the loot. After all, Congress has been a big-timer in corruption! The evidence that is, however, compelling  is that in India corruption is always embedded in coalitions and junior partners make hay keeping the major constituent under constant threat.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014



The Hindu photo of Neelakurinji bloom in Munnar
The other day The Hindu published a photograph of the blooming neelakurinji flowers on the Neelgiri Hills. The very name of the Hills suggests something to do with a blue hue. The blooming neelakurinji flowers have a light blue hue and they bloom in millions giving the hills that distinct bluish colour. Perhaps, that is why the Hills have been named "Neelgiri". The flowers do not bloom every year, nor even in alternate years; they bloom approximately every twelve years and they do so in different regions of the Hills in different years.

Neelgiris are the southernmost end of the Western Ghats, also
A small herd of elephants encountered on the way to Munnar
known as Sahiyadri Ranges in Maharashtra, that runs for 1600 kilometres parallel to the west coast of India covering five states of Maharashtra, Goa, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala. The Ghats are one of the ten hottest biodiversity hot spots of the world.  The Nilgiri Hills, constituting the southern edge of the Western Ghats close to Kanya Kumari (earlier  Cape Comorin) are flanked by Kerala in the west and Tamilnadu in the east  The hills have an elevation of around 3000 ft barring a few peaks that could be as tall as 6000 or 7000 ft.

The scenic beauty on the way to Munnar
My wife and I were in Munnar on the Neelgiris in the autumn of 2003. Some parts of the Hills bloomed that year. We couldn’t manage to see the sight but were shown a few flowers by the workers of the resort we were staying in. Munnar is a hill station in Kerala at an elevation of around 5000 ft on the Neelgiris just about 120 kilometres away from Ernakulam in Kerala which is in the east and practically on the Arabian Sea. Since we travelled from Bhopal we, instead, approached it from the west via Coimbatore, a very decent Tamil Nadu town. After staying
Devikulam Lake near Munnar
there for a liitle less than a week and a brief trip to Ooty (formerly Ootacamund and now Oudhmangalam) we took a taxi for Munnar. After covering 100-odd kms, the road hit the Western Ghat at the Indira Gandhi National Park. The journey was uneventful until we came up against a small herd of elephants. They had blocked the road and we had to wait for them to move away. As the climb for Munnar commenced the journey increasingly became interesting. Soon we came across tea gardens which only meant we had arrived close to Munnar. The landscape with green hills and valleys progressively became more and more beautiful.

The endangered Tahr of Nilgiris
We had booked ourselves into a unit of Mahindra Resorts which was about 500 feet above Munnar town and the studio apartment that was allotted to us was further up, say about a 100 or 150 ft. With its elevation it commanded a beautiful view of the tea estate which, we were told, belonged to the Tatas.

There isn't much to see around Munnar. It is a place where one could really unwind and relax, taking in loads of fresh air and the exquisitely beautiful landscape. Package tours are, however, available which take one to the nearby Tahr sanctuary. Tahr is a
A view of Yellapatti Tea Estate
species of goat that is endemic to the Neelgiris. At one time it was on the verge of extinction. The efforts of the government in creating the Rajamalai National Park have yielded good results and the species now seems to be thriving. We were able to sight several of them but only from a little far away as the animals are very shy. Our aim-and-shoot Canon, a film camera, had no zoom lens but the pictures are clear enough to give an idea of the animal and its habitat.

The package also takes one to the Munnar market where a shopping complex has been created for visitors. One can shop to one's heart's
Wife, Bandana, on the Balcony of the apartment 
content and buy Neelgiri tea or the famed Kerala spices. The spices are genuine and much cheaper than the prices that one confronts up north.

Our neighbour in Bhopal had a grandson working in one of the estates in Munnar area as manager. He came calling and showed us around various plantations. Our young man had taken us to the Devikulam Lake which was at a higher elevation. It had lovely surroundings and was serene with very calm waters. He fished for trout but after patiently waiting for the line to get a tug he could get two small miserable fishes. He also took us to the factory of his estate where we happened to see the entire process and the treatment the tea leaves
Another view of Munnar tea gardens
get before they are packed off to the market. Somehow Neelgiri or Assam teas do not match the flavour of our famed Darjeeling Tea. Even the Sri Lankan Tea, which I have had occasion to taste in our Oberoi hotel in Colombo, cannot match it and yet it stole the market-share abroad from Darjeeling Tea a few years back. To cap a long day the young man took us to his bungalow for the night thus giving us the experience of spending, if only a night, in a plantation bungalow with all its creature comforts.

While we had a pleasant stay, yet there was a little discomfort at the scarring of the Western Ghats. There are miles and miles of tea gardens that must have been created after clearing the dense
Another phtograph of tahrs
tropical forests causing disappearance of numerous species of flora and fauna. The exploitation of the Ghats continues till today and the environmentalists are up in arms. There is a well-defined movement which is named “Save the Western Ghats”. The integrity of the Ghats is crucial for people living below them in the east or the west as numerous rivers originate in it and flow down either to the Arabian Sea or to the Bay of Bengal hundreds of kilometers away, providing sustenance to the people. But not many politicians are inclined to protect the country’s environment. For them development and consequential votes happen to be more important.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"Swachchha Bharat" & Bhopal Municipality

It has been more than a fortnight since the "swachcha Bharat" campaign  was launched by the country's Prime Minister but the Bhopal Municipal Corporation, laggard as it has always been, is yet to get its act together. A little outing into the town would reveal how callous the Corporation is in removing garbage from the streets. True, the VIP areas where the minsters and other wielders of power and influence reside, are spic and span. But if one goes out and away from those areas one finds garbage scattered over large areas around the garbage bins. I saw the other day such clusters at Jehangirabad and MP Nagar Zone I. At Jehangirabad there was a huge dump near the Police Lines where garbage must have been collecting for days. At MP Nagar it was bang on the Board Office Square, a location that traditionally remains full of garbage, muck, construction debris and sundry trash.

The news papers are also howling about the colonies where garbage is piling up but the municipality, apparently, couldn't care much. After all, Modi has just got some respite after a hectic bout of campaigning. Not that people in Bhopal are bothered about him. The Mayor is indeed from the BJP but the municipal council is dominated by the Congress. Maybe, the Congress will play dirty and try and neutralise the “Swachchha Bharat” campaign. With the
municipal council elections due in December next one expected the councillors to look sharp and show some activity. But they seem to be not too bothered. Piles of garbage are seen all around and the roads are in deplorable condition.

The photographs alongside were taken by me this morning of the garbage on the road that takes off from the Cambridge School and takes one to the Idgah. While the roads on Idgah Hills are in terrible condition, the muck all over makes life miserable. Stray cows and dogs, however, are having great time, feasting on the stuff that has accumulated at short intervals on the roads  

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Banishing cars & recapturing the streets

Bhopal has been overtaken by a “rahagiri” wave. Every Sunday the Lake View Road that leads to the Boat Club, The Museum of Man and beyond, to the Van Vihar National Park is closed down for traffic of any kind other than that of pedestrians between 6.00 AM and 12.00 Noon. Organised by the road transport company Bhopal City Link and the Municipal Corporation it has been a huge success. Last Sunday was only the fourth one and gradually crowds of young and old, men and women, boys and girls have swelled to thousands. It is literally a crowd of enthusiasts for freedom to use the road any which way for physical activities without a care for personal safety. The opportunity is utilised for organising games, jogging, skating cycling, zumba, walking, yoga and other exercises right on the middle of the Road at their respective designated spots. The surroundings also contribute to the exhilaration of the ‘rahagirs’. It has the iconic Upper Lake on one side and hills beyond and on the other side it has soothing green of the Shamla Hills.

Adopted from what was first organised in Bogota, Colombia as “Ciclovia” in 1976 when on all Sundays and holidays about 80 miles of road network was closed to vehicular traffic for free and unhindered use by citizens, “Rahagiri” in India is gradually catching on. First initiated in Gurgaon, popularly known as the “Millennium City”, in November 2013 by a team of NGOs and citizens’ groups it has continued to attract more and more people and so far an estimated 200,000 have participated in it. Introduced in New Delhi by the New Delhi Municipal Corporation and Delhi Police, “rahagiri” quickly caught on and is now continuing for more than 4 months. The entire Connaught Place area has been made free of vehicular traffic for the participants on Sundays. Delhi Police remains available for assistance, if required.

“Rahagiri” is a movement for, as they say, recapturing the
streets by the citizens who hardly are able to “see and feel the tar on the roads under their feet”, riding as they do, in their vehicles most of the time. An exponential rise in the number of vehicles depriving the use of the roads, especially, to cyclist and pedestrians seems to have unwittingly spawned this healthy movement. This ought to be treated as a wake-up call for town planners and municipal authorities who have built roads and planned cities or extensions thereof entirely for the vehicle-borne population, overlooking the needs, and indeed the rights, of cyclists and pedestrians. “Rahagiri” is also an expression for cleaner air free of particulates that infest the atmosphere choking the people on account of the polluting emissions of rising numbers of personal and commercial vehicles, more so the highly polluting the dieselised monstrous and predatory looking sports utility vehicles that have of late proliferated on the roads. As the authorities, municipal and government, have failed to restrict the population of vehicles on the roads depriving access to them of cyclists and pedestrians, the increasing numbers joining “Rahagiri” is an antipathetic reaction and it is their way of banishing thousands of hydro-carbon burning vehicles from the roads, if only for a few hours every week.

While one would like more areas in the city to be opened for “ Rahagiri” – a movement that is healthy, promoting fitness and a kind of community feeling – one has that nagging worry about the health of the Upper Lake and its waters that are supplied to the townsfolk for their daily consumption. Numerous experts participating in seminars and workshops have had occasion to emphasis that collection of large number of people at the the Boat Club and thereabouts was not desirable. Only this morning one happened to see in the newspapers the reports of garbage and filth that accumulates post the Sunday forenoon activities. Unless quickly removed and disposed of, these are most likely to find their way into the waters harming numerous citizens. Perhaps, the organisers will keep this vital matter in mind and arrange to keep the Lake View Road free of garbage and filth.
Photos from the internet

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Modi's "Clean India" campaign

Prime Minister Modi launching "Clean India" campaign
Around thirty years ago while on a visit to the Peoples’ Republic of China I used to watch Chinese films on the small black & white TV set having nothing to do in the evenings. True, I did not understand a word of what was said and yet, for understanding emotions one does not need to know the language. The films used to be mostly about peasants and workers with young boys and girls working together. In one film I found a little romance between a boy and a girl. It seemed to have blossomed, quite unglamorously, while they swept the streets together in the early mornings. Later, they would furtively meet again between classes at their college. Obviously, they were not municipal sweepers; they were students and had to do such civic duties. This I came to know from one of the Chinese escorts we had. Devoid of any caste hierarchies like ours, no stigma is ever attached in China to such duties that are beneath dignity for most of us.

During the same trip abroad we were in Japan for a fortnight. One late evening in Shinjuku area of Tokyo I came out of the famous camera shop of Yudobashi and settled down on a thoughtfully-provided bench to have a quiet smoke. I had hardly smoked half of my fag when a man in light blue half shirt and deep blue trousers with dark blue peak cap came out broom in hand. From his appearance he looked almost like an airline pilot. He swept the surroundings of the shop, which in our case would be public space,
"Clean India" logo
collected whatever little litter he found in a bin took it away inside the shop. I was later told that everyone cleans up the areas around their respective shops before closure. That explained the absence of any litter on the streets in the mornings. Even Prime Minister Modi observed during his recent trip to Japan that children thoroughly clean every part of their school.

Cut to Bhopal a few years ago. One morning I happened to be at the local New Market rather early for the locals, i.e. around 11 AM. The shop that I went to was being swept by a casual employee. Quite contrary to what I had seen in Shinjuku, after having swept all the rubbish and collecting it all together, the sweeper used the broom to push all that outdoors on to the street right outside the shop. The dust and plastic flew around in the rather strong September breeze. Surprised, I asked the shop-keeper whether he didn’t have a bin for the trash his shop generated to be emptied at a municipality-designated place, he gave me a curious look as if I was an extra-terrestrial.

In 1966 while working at Jabalpur in central India I happened to be going by road to Keymore via Katni. Just outside Katni I saw about two dozen small brick and mortar cubicles in apparent disuse. On inquiry I was told these were numerous toilets built for the villagers but had remained unused. One wonders what went wrong – either these were planned badly or were not maintained properly or the users found it inconvenient. Again, while escorting a senior colleague to a village close to Nagpur, again in central India, in 1979 both of us had to put our hankies to our respective noses as we picked our way through the lumps of human excreta strewn all over. The village was seemingly blocked off by these lumps and the stench. Here was a village that needed toilets but there was none and, surely, this one was not the only one where there were no toilets.

Our proclivity to mess up our surroundings apparently has a cultural connection. We, the Hindus, have that regimen of regularly
A view of garbage and a child defecating
pouring water over ourselves to supposedly cleanse our bodies but would never bother about cleaning our surroundings. We will bathe in the Ganges to purify ourselves but leave it contaminated. The public places are, well, of the public; hence why should one bother about them? Besides, it is infra dig for a caste Hindu to clean-up the public places, not to speak of his own personal spaces. There are lower castes whose job has traditionally been to clean-up the public places and toilets, if any, at home. The Hindu caste hierarchy comes into play in these matters and this is prevalent in many parts of the country even today. No wonder India is largely unclean. From dirt, garbage, trash, dung of various stray animals one would find all of them on the Indian streets. Littering, spitting, urinating and sometime even defecating openly are commonly occurrences. Once I happened to see a man defecating on the sands of Chowpatty in central Mumbai in broad daylight and ditto on another occasion on the tracks between two platform of Bhopal Jn.

Defecation out in the open is partly cultural and not entirely out of necessity. I recall my professor at the college once chided me for being a late-riser. He said he would get up a 5.00 in the morning, walk out of the house for his constitutional with a lota-ful (a vessel-ful) of water. He had a house with a toilet and had no earthly reason to go out and defecate in the open. Yet, in this matter the culture in which he was brought up, presumably, in his village in the Hindi Belt comprising Uttar Pradesh, took over.

With all the good intentions, one suspects, therefore, whether Modi would be able to clean up India within the next five years – by 2019, Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary. Our habits and beliefs – social or religious – are so deep-rooted that it would need a herculean effort to change the profoundly ingrained attitudes. It will take generations for the change to take place; one would need
A view of garbage next to Himachal University, Simla
to begin at the beginning, starting off with the toddlers, as it were. Actually other countries, too, did not become what they are today overnight. Education, a cultural upgrade and the state machinery, all effectively played their respective roles. We have been far too lax and far too profligate for far too long. We have allowed cities, towns and villages to deteriorate, decay and degrade over years and decades. There seems to have been practically no governance and no public-health administration. Given our attitudes – lack of pride in the country and a pronounced unconcern for civic cleanliness –five years, clearly, is too short a period to liquidate the dungheap that has been built up over ages.

On the flip side, however, it may not be utterly impossible to clean up the country. After all, millions from our very own stock are settled abroad and have adapted to the ways of their respective host countries, whether in the East or the West. While some things of the hosts' culture do naturally rub off on the immigrants, the Indians there have drastically changed their unclean ways, mostly because of strict enforcement of laws and stiff penalties for deviant behaviour. If the Rule of Law is similarly enforced with a strong arm on every one – those who muck up the country and those who slip up on their duties of cleaning-up – surely things are likely to change appreciably. For that to happen, however, the states and their civic bodies and panchayats (village councils) would need to be sensitised. What would need to be inculcated are pride in one’s country and commitment to one’s duties, sometimes perhaps fostered even with a force that is not quite gentle.

Photos from the Internet 

Saturday, October 11, 2014


Tha Gateway Arch & self
Of late St. Louis has figured in the news for shooting of blacks by the local police. But, St. Louis is better known for its jazz and the Spirit of St. Louis. Famous for ragtime and blues in the genre of jazz music, the Spirit of St. Louis was the monoplane which Charles Lindberg flew from New York to Paris in the first ever flight across the Atlantic in 1927. Named after the sponsors of Lindberg in St. Louis, the city made an indelible contribution to the commencement of a glorious aviation history. But the city is also known for its exquisite Gateway Arch.

Commemorating the contributions of Thomas Jefferson and St.
The approach to the Arch
Louis in the westward expansion of the US, at 630 ft. it is the tallest monument of the country and the tallest arch of the world. Designed by Eero Sanninen it is clad in steel and was commissioned in 1967. Hollow inside, the arch has a unique tram system that takes visitors to the top. An observation deck accommodating 160 people affords views of the Mississippi River in the east, St. Louis and the country around it in the west and southern Illinois in the north.

The Arch and the Mississippi
A report sometime back indicated the mid 20th Century structure was at risk due to progressive corrosion to set right which is a challenge due to its height and design. Corrosion has been noticed for quite some time but efforts to deal with it has been lacking. The New York based World Monuments Fund has now put it in its Watch List indicating that the monument is included in the list of most endangered monuments. The inclusion may help in the flow of funds to fix the problems of the Arch.

Bandana, my wife in my sister's garden
In 1998 my wife and I were in the US. St. Louis was the first major city we happened to visit, being close to Edwardsville in Illinois where my sister used to live. Her house had idyllic grounds around the house and we had a very enjoyable and relaxing three weeks with her. It was possible to visit St. Louis in a day-trip. After all, its airport is the one which Edwardsville people use. Hence, we did it in a day during which we took in the Gateway Arch and had a ride in its tram. The accommodation inside the tram was rather cramped and I felt a bit claustrophobic.

A view of St. Louis from the banks of Mississippi


Thursday, October 2, 2014


A visit to Bombay suddenly appeared on the horizon in the summer of 1955. While I was not yet 19 and had cleared BA Part I and my only sister, after getting a First Division in her MA Geography - a rarity in those days in the field of Humanities - was in a mood to relax. She was, however, approached for tutoring of the two elder daughters (princesses) of the Gwalior Maharaja, then the Rajpramukh of the now-nonexistent state of Madhya Bharat. It was a pretty cushy job for her. She would be picked up either in a Palace buggy or one of its numerous Mercedes cars and then deposited back at the house. The tutoring was for an hour or so and was well paid by standards of those days. She had collected some money and wanted to make use of it.

Around that time an uncle of ours living in Bombay working in the Port Trust wrote to my father to send his children to him during the vacations. That is how our trip was shaped up. Thankfully two daughters of a neighbour too were due to go to Bombay to their Brigadier uncle. Plans were drawn up and soon we, the foursome, boarded the crowded Punjab Mail for Bombay. A 24-hour journey took us through mostly barren summer landscape of dry fields and rivers with depleted water beyond the Vindhya and Satpura ranges until the climb commenced over the Western Ghats after Igatpuri. I remember having seen some tremendous scenic beauty of green hills with lush green forests, plunging cliffs and deeply cut river valleys. I am sure that green cover is long gone, some of it had already disappeared about 20 years later when I used to travel from Nagpur to Bombay on official business.

As soon as we alighted at the Dadar Railway Station a petite and good-looking lady approached my sister and rather uncannily called her by name. She turned out to be our aunt whom we had never met. She was in her early 30s and was quite adept in dealing with the Bombay taxi-walas. Within moments we arrived at their Hindu Colony apartment on what was then known as Vincent Road, a broad avenue, with three-lane carriageways and trams plying up and down on the central verge. Vincent Road had Hindu Colony on one side and the Parsi Colony on the other. The apartment was on the first floor - of three bed rooms and a big hall and a dining area. Each room had floors done up in bright colourful tiles. Obviously, the era of massive use of Makrana marble was still far away. The flat was airy and our aunt had organised some tropical potted plants on the balconies. Uncle had his around 80-year old father living with him. He was a law graduate of early 1890s and had a raging curiosity about everything. He had known my father since the latter was a student in Scottish Church College in Calcutta in the second decade of the last century.

Bombay, now Mumbai, was a thriving commercial and industrial city and yet it was considered only the second city of the country. Calcutta, now Kolkata, continued to be known as the first city even nearly a decade after independence. Kolkata, earlier the capital of British India, was where the action was and the Communists were still far away in the future and were yet to drive away private enterprise from Bengal. No wonder, it continued to be the hub of trade, commerce and industry. Delhi was nowhere near either Kolkata or Mumbai though it had been the capital of the country since 1931. Perhaps, it had little opportunity to progress after independence as it was subjected to the oppressive pressure of refugees soon after the partition of the country.

Mumbai in those days was of special charm for me. One of my close friends was doing his B Tech at one of the institutes there. He was highly enamoured of the place, especially of its Fort area and the city's local train services. Another close friend had just returned from there and had given me glowing descriptions of its local trains, buses, trams, its sea and beaches as well as its massive British era buildings. It was quite a build- up and with the opportunity coming my way I was eager to lap it all up. Having never been to a big city my excitement was naturally palpable.

As I settled down and started feeling comfortable in the new environment I would venture out of the house all by myself. Initially I would be cautioned to be careful while crossing roads which I had to do as I frequently would go over to the Parsi Colony
Eros Cinema - an example of Art-Deco architecture
on the other side of the Vincent Road. It was a quiet place with well maintained parks where one could hang around in the shade of a tree. Or else I would go cross the Dadar Railway over-bridge and walk all the way to the Shivaji Park beach and get the refreshing breeze that would cool me in the warm and humid weather.

I would also take rides with my uncle in the morning as he drove down to his Port Trust office in the Fort area. He would mostly take the central north-to-south artery via Parel, Byculla, etc and then take the Mohammed Ali Road - now virtually inaccessible to cars - right up to the Fort. Or for a change he would take the outer route of Cadell Road on the Western fringe and would pass through Hornby Vellard, Breach Candy, Chowpatty and on to the Fort via that wonderful "Queen's Necklace" - the Marine Drive. Both the routes were interesting and I would look forward to these drives.

I would be dropped somewhere near the Hornby Road and I would wander around down its arcades looking at those British era buildings and indulge in window shopping. Sometimes I would veer right into the thick of the business district where offices of big and reputed commercial and industrial houses were located in huge Victorian buildings in what is now known as the “Fort Heritage Precinct”. I was charmed by the Horniman Circle which had a massive park in the middle surrounded by solid looking buildings of uniform elevation. Occasionally I would turn west from Flora Fountain and go and sit on parapets of the Marine Drive and take in the view of (now as I know them) the Art-Deco architecture on Marine Drive and, of course, the Arabian Sea that was not quite
An example of Neo-Gothic architecture - Mumbai High Court
attractive in mid-morning hours but a curiosity nonetheless for a young man from a small town in central part of the country who had never seen the sea before. Or I would go along the famous Oval and onwards towards Cooperage grounds. It was fascinating to see the Neo Gothic public buildings (Bombay University, High Court, etc.) on one side of it and those Art-Deco structures on its western side of Marine Drive and Backbay Reclamation. Now I find that these two architectural ensembles of Mumbai constitute the largest such conglomeration of these two genres of architecture in the world.

 The Fort area appeared to me more like the London that we had seen in photographs in various magazines with its old and heritage buildings, wood and glass red telephone booths planted in the
Mumbai Art-Deco architecture - a residential block on Marine Drive
middle of broad pavements, its red and yellow double-decker buses and trams, the fire hydrants, road signage and the zebra crossings. There were no malls then but big departmental stores one of which was Akbaraly's off the Hornby Road. One could get virtually every conceivable item in it. After loitering around for a couple of hours I would catch a tram near Colaba Causeway and return to Dadar Tram Terminus sitting on the upper deck taking in the aerial view of the busy but largely uncluttered streets paying just, incredible as it may sound now, an Anna (one sixteenth part of a rupee) as fare. Now, one can neither see the trams nor the wood-and-glass telephone booths, overtaken by technology as both have since been.

We also had outings to Vihar Lake or to Juhu Beach or to the Aray Milk Colony. My uncle was fond of visiting the Santa Cruz Airport. He loved to see the big international flights arriving and disgorging passengers. In those days one could go right up to the glass front of the Arrival Lounge with no questions asked - a seemingly impossible activity today because of the terrorists' threat. I keep wondering how in around fifty years the country has changed and simple pleasures of life for ordinary people have been snatched away.

My sister and I not only saw “The Country Girl” (with Grace, Kelly, William Holden and Bing Crosby) at the New Empire theatre we also happened to go to an evening of Bengali music at the prestigious Shammukhanand Hall where Late Hemanta Kumar, the famous exponent of Rabindra Sangit (Tagore Songs), led the programme of Barsha Mangal – a thread of songs invoking rain
Renowned singer, Late Hemant Kumar
written by Rabindranath Tagore. A great occasion for me, as I, luckily, had the chance to hear live the favourite singer of my adolescent years.

We didn’t realize how swiftly time raced away and soon it was time to undertake that rigorous 24-hour journey to get back to Gwalior. We, my sister and I, spent a very enjoyable summer in the company of uncle and aunt. They were extremely good couple and were very nice to us. Clearly, we were enriched by the trip - the exposure to a metropolitan town enabled us to acquire invaluable experience and knowledge. We got back to Gwalior richer in every way.

 Thirty years later, as luck would have it, I was posted at Bombay and served a full tenure of four years. By then Uncle had retired and was not doing very well.  The Great City, too, had deteriorated and degraded a lot, overtaken by hundreds of slums, inspiring many books on it, both, complimentary and non-complimentary. Politicians sold numerous dreams of the city’s development and upgrade but it kept sinking to greater and greater depths. For common men it is excruciatingly painful to survive in it whereas for the rich it is a great playground where billions are made and, perhaps, lost everyday. Be that as it may, I look back on my Bombay of fifty-odd years ago with nostalgia and wistfulness.

All photos taken from Internet except one below of Victoria Terminus shot by me 1987 during the Station's Centenary celebrations

DISAPPEARING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION Rama Chandra Guha, free-thinker, author and historian Ram Chandra Guha, a free-thinker, author and...