On 2nd day of July 2000, I was leaving Mumbai ( Bombay ) one more time. In two months of stay, I put on few pounds. All existing pants were feeling tight around the middle. Looking at all the ‘weighty’ people around me here, I used to joke: “There is still a large gap in equality between men and women in India, but I do see considerable improvement in this ‘weight’ department!” I saw many people walking in angle, few degrees off the vertical mark. May be, to carry the weight in front, the equilibrium had shifted backward! With extra baggage around middle, the equilibrium theory was proving right for me as well!

Number of relatives and friends stopped by in last couple of days to say good bye. There were numerous telephone calls. I had packing to do as well. I came with one bag, and was to leave with two. The second bag became a necessity once I saw that I had to take with me some books, music, memorabilia, snacks, sweets, and spices. It was hectic, but I did find some moments, here and there, to reflect back on last two months. The mental adjustment of leaving one world behind and entering another had begun.

I had a good time. The purpose of the visit was to be with parents, sisters, relatives, and friends. The outpouring of love and affection was unmeasurable. In spite of some difficulties due to aging, my mom cooked and fed me all the things I liked. She also gave me lectures on how people overeat, and get out of shape! I had some wonderful walks with my dad while discussing philosophy and life in general. I recalled my dad reading and interpreting an article based on writing by 18th century philosopher Satre, where the philosopher advocated ‘the other is hell’ (meaning, dependence on other objects is an obstruction to the path of happiness and heaven).

The heritage, the traditions, and the culture of India as such make its citizens philosophical about life, and its purpose. In the mad rush towards gold and glitter in the city, would people have time to philosophize? Would philosophy be more evident with people who are at the bottom of the rung? I was pleasantly surprised when I heard from an ordinary car-driver: “ People here get unhappy by imagining the happiness of other people, rather than by their own shortages!”

Mumbai in year 2000 appeared even more crowded. Each suburb looked like a city within the city. I saw growth, and I saw prosperity. Prosperity appeared uneven.  The ever-existent gap between rich and poor was visible, and I wondered if it ever could be narrowed. I saw many high-rise buildings, and learnt that many were going vacant! Many people seemed to be living in unofficial residences between those high-rise buildings.

As far as I recall, Mumbai, the commercial capital of India, has always experienced growth, and has never been able to cope up with providing basic necessities for its citizens. May be, it is a classic struggle for a city in a country with long and old heritage! The water shortages that were present fifty years ago are still very present, and the surface transportation remains a challenge! In one of those surface transportation, I remembered an exchange:

“Pinakin, here we are in a traffic jam. I see the road construction going on. I see some very old methods being employed. Is not this road under construction for a long long time? I see some fire heating up road-material in some big drum, and people surrounding it seem to be as if they are warming up on some cool winter morning!”

Pinakin smiled and replied:

 “Yes, it does take a long time to finish any project here. There are many reasons to that. One is that it is very difficult to integrate machine oriented new technology into the old ways of doing things. Masses are still not educated enough to use the new technology effectively. There is so much unskilled human labor in existence that, in some way, these old ways of doing things could be a blessing. It provides daily bread to these people.”

I admired Pinakin’s positive thinking, and queried him further: “Any other reason?”

“Yes, usually the allocated money for the project runs out, and the project remains in limbo until additional resources are found.”

“And, why is that?” I inquired.

“It is the system. It is the system, I call it take-your-cut system. By the time all the cuts are taken, from top in some hierarchical fashion, sufficient funds are not available for the actual project. I must tell you though that there are people who feel trapped, and helpless to fight against this system.”

“Why not allocate large enough budget that meets the needs of these cuts as well as that of actual project?” I suggested naively.

“Listen, Big Brother, you know how greed works! Bigger budgets would lead to bigger Cuts!”

I felt I understood, and decided not to pursue the conversation further.

I started thinking about my small town in Canada. Long warm summer days, and cool pleasant nights. Mountains, lakes, and walks on the creek. I felt living in Mumbai peacefully would be quite a challenge. Of course, I was comparing it, unfairly, with a small town living in Canada.

My thoughts were interrupted. My dad was saying something to me.

 “Ashwin, instead of five years, come next time within three years.”

It was so touching, full of longing and affection, that I replied instantly:

“Sure, I will come for a visit next year!”




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