Friday, October 10, 2008

Salaam Bombay. And Kerala? Sorry. No Salaam

I was in Mumbai in the 1st week of this month. I was astounded at the success achieved by the city in upgrading the infrastructure to cope with the huge population.
It’s quite possible that my stay in Kerala for a year and a half could be the reason that Mumbai fascinated me like never before. After all things shine by contrast.
And what a contrast it is! Mumbai and any city in Kerala.

Is it fair to talk of the two in the same breath? Can the gigantic financial capital of India be put on the same scale as the cities in the tiny state of Kerala?
Well, why not? After all, Kerala is supposed to be the first and best state on many counts, and is placed on par with the developed countries as per all sorts of national and international surveys?

What impressed me about Mumbai was the way the city has been cleaned up. From 1999 when I left Mumbai after my first stint there, Mumbai had changed visibly in 2004 when I returned for my next spell there. Flyovers had come all over the city, easing the traffic. The pollution level had come down drastically with taxis replacing diesel with LPG.

Now, the point I am trying to make is – Is it possible to bring about a change of this nature in Kerala, the most enlightened state in the country?

A highway planned by the previous government was sabotaged by the opposition for political reasons.
An overbridge in Kochi remains incomplete for God knows how long.
Flyovers in Trivandrum too stand like withered stumps of discarded development projects. And one of them is tainted with the blood of a Japanese contractor who made the mistake of not doing his homework on Kerala before he signed the contract with the Kerala Government. Wonder why no one told him that Kerala is a place where nothing happens, nothing can ever happen.

This last week’s visit to Mumbai filled me with a tremendous admiration and respect for the Mumbaikers. The waste of this huge city with its astronomical population is managed magnificently. Mumbai, which supports a population almost half the size of population of the whole of Kerala, has found a way to clean up the city and mange its waste. All those vegetable refuse that used to pile up along the roads near Dadar and other main markets, the plastic waste and rubbish heaps were conspicuous by their absence. It would do well for Kerala to send a team to Mumbai and study how this mammoth task is being achieved. The clean streets from Colaba to Andheri brought to mind the miserable rubbish heaps on the streets of Kochi. On my own, I made random inquiries of how this is managed in Mumbai. It seems, in addition to corporation workers, the tasks of waste disposal and cleaning the streets are given to private operators.

Can u imagine the mayhem that would be let loose if the private player is permitted to pick up a broom to sweep the streets in Kerala? Our service sectors with their dog in the manger policy spell the doom of the state.

Yet another issue I’d like to touch upon with some hesitation (hesitation ‘cos it amounts to admission that I used the public rest room in Mumbai) is the condition of the rest rooms in Mumbai. I was pleasantly surprised to find them clean, convenient and not stinking in the malls. But you could have knocked me down with a feather when I discovered that a public toilet (which I was forced to take on account of being caught in a traffic jam) near a busy station on the western line was in a usable condition!!! Considering the volume and the type of the consumers – migrant population who live in shanties, workers, and travelers- these restrooms were clean! In the sense, it was not in a condition that’d make one feel the need to jump into a tub of boiling detol water as soon as one reached home. My experience in the rest rooms of hotels and even resorts, were often unpleasant in Kerala. And the public toilets in Kerala? I’d rather die a thousand deaths than get into any one of them.

Again, the question arises as to how the mighty Mumbai city with its massive heterogeneous population managed to convey a sense of civic responsibility to its denizens. How come this cannot be achieved in the highly literate Kerala with its people who are eternally sniggering at the people from other states for their lack of hygiene- both personal and public?

Kerala is truly a queer and bizarre place. One cannot find any logical explanation for what it is.


  1. Last week I visited Calicut and was so surprised to see the road. Not a single pothole. I travelled from calicut to Malappuram and the state highway was so good. The one thing I always adored about Kerala is that it's so clean. I don't know how it's in Cochin but most of the places I visisted, it was a pleasant surprise for me as far was the roads are concenred. I live in the IT capital of India and often see people defecate in footpath on the state highways. I do agree that Kerala has to improve a lot but it's not as bad as compared to many citites in India.

  2. @ anon
    good to hear good things about kerala. have no knowledge of north kerala. kochi is a mess.

  3. Its not fare to compare infrastructure of kerala to other major cities. You will be amazed to see huge flyovers and wide roads in those cities, however when you leave city limits, things will change drastically except for highways. "Infrastructure" is not just the flyovers and highways it is percentage of villages connected with proper roads, Percentage of houses with electricity, tele connectivity etc. This will explain why Kerala is ranked better than the so called big states with major cities.

  4. this is one thing mallus are becoming increasingly efficient at - passing the blame.

    this should be a newspaper article :)

  5. Actually I think a lot of it is in our hands. Recently I made a post to urge a clean up drive, to start with small things, like avoiding disposing chewing gums or any bit of material you wanted to discard right on the roadside.

    And fact is we dont even have enough bins to direct people to - so as a first step I think we should by ourselves bring more bins in. And till then keep within our belongings all debris until a bin was found.

    Kerala can. We are Kerala :D.

  6. Well, Mumbai is Mumbai, but it has the tag of being one of the biggest as well as the dirtiest cities in the world. There may be pockets which are spick and spack but Mumbai, in one word= MESS.

    I dont know how you can compare the cleanliness with Kerala. Why didn't you take the Eastern Exoress Highway, which is the longest defecation alley in the world. Ever had a look at the Mumbai railway tracks? Is there any place in Kerala notorious for such disgusting practice?

    To add a point to the last question raised here...Mumbai is the financial capital of the great Indian populace. Comparing our lilliput cities to the mighty metropolis is a big joke...:) It has half the population of our state; but I'd rather favour the Kerala model which cries for uniform development rather than one big urban mass..

  7. @ scorpiogenius
    the point i wanted to make and which i dont seem to have made is this: Mumbai is a giant city with an incredibly unmanageable population - in terms of size and the nature of the population.
    kerala is a tiny little place spoken in the same breath as developed world.
    while a tiny place with manageable population and size and high lieracy rate is deteriorating, a gigantic city with the most heterogeous population(in terms of class, literacy, culture), things are looking up. People have been writing off mumbai for a long time-but it is rising like a phoenex from the ashes.
    people have been raving about the kerala model with its literacy and sense of cleanliness - and it is going to the dogs.
    the whole point is the absence of political will in kerala.
    the idea of dragging mumbai in is to show how political will can overcome unsurmountable problems.

  8. @ ajith"Infrastructure" is not just the flyovers and highways it is percentage of villages connected with proper roads, Percentage of houses with electricity, tele connectivity etc. This will explain why Kerala is ranked better than the so called big states with major cities.
    agree with. but remember, kerala is a tiny little place-it'd be a shame if this minimum developments that u have mentioned r not there.
    But think of how the quality of this infrastructue'. Current cuts abd fluctuating current supply which damage gadgets, loadshedding and unofficial load shedding even in the cities, miserable roads. Guess only in telecommunication connectivity we have something to brag about.


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