Monday, August 01, 2005

Speak up, Mumbai!

Everyone has a story about the Great Deluge. My mum wrote a long missive about the two narrow escapes she had – once when an electricity pole crashed in front of her, and another, when a tree slammed the earth a few feet away from her. My usually taciturn brother wrote a detailed account of being accommodated in the Hyatt by his office – 20 to a room – and of sheepishly traveling by the ladies first class in order to get home. A hyper busy ex-boss wrote a long email updating me on her escape from Tedious Tuesday and Wet Wednesday - ‘It’s not a normal working day,’ she wrote on a usually furious Friday.

Mumbai can’t stop talking about the rains. Stories, like the damp laundry, are refusing to dry up. Stories of survival and courage; of indignation and outrage; of silent Samaritans and quick-thinking messiahs. Bloggers have, figuratively speaking, taken to the streets. Collablogs like Cloudburst and MumbaiHelp have sprung up. has gritty, unedited testimonies from scores of stranded travelers (which make for more interesting reading than dry articles with two-line sound-bites.) People have become very vocal, indeed.

Which is really the best thing to happen to Mumbai.

For far too long, people have either bitten their lip and suffered, or else whined helplessly, knowing fully well that they were only shouting in the wind. Now, there’s an ominous mood building up. People who’ve spent days in darkness and damp rooms aren’t willing to swallow excuses. The huge loss of life cannot be explained away as the hand of God. What’s the government doing, people are asking hands on hips, looking belligerent. A schoolboy on a debate on NDTV yesterday asked the same question. People are looking up from their daily struggles to demand accountability from a sluggish administration. Nobody is buying it just because the Chief Minister grandly claims, “We are working on it; we are a responsible government.”

It appears that Mumbai has reached the end of its tether and its denizens are ready to holler, ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.’

Sitting miles and miles away, I feel for Mumbai like never before. I want to believe that Mumbai will come out stronger from this near-death by drowning. I want to believe that all the questions that this calamity has raised about lack of infrastructure, non-existent disaster management and sheer negligence will be answered comprehensively. I want to believe that the voices raised in protest will not run out of steam once the sun comes out.

We don’t need any more proof of Mumbai’s indomitable spirit. What we need is change, visible change. If, without prompting, direction or even expectation of material gain, Mumbai’s citizens turned up in full force to save the city from going under, what’s stopping us from rallying together and demanding a better way of living, for all? If residents can stay awake all night watching over the marooned passengers in a sunken double-decker bus, why can’t they also give their local representative sleepless nights by demanding accountability?

So speak up, Mumbai. Tell your story, get mad as hell and don’t take it anymore.

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