Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Something I wrote on Mumbai

The narrow by lanes of Mumbai are in complete contrast to the image of the city, which has space for everyone. Getting out from the Dadar Station, you will come across a deluge of hawkers, vegetable vendors, sweepers, coolies – all are tyring better than their best to make a living. And, they don’t pretend otherwise; for instance if you try to negotiate with the coolie at any station, he would reply back saying that much as you come to Mumbai to become rich, so has he. And, this is the very fact, which makes this city different from hundreds of other cities, or glorified villages, which are trying hard to be called a city. In no story, no novel, would you find mention of man, who went to become rich to any other city in India apart from Mumbai. And as for Mumbai, you can spend your life counting such examples – the legendary actor Dev Anand was once working for the postal department, and then went on to leave his job to become what we know him as, and who can forget Dhirubhai Ambani, the once petrol pump attendant who went on to become the owner of the mighty enterprise called Reliance Industries. Or, Zeenat Aman, who once used to work in the magazine called Filmfare and later went on to become a film star herself. Similarly, growing up in the crowded suburbs of Chembur, Anil Kapoor would never have thought that one day he would be a part of world renown film called Slumdog Millionaire, which revolves around the same city, he has grown up in.

A city of such a great divide and the divide is more mental than physical. In the history of humankind, there would hardly be a more dividing line than the western railway line of Mumbai. On one side of the line is eastern part and on the other western and therefore every suburban area has an eastern and western part of it, like Andheri East, Andheri West. The disparity is to such an extent that you can easily come across people attending their nature calls in morning on the railway track itself for the lack of space and sanitation facilities and a few kilometers from these seemingly third world conditions are the bungalows of Bollywood stars in Bandra suburbs of Mumbai – stars who are the icons of millions of fans across the world. For those stars, they have Carter Road running parallel to sea on one side, and bungalows, luxurious flats, hotels on the other side. For the commoners, the roads on the eastern side of Bandra never fall shy of giving smell of rotten fish, garbage or various kinds of miscellaneous filth. There are numerous such startling differences in the mega metropolis of India. Driving up from Taj Hotel to Malabar Hills on Marine Drive, you could spot a constellation of rising buildings on the hill, before which the Arabian Sea is spread. And, one of the closest railway stations from Malabar Hills is Grant Road, the notorious original red light are of Mumbai, crowded as hell with people as diverse as different animal species in Africa. You can see women with layers of cheap make-up, who want to make a difference by their appearance so that the customers can locate them from a distance and often one among those customers would be a rich businessman, broker or estate agent. That Malabar Hills is costlier than the costly places of New York and Grant Road is filthier than the filthiest red light areas of third world itself shows that there is no dearth of variety in this city.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Guns, Germs and Steel

Currently, am reading a book called Guns, Germs and Steel. The book gives a history of almost everything for the last 13,000 years. The book contains surprising facts like:

a) None of the big mammals Africa is so much famous for, originated there. Their origins lie in eurasia.

b) The people of Madagascar are similar to those in New Guinea and this has baffled archeaologits. There are theories that all the continents were one land mass, which kep onb drifting apart resulting in creation of continents. However, what is not explained is if New Guienans mixed with natives of Madagascar, what stopped them from mixing with the inhabitants of East Africa.

c) Aborigines of Australia were still hunter gatheres when europeans arrive in Australia.

d) The direction of the spread of continent is an important factor. If the spread is more from north to east, like Africa then climatic conditions will vary significantly making the survival of things in North difficult in South and vice versa. This was the reason that so many plants and animals which thrived in North Africa could not survive in South Africa. On the other hand in eurasia, the spread is more east to west, therefore climatic conditons remain same making the movement of plants and animals much easier.

e) All domesticated crops like wheats, barley, rice have a wild ancestor which could have been posinous. Humans have changed the crops in thousands on years making them suitable for them. The latest fruit to be domesticated is apple because the process of change from wild to domestic was an extremely complex one. Have we ever realised its difficult to trace apple orchards. In India, only Kashmir and Himachal are famous for apples, I dont know of any other place.

f) Surplus food production is the bed rock of all human development. It leads to settlement at one place. Post that a certain section of society thinks that benefits are larger by controlling the production of food grains than by growing them themselves. This section become the rulers and beureaucrats. This is not possible with hunter gatheres, though they too have leaders but those leaders have to find food on their own and have too little time to rule.

g) Fertile Crescent is the name of the place where today we have countries like Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Israel, Palestine and etc. This was the place which had plants and animals of different varities. Hard to imagine today!