Monthly Archives: September 2011
A building collapsed in old Delhi two days ago and the death toll is seven already, with many still critically injured. Last year, another building collapse in Laxminagar in East Delhi killed over 60 people. The ghastly incidents are a clear result of the highly corrupt and dysfunctional urban planning process.
Conventionally, new constructions or additions to existing structures require permission from local planning authorities. Known as a building permit, city planners are supposed to give the go ahead only after ensuring the proposed construction is well within the legal norms or bye laws. Since these bye laws exist, in their basic sense, to ensure public health and safety, building without a permit is essentially a crime against the citizens of a city, neighbourhood or street.
By turning a blind eye to illegal construction, the city planners in Delhi are in collusion with the so-called criminal, the builder. Always seen as the big, bad wolf, the builder is to blame certainly, but so are the local officials who choose to ignore blatant violation of rules, so are residents, neighbours, tenants and indeed all those who do not act in favour of the health and safety of the city’s residents.
Every such incident sends shock waves through the city. Arrests are made and allegations fly around, reams of press and airtime are spent. Yet we learn nothing. We don’t, as Delhi-ites (it could have happened anywhere in India though) hang our heads in shame at the city we are. We don’t question why we need to be this way.
Instead we go about silently paying the bribe to the MCD guy who turns up to ask why we enclosed our balcony or built the barsaati. We accept the ‘going rate’ when we start a new construction. We never go back to ask for a completion certificate. We don’t even know what the processes are!
Well, we should know that in circumventing the law, we are in fact, no better than the terrible builder whose negligence killed people when their buildings collapsed. The thought is a grim reminder of how lightly we take the rules, how little we value safety and indeed, how easy we find it to blame others when actually the fingers are also pointing back at ourselves!
In today’s world, we choose to live where we work, not where we ‘belong’. I say this as I return from Goa, the land where my father grew up but I never had the fortune to live in and fully experience as a child. As I grow older, however, I am drawn to Goa for the sheer sense of belonging and connection I feel when I am there.
Now accustomed to a metro life, I cannot say with certainty if I will be able to adjust to actually living Goa’s laid back lifestyle and honouring the highly intertwined social and family commitments that I will be a part of were I to make the move. I do, however, increasingly feel the need to move away from the stresses of city life. The unnecessary chaos, noise and hurtling pace we set for ourselves in the Delhis, Mumbais, Bangalores of this world. I keenly observe the degrading quality of life in the city I live in (Gurgaon, which despite being a suburb, is every bit as chaotic and fast-paced as Delhi, sans the character and other saving graces!). No longer do city dwellers have the right to fresh air, fresh vegetables, greenery, space to walk in, silence and peace, etc, etc. We must embrace the noise, the pollution, the stale fruits and the high prices in the attitude of a city lover. We must convince ourselves that the trade offs are worth the price we pay- better options for education and entertainment, for instance. And certainly better jobs with better pay packets.
I don’t buy the argument though, trapped as I am in the same vicious cycles as everyone else. Each time I go back to Goa, I yearn for the simplicity of living in my hometown, surrounded by people I know and love and a culture I sort-of understand. I envy m y cousins who, at least at this point in time, can experience a high quality of life with the unique benefits of a community that retains its rural ambience while being able to access urban amenities, with good governance as an added benefit.
But most of all, I miss living in a community where I feel I belong, where I don’t need to make so much effort to form a connection, where I am not a nameless faceless dot in a sea of struggling humans, but me, Mukta Naik, daughter of so-and-so, mother of so-and-so, niece of so-and-so…… Many may seek and thrive in the anonymity that large cities offer and till recently, so did I. Lately though, I’ve started to yearn for the simpler things in life and appreciate what life in a more traditional milieu offers! A sense of
belonging, continuity, identity are important factors we are tending to ignore, even as our sub-conscious struggles to come to terms with our environment and seek anchors in a vaccuum. I may not be able to move to Goa today. But going there every year reminds me of my need for identity. Thank you Ajji, uncles and aunts, cousins and friends in Goa for keeping me connected, rooted and happy :)