Mumbai's still the same yet changed a lot

After three years, I recently visited Mumbai, my native city. Having heard of the stupendous boom in India over and over again over these years, I was expecting to see some impact on Mumbai after these few years. Things have changed quite a bit, but then things have not.

What has changed:

People have snazzier mobile phones than here in the US. The cell plans cost a lot less than here (even after not considering the currency effect).

I did not see many iPods though and the dog ear'd look with headphones on (whether the device is playing or not). 

Technological inroads through high speed internet is just beginning to happen. The internet cafe's are flourishing, also meaning that majority homes may not yet be hooked to the internet boom.

The real estate skyline has changed dramatically. New buildings look like gigantic townships placed in the middle of wiry thin streets.

The local Government is playing catch up by trying to complete long delayed infrastructure projects such as flyovers that would have addressed needs of people ten years ago. Already,  the new flyovers look unable to address future needs of the city. And with the vehicle market boom, the impact will be felt more acutely and faster than ever.

Also, given the size of the residential buildings, I doubt if the city planners have provided for expanding the city's water and sewage infrastructure.

Pollution levels have dropped from three years ago as the auto-rickshaws and taxis and public buses have moved to Compressed Natural Gas. Trucks continue to spew venomous fumes.

There is a huge chain of malls coming up in Mumbai at various suburbs and these are as trendy and flashy as the ones in the US. In fact, we found the equivalent of all that you get here in the US for almost every item. And the prices were fairly reasonable. Added to that are the nice fast food joints within large stores offering cleanly made food.

The local McDonalds had the Indian variety of burgers and a nice set of menu items and it was an absolute treat. Way better tasting than the stuff you get here. Why dont McDonalds open country themed restaurants here in the US with country specific cuisines? After all, the US has a pretty diverse population and people like to try out  other ethnic cuisines.
Pizza Hut had Indian Curried Toppings on the Pizza and these were fantastic.

There is a retail boom going on in India and several new and innovative products are being introduced.

What's not changed

The around-the-corner cobbler repaired my umbrella and did not take a dime from me for it. His response "For this small job what can I charge you?". Only in Mumbai do you still find this spirit.

Pot holes continue to happen and be filled the same way as before. There is no technique change or technology change. One can sense corruption here through repeat contracts to patch after doing a bad job earlier.

Dumping of trash on the roadside or small empty spaces between buildings continues unabated. The hygiene and health risks are known but then its the municipality's job to clean up, apparently!

Slums dot the airport's runway and many other parts of the city with no possibility of proper housing and hygiene amenities. This is indeed a huge challenge for this city for many years.

Online life is still fairly low although its picking up in the sense that people don't usually just say go to this website for this information, Or I bought this online at this site, Or just google this... :)

Mom and pop grocery stores and pharmacies are around every corner and are such a huge convenience especially when one is sick. They even deliver home based on a phone call without any extra charge. This is good old Mumbai's spirit or rather I should say, this spirit is prevalent almost throughout the country.

Ah, the traffic disorder. Its almost part of the Mumbaikar's identity. The first day, I was actually scared out of my skull sitting in the taxi as the driver moved right in front of a speeding public bus as the bus was moving from our right side to the left. Cordially, the bus slowed rapidly inches away and allowed the taxi to go and life just moved on from then. Almost everyday, I experienced the orchestration of a moving set of sheet metal amidst the narrow roads and helpless signal lights. Road signals mean very little as the impatient traffic on the other side inches into the oncoming traffic's way and then eventually a gridlock happens. Somehow, it resolves itself after some waiting in the muggy weather conditions but there's this unspoken understanding between drivers to put up.

Crowded trains are still the same and getting worse. The system somehow works wonderfully and when it fails it does miserably. One wonders why the surrounding seas around Mumbai have not been used to construct freeways as in other countries to cut down distances. After all, thats good for the economy and people's productivity.


In sum, the city is undergoing growth pangs but people are accepting newer lifestyles gradually and gracefully. Culture continues to play a major role in people's lives and I could sense that life is not as mechanical and robotic as it is here.



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Shreedhar Ganapathy

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