Who Will Be the Villain in the Biopic on Mumbai? Terrorists or Potholes?

POV

Who Will Be the Villain in the Biopic on Mumbai? Terrorists or Potholes?

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

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readed rain terrorist Raingambo, the brother of Mogambo, calls India’s richest civic body and warns them that he’s going to strike the city in July next year. “Pura ek saal hai, jo kar sakta hai karle,” he threatens, with the kind of swag that would make Mogambo khush. The year goes by, but the civic body does nothing about it – after all, filing defamation cases against radio jockeys is a lot of work that keeps everyone occupied.

Raingambo, however, is a man of his word. He strikes in July, wreaking havoc everywhere and leaving the city crippled. Bridges lie broken or develop cracks and become unusable, there are potholes everywhere, people are stranded for days on end in trains stalled by flooded tracks, fires break out everywhere, and confounded bus drivers drive their double-deckers into barriers. It’s as if The Joker and Bane and Thanos themselves helped Raingambo plot the whole thing.

If someone were to make a biopic on Bombay, this would be the perfect script.

The local civic body has now become a bigger threat to your life than terrorism. That’s not an exaggeration. In 2017, more people died in India from pothole-related deaths (3,597) than from terrorist activities (803). Controversial opinion, but travelling on Mumbai’s Western Express Highway is probably more dangerous than living along the LoC.  

Unlike terror strikes or shelling which can catch you off guard, you can always prepare for the attack of the monsoon. For starters, we have all the information on our side, since it is a recurring annual event that lasts for roughly three months a year (at least, until we completely fuck the planet up). Civic bodies have ample time to fix a problem that you’re already aware of in advance, and yet they fail at it miserably. It’s like an exam paper gets leaked a month before the test, and you still end up getting a C minus.

When the highway starts resembling an obstacle course on Takeshi’s Castle, you know shit has hit the fan.

To know you have a pothole problem, you don’t need some high-end intel inputs: All you need is a good old pair of eyes, some common sense, and a bit of empathy. When the highway starts resembling an obstacle course on Takeshi’s Castle, you know shit has hit the fan. This monsoon alone, five people have lost their lives to potholes in the city of Kalyan. One would assume that last September’s senseless tragedy, where 23 people were killed and 39 injured in a stampede at Elphinstone railway station, would knock some sense into authorities. Of course, that happened – the authorities were forced to change the name of the station to Prabhadevi, which magically erased the memory of a dying city.

Because even the Elphinstone tragedy isn’t enough to leave the BMC red-faced: When it comes to arrogance, civic officials are Sambit Patra on steroids. The moment you bring up civic problems, they’ll change track and talk about seemingly bigger troubles, like tolls or terrorism.

Think about how much political campaigning revolves around terrorism. Parties ask for votes saying they will eradicate terrorism, but if something goes wrong, they know they can always blame Pakistan. But no political party ever asks for votes promising pothole-free roads. Because whom will they blame? They can’t blame the minorities, they can’t blame Pakistan. Maybe they can blame the two frogs they married off ahead of the rains? If chowmein can lead to rape and yoga can cure homophobia, a broken amphibian marriage can be the cause of potholes.  

And just as casually as politicians indulge in the blame game, a regular trip to office or the mall for an ordinary Mumbaikar, ends up as a death ride. This is the new normal, this is the spirit of Mumbai that we celebrate.  

Congratulations, Mumbai, your apathy truly deserves an applause. Your tax money is used to build roads, repair them, so when there are pothole-related casualties, you are paying for your own death.  

Oh, and I have a suggestion for that biopic of yours. It should ideally be titled “Bombay, the City that Never Feels”.  

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