October 01, 2008

The Many Faces of Mumbai

Grand Designs – The other day I was sitting on the steps of a mall. I was there for a visit but being over zealous about my job had reached about half an hour before the scheduled opening of the shops. But while waiting on the steps I noticed something interesting. The ladies who had come to clean up the mall were huddled together near one of the shop windows. Out of curiosity, I strolled near them and could see them discussing excitedly over the designs of some earrings that were on display. I am sure that they knew that the earrings were well beyond their affordable price range but that did not stop them from appreciating and commenting on the designs. And then I realized what in Marketing we call as Aspiration – the dream, the desire to reach beyond our means. Aspiration – the building block of a consumerist society. And I do not think consumerism is a bad idea in a developing economy.

The one rupee change in taxi – This can happen only in Mumbai. I was getting off from the taxi at Five Gardens, the usual place for my weekend strolls. As I was ready to walk away, I heard a voice calling me back. The Cabbie actually asked me to wait and gave me back 1 Rupee change from the fifty rupee note that I had given him. And this is not an isolated incident. I think Mumbai is the only place in India where this can still happen. Once Mumbai loses its honest cabbies, it’ll lose one of its major points of differentiation with respect to other cities.

When money talks – An interesting insight can be seen when you visit The Mantralaya in Mumbai. The Father of the Nation has the most prominent place in the sprawling lawns but stands under the sun, all alone, directly under the attack of birds. The founding father of one of the Nation’s biggest industry houses however has a seat at one side of the gardens, more visible to the people walking past, enjoying his cool shades and marvelling at the imposing paraphernalia of statues that accompany him. Money talks, and how!!!

Power to the People - If you walk along the Mantralaya, you’ll see the importance of money even more clearly. It’s the seat of power in Mumbai. Also technically it should be the greatest demonstration of people’s power since at the end of the day in a democracy the common man is the king. Unfortunately however, the understanding that the government exists as a servant to the people is lacking. G and I were sitting under a tree one day generally chatting when a police personnel came and asked us to get out of there, mainly because some minister would pass by. Unfortunately, years of servility to the political powers have made both the police and the public forget that the politicians exist because of the votes the public decides to cast or not. The dance of democracy is surprising. It not only makes strange bedfellows as the cliché goes but it also ensures that the press and the public have enough in their hands to chew upon till the next elections. I really believe that R.K.Laxman is one person who captures the pulse of the nation better than anyone else. I was going through the archives of Laxman. Only twice I saw hope in the eyes of the Common Man. First in his undying faith in Nehru and secondly the dreams he had seen with Rajiv.

As I said, the dance of democracy is surprising. I just wish Bapu was here tomorrow to witness it himself.

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