What are the main problems facing Bihar
On July 27, 2004, the largest amount of rain ever recorded fell in Bombay: 94 centimeters in one day. The downpour brought out the best and the worst of the city. Hundreds of people drowned in the floods. But unlike the situation in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, public order did not collapse. And although the police were not present, there was no increase in the crime rate.
Slum dwellers help motorists
That was because people did everything they could to help each other. Slum dwellers ran to the city freeway to help the drivers who had broken down there. Many of them have been offered refuge in slums, where up to seven adults live in one room.
Volunteers waded through the waist-high water to feed the 150,000 people trapped in the stations. People held hands and formed chains to rescue drowning people from the floods.
No help from the government
Hardly anything was to be seen of the government and its organs, but no one else had expected that.
The people of Bombay helped each other because they had lost all hope of government assistance. And that is exactly what will happen to most people in the world in the 21st century.
Economy is booming alongside social emergency
With the 15 million people who live within its city limits, Bombay is the most populous metropolis on earth, the majority of which live in large cities. It is the largest, richest and fastest growing city in India. The economy is booming here, and at the same time there is social emergency.
Bombay is an island of hope in a very ancient land. And because the films produced in Bollywood reach so many people, Bombay is also the city that the masses across India dream of.
As you wander through the city, you will discover that everything - whether sex or death, trade or religion - takes place on the street or on the side of the road. This is a city of superlatives: Need and misery are greatest here - as are the hearts.
Uncontrolled immigration from the countryside
Bombay is the epitome of a group of megacities in developing and emerging countries that includes cities like São Paolo, Lagos and Jakarta.
In all of these metropolitan areas there is uncontrolled immigration from the countryside and enormous infrastructure problems, huge slum settlements and a permanent struggle for social survival - and yet these megacities remain a beacon of hope for young people.
First and Third World in one city
They are developing in a completely different direction than the metropolises that shaped the 20th century, such as New York, London or Paris, whose growth has now reached its limit.
The First and the Third World are no longer divided between the two opposite large regions, "the north" and "the south" of our planet, they are close together, indeed they collide within the same city.
There are people in Bombay who are so rich that they send their shirts to Paris to be washed. Conversely, the life expectancy of a Harlem resident is lower than that of a Bangladeshi citizen.
India - everything is true and false at the same time
India defies description, because everything that can be said about this country is true and false at the same time. Certainly India will soon be the country with the largest middle class in the world.
But today the country still has the largest underclass in the world. And the same goes for Bombay. In this city everything is growing on an exponential scale: the call centers, the international distribution of the films produced here, the importance of the stock exchange as a gateway to the Indian financial market, but also the slums, the number of people living in absolute poverty, the decay of the urban Infrastructure.
Shanghai as a role model
The city planners clearly have Shanghai as a model for the development of Bombay. And the local government has adopted a report submitted by McKinsey, entitled “Vision Mumbai”, which formulates the goal of making Bombay “a world-class city by 2013”.
The Indian architect and town planner Charles Correa states that the report »contains little vision. The suggestions are more like hallucinations. "
Improvement of communal services necessary
Bombay urgently needs a drastic improvement of the elementary communal services, i.e. the roads and sewage network, urban transport, medical care and security for the citizens.
But the city is facing a contradiction, which one of the city planners described as follows: "The more pleasant we make the city, the more people will move here to live here."
Today the vast majority of internal migrants come from the impoverished northern Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. So the problems of Bombay cannot be solved until the problems of Bihar are solved. It is crucial that the farmer in Bihar stays on his field. And that means: the small farmers must be able to live from agriculture again.
Abolish competition-distorting subsidies
If the United States and the European Union were to get rid of their distorting subsidies, that would be a big step towards making Indian cotton competitive with US cotton, for example. Bombay is therefore dependent for better or for worse on national and international factors over which it cannot exert any influence.
So for all of us, wherever we live, it is important that the people in megacities like Bombay are helped. Three years ago, on the occasion of its Habitat Conference, the UN published a report ("The Challenge of Slums: Global Report on Human Settlements 2003"), which contains the prognosis that by 2030 60 percent of the world population will live in large cities and that 2 Billions of people will live in slums.
The report points to the danger that First World companies will relocate their investments and jobs abroad, or more precisely to the cities with the lowest labor costs, in the course of a "race to the bottom".
Bombay is our future
This means that the desperation of the slum dwellers in cities like Bombay will have direct consequences for the economic fate of the people in New York or Los Angeles or London or Berlin.
The same UN report also warns that these slums can become breeding grounds for extremists if we do not develop political recipes that do justice to the cultural differences between older and newer immigrants.
Understanding Bombay is just as important for London as it is for Bombay to understand London. If only because the next generation of Londoners will be born in Bombay. So in the city that is our future, whether we like it or not.
Author: Suketu Mehta
Suketu Mehta is an award-winning Indian author. Most recently, “Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found”, New York (button) 2004 (Eng. “Bombay. Maximum City”, Frankfurt / Main, Suhrkamp, 2006).
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