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Today's word on

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Scene: Calvin and Hobbes are reading the newspaper.

Calvin: "I like following the news! News organizations know I won't sit still for any serious discussion of complex and boring issues. They give me what I want: Antics. Emotional confrontation. Sound bites. Scandal. Sob stories and popularity polls all packaged as a soap opera and horse race! It's very entertaining."

Hobbes: "Then commentators wonder why the public is cynical about politics."

Calvin: "You can tell this is an in-depth story because it's got an article next to a chart."

--Calvin & Hobbes by cartoonist Bill Watterson, 2005


How to solve Bombay ’s woes? Try an SOS to the queen

By Leon D’Souza

August 31, 2005 | MUMBAI, India – My father speaks fondly of a Bombay that is entirely foreign to me.

It is a charmingly quaint place, where rustic homes line ordered streets, and elegant horse-drawn carriages transport commuters across the seven isles that make up the city. The roads that service this urban archipelago are immaculately clean, washed and scrubbed in the wee hours every day. Gas-lit lamps illuminate the long, narrow side streets and electric-powered streetcars carry even the poorest workers to the commercial hubs downtown.

This proper, graceful jewel of the Raj is still alive in my father’s memory.

It is the only Bombay he acknowledges as home, and it is the only way he chooses to view this wasteland of a place where I spent my formative years.

"I’ve said it once and I’m not afraid to say it plainly," Dad, now 70, reminded me earlier this week. " Bombay was a wonderful city under the British, and we would be better off if they were to colonize us once more."

A poignant suggestion this month as India marks 58 years of democratic self-rule.

I can’t help but ask with a feeling of sulky discontent: What happened to the city the Portuguese called Good Bay? How did its legendary prosperity give way to such lamentable decay?

Both rhetorical questions, of course, but worth pondering nonetheless.

Five decades ago, when India stood on the threshold of liberty, its luminaries held up the promise of an " awake, vital, free and independent" nation; a country that would strive incessantly to "wipe every tear from every eye." This brave new India, in the words of its first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, was to be a "star of freedom in the East," a veritable Utopia.

Yet, Bombay, as it exists today – chaotic roads; dilapidated buildings propped up on scaffoldings of bamboo; clogged drains that, a month ago, turned city streets into watery tombs; abject poverty and communal hate in its nooks and crannies – represents a betrayal of that hope.

There is no comfort to be found in this filthy, disgusting megalopolis of 13 million, where the common man seems to get by on sheer grit and tempered expectations, while corrupt politicians fill him with hot air about an Indian Shanghai in the making.

"I’m fed up of living in the dump that Mumbai is today," industrialist Ness Wadia told the Hindustan Times this week, as he ventured out with his girlfriend to help clean up a part of the city. "There is a general lack of civic sense which leads to garbage being dumped across the city."

And even that’s an understatement.

Since July 26, when the worst flooding in nearly a century wreaked destruction on much of Bombay , garbage has piled up unattended at the largest suburban landfill. Buried in the heap are 14,000 rapidly decomposing animal carcasses – hotbeds for infectious diseases of every kind.

"The stink is unbearable," one truck driver who works at the site told the Times. "You can see the skin of the animals coming off."

This morass of a place is India ’s answer to the Chinese?

I cannot but despair at the fate of my native land. It is eons away from the "verge of bold advance," as Nehru would have it.

Modern India , to my mind, is a failed experiment, a pitiful example of democracy gone awry – and it pains me to speak of things this way, but I fear that if the multitudes of this nation do not face the truth, they will live on in a dark space between delusion and agony.

Perhaps India might have been better off under the direction of some benevolent dictator. It may be controversial to suggest this, but I think there is infinite wisdom in putting in place a governmental system that ensures political stability and coherent economic policy making.

If we are to compare India with China , then maybe it’s time to look past the pristine streets of Shanghai to the corridors of Communist Party headquarters in Beijing to understand the very core of that country’s formula for overall success.

Better still, we might try harder to heed Nehru’s admonition in his 1947 address.

"Freedom brings responsibilities and burdens," he said, which we must face "in the spirit of a free and disciplined people."

Discipline is the key word, and one that Indians have long treated with contempt to their detriment.

In the end, my father may have been on to something when he suggested that India send out an SOS to Buckingham Palace.

Sure, it’s a little extreme, but there’s a rudimentary truth implicit in his idea: In order to pave the way for a prosperous future, Indians must work tirelessly to rediscover the grandeur of their past.



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