Ambani, Tendulkar, the car culture and common people – Vidyadhar Date

Vidyadhar Date“A mark of a failed state is its failure to provide basic services, wrote veteran Sunnda Datta Ray in the Telegraph on July 7 in relation to Kolkata. Things are worse in Mumbai where the gap between the rich and poor is becoming more and more wide and the rich are becoming more arrogant. Nothing shows the arrogance more than the number of ordinary people being knocked down, killed by rash, drunken rich people who are literally getting away with murder.” – Vidyadhar Date

Antilia: Mukesh Ambani's house on Altamount Road, MumbaiA lot has been written on the obscenely opulent 27 storey personal home, Antila, of Mukesh Ambani and family at Cumballa Hill in Mumbai. I saw it last week and felt that urban planners, activists, in fact everyone should visit the area.

A visit will give one an idea of how callous our city administration and the wealthy are. There is no footpath at all on Altamount Road where the building stands on a plot once originally reserved for the education of Muslim children.

Worse, the building encroaches on a substantial part of the public road outside with greenery but even this is rendered highly exclusive because security men jealously guard the premises and would not allow any one in the vicinity. So the municipal corporation first refuses to provide a footpath to citizens and then shows no guts to act against this glaring encroachment. But groups of rich citizens are very vocal against alleged encroachment by street vendors and the civic body is often ruthless against them.

Nita AmbaniLook at the contradiction. There is a provision for parking of some 168 cars on thousands of sq. ft of space on five floors of the Antila building plus there are three helipads. So there is all the space for the mobility of one rich family and nothing for the barest need of walking for the ordinary people. It is reported that some 600 people are employed for work in the building. Obviously, they do not have cars and most walk. They have to walk because no buses ply or dare ply on the elite Altamount and Carmichael Road. The area is difficult to reach by public transport. It is a long distance from the suburban railway network and the bus network even on the main artery, Peddar Road, is very inadequate. There are a couple of narrow roads from Peddar Road to climb up to Altamount Road and another elite road Carmichael Road. And these too do not have footpaths. This cannot be a matter of oversight. At the root of this refusal to provide a basic service to the masses is the crafty realization that a footpath will reduce the space for cars for the wealthy. Now since Mrs Nita Ambani talks to the people of India day in and day out through the Satyamev Jayate programme of Aamir Khan on television about how to improve life for the people, she might as well make a beginning from her own front yard, make sure a footpath is built on the road outside. And the municipal commissioner lives only a little distance away.

The Ambani building is also visible from the BEST bus stop outside the Films Division office at Peddar Road. And this bus stop like many other new stainless steel shining bus shelters in Mumbai should be studied by urban planners, architecture students and activists. These are so badly , almost cruelly and sadistically designed. These are clearly meant to serve as advertising space for corporate not for commuters. It is impossible even for a thin person to place one’s butt on the narrow steel strip , leave alone sit down properly. Most of the space of the narrow strip is taken by two steel bars.

Zero ToleranceClearly, Mumbai is a revanchist city, cruel for the poor, just as radical urban analyst Neil Smith looks at New York as revanchist. In simple terms revanchist means the rich are taking a revenge on the poor. The term revanchism owes its origin to the anti poor crusade launched by the upper class in 19th century Paris in revenge against the temporary control of the city gained by the workers. Revanchism is driven by militarism and moralism to restore public order on the street, banish the poor. The term Zero Tolerance such a favourite of the upper class in Mumbai in its drive against the poor, originated in the United States in the 1990s when a systematic attack was launched on the homeless, affirmative action, feminism and multiculturalism. The Zero Tolerance approach found expression in the policies of the New York Police Department which supported privatization of public spaces and take over of areas of the poor by the rich.

A mark of a failed state is its failure to provide basic services, wrote veteran Sunnda Datta Ray in the Telegraph on July 7 in relation to Kolkata. Things are worse in Mumbai where the gap between the rich and poor is becoming more and more wide and the rich are becoming more arrogant. Nothing shows the arrogance more than the number of ordinary people being knocked down, killed by rash, drunken rich people who are literally getting away with murder. These are serial murders.

Sachin TendulkarThere is a huge glorification of the motor car culture and speed continuously through the print media and television and now the film Ferrari ki Sawari blatantly glorifies the racing car Ferrari as also the cricket maestro Sachin Tendulkar, a lover of racing cars, who nevertheless sold away a Ferrari car which was reportedly gifted to him and for which the government of India waived import duty.

The car culture has come about without any sense of social responsibility. Tendulkar glorifies racing cars but there is no footpath outside his house on Perry Cross Road in Bandra. He shares this with Mrs Ambani who in a sense owns him as she is the owner of the IPL team for which he plays. – Counter Currents, 9 July, 2012

» Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of the anti-car book Traffic in the era of climate change: walking, cycling, public transport need priority. Email datebandra@yahoo.com