Tuesday, January 13, 2009

How rude - Mumbai in retrospect

In 2006, there was a survey conducted by Reader's digest, wherein Mumbai was voted the rudest city in the world. At that time, I was up in arms against the survey, since I am a die hard Mumbaiphile. I detest anyone who says anything bad against my city. Yes, we are a crowded city, that is bursting at its seams, our infrastructure is creaking, but we are the city of dreams, and the city where dreams come true.

Ok, I'll stop the rhetoric and get to the point. When that survey came out, I was miffed, since I have lived in Mumbai and know its essence. I know that when someone is rushing to catch the jam packed 7.23 local to CST, its either this train or no train for another half hour. Its either this train or another 'bumboo' from the mean boss. Its either this train or 'kids asleep when I get home late'. At such a time, expecting someone to help the reporter with papers, is insane! Likewise, the holding the door open funda is not a norm, mainly because one, there are hardly any public buildings, and second, the public buildings, have no doors. Our shops have rolling shutters, no doors, and the ones that do have doors are air-conditioned, and so, by typical Indian norms, aer visited by the 'genteel - Duniya Dekha' class. And finally, the shop keeper smiling funda. Just today I spoke to a friend who was in India on a vacation, and he spoke about how he chatted with a Parsi 'uncle' - actually the owner of the tea shop he'd visited. I have gone to so many shops and made purchases, and each time, my thank you was reciprocated with a smile or a nod or a kind word. Then again, I have been to shops in the 'more polite' countries, where since the clerk has apparently had a bad day, my rather large purchase doesn't get even a small hint of a smile.

Now why am I writing about a survey that came out two and a half years ago? Scores of Mumbaikars gave their 2 penny worth soon after the event. But like they say, if you truly like something, be the first to point out faults. So, on the face, I agree with the general population that the criteria selected for judging politeness was flawed, since it failed to consider Desi/ Eastern behavior and societal mores. That assumed, here is my take. Mumbai is rude on roads. Congestion, perennial construction, pollution, crowds, whatever the reason may be, the rudeness is present.

A few things I really found sweet about other countries is the amount of 'bhaav' given to pedestrians. Like in Japan, on main roads, people halt, to give way. Pedestrians seldom ever break a signal, but in spite of that, the politeness is present. In a place like Canada, in winter, a pedestrian is of paramount importance. Motorists wave you ahead, if you stand on a sidewalk waiting to cross. If I am hunting for place to park in a mall parking lot, someone who is leaving, waves to me and says - 'I am leaving hold on'. Two cars on the road, if one is faster, the slower one dips the lights to say 'move on - I won't cut'. And once the move is done, the faster car driver looks up into the mirror and gives a subtle nod. Oh and if you honk, it is assumed that you are in distress, much like the 'Bachao' of Hindi film heroines.

Take Mumbai. If you don't honk, your horn is broken. I may be at the traffic light, which just turned green a second ago. I hear a series of painful honks behind me. Hello!!! I don't drive an F1 car, I don't have launch control. Besides, people fail to understand, that a traffic light in Mumbai is the last place one would want to fall asleep in! Parking ethics - how do you spell that? I will park at 90 degrees to the road, because someone in my car needs to get down, and he/she will not walk two steps. The person will get down at the gate! - Red carpet celebrity to a temple indeed!!! Lane cutting - you can never enjoy a drive in peace. Taxi drivers will swoop in from anywhere and everywhere. For them, all road's a lane, and they epitomise the ultimate level of concentration. They only look straight ahead, and don't care who's at the side. They can never drive in one line. One day, when the traffic lights conk off, there's chaos. Elsewhere, a free left or right turn is commonplace. If I am cutting into opposite direction traffic to take a left, the drivers and the incoming traffic are disciplined and cautious enough. In Mumbai, even turns with signals meet with a blaring horn from some errant party or the other.

Exasperating indeed! I generally prefer to drive with earphones on, so that its Yanni and not some pig snorting horn in my ears while I drive. I once mentioned it to my Delhi friend who is now in the US and she said, "You are such a cribber. Mumbai has the most disciplined traffic in India, and yet you complain" Ahem... I guess... I complained for new shoes until I saw a man with no feet......

Oh and here is the article on the Reader's Digest survey.


ex-boss said...

Take the simple example of a person whom you have interacted at least once in each state, the person whom every1 has to interact at least once in a life, a person who is the epitome( virtually!) of customer service - the auto rickshaw wallas..and then my dear, u will definitely deny the fact that mumbai is the rudest city..i invite people to visit bangalore for once and take a ride in at least 10 autos( sampling..) and then give your comments..

Nitin said...

kudos and well said!!! I kinda noticed the difference too when I was abroad. But if you compare Mumbai with other Indian cities, we arnt that bad afterall :)

BTW abt the article 2 yrs back, "Scores of Mumbaikars gave their 2 penny worth soon after the event....", I was one of them too. :P

Good post!!!