A strange idea has pre-occupied me for the past few days. It just struck me that if one were to say how good a city is, it has to be seen from the perspectives of the outsiders. In simpler words, if you are born in a city, you should not be judging it as your judgment will always be partial. This leads to dangerous conclusions, which xenophobic wont like, as the opinion of a Punjabi on Punjab is irrelevant. The reason is simple. Take my own case. I was born in Delhi. I was brought up there itself and all my concerns were taken care of by my doting parents. I did not know what hardships they faced when they constructed their house or when they were humiliated as tenants. I cannot identify with my dad's harassment when he was made fun of for not knowing which bus route goes to Connaught Place. I cannot relate to my mom's paranoia with the roads and buses, which she could hardly relate to being from a small town. This is all because I had them to turn to whenever I wanted to know which bus goes where, which market is famous for what. Moreover, ever since I have gained senses I had a roof as my parents got a house in 1987, when I was just 5.
A city has to be seen by its behavior towards people who have just come into it. And, if this is a yardstick, Bombay will be the most civilized city of India. The city has local trains so conveyance related problems are taken care of. And, it is damn affordable, which shows that the planners had known that not everyone is born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Moreover, the auto rickshaw drivers are rare breeds among their brethrens who charge you as per the readings of the meter. Compare this with the behavior of auto drivers in Chennai. In no other city that I have visited, was I shouted upon by the auto driver. In Chennai, they understand that the commuter does not know Tamil. Then, they ask for obscene fares and sometimes mid-way they stop auto to bargain again. If you do not agree on higher fare, you can move out but remain assured that the auto driver would abuse you will all filthy words. I know it is too demeaning a statement to say, as one would ask isn’t auto driver a human too? But, in India such rights are reserved for rich. Poor auto driver hardly shout at passengers.
In Bombay, if you need a flat, there is an army of estate agents. I know that new comers in the city often criticize this system. Because this agent asks for at least one month’s rent as commission for the services he provides. But, doesn’t he deserve it? Who would show you tens of apartments at short notice? Who would bribe the police to say that they have done the inquiry without seeing your face? Who would stand in queue at the office of rent authority? Who would bargain with the flat owners who know that you are new and can be screwed easily? By this, I don’t intend to say that the estate agents are saints. In many cases they too have over priced their services but they do a job, which many white-collar employees would refuse to do, as they don’t want to dirty their collars by bribing the officials. Moreover, once you have paid the commission to him, he would take care of all disputes with owner. And, a tenant is never looked down upon. In Delhi, I remember there was a robbery next to my house. The owner’s son threatened the tenant saying that he would beat him up unless he accepts that he helped the thieves. Chennai is yet to recover from its madness for Tamil language and many agents wont help you knowing that you are not from their part of land. My friend Venkat helped me get a flat in Chennai, else I was jacked.
Among many other things, Bombay is the only city in India where you can get liquor and vegetables delivered at your home. I can open the pandora box if I start explaining a liquor shop in Chennai. All liquor shops are government owned. The drunkards often hijack the shop. They drink right in front of it. And, because it is government owned, the seller thinks that he is doing such a great service by selling you the booz so “home delivery” is not in his dictionary. Though, the scene is not as bad in Delhi. Still, many cases of rape are reported near such liquor shops, which talks about the kind of people around it.
If someone has told you “customer is the king” the best thing you can do to him is to buy an air ticket to Chennai and gift it to him. The government has made the local channels free to woo the voters. Localities hardly need to watch any other channel apart from famous ones in Tamil. All other channels like Zee, Star require a set top box, which is sold by company owned by Chief Minister’s son. It is too obvious that most of the customers buying set top box would be those who are not familiar with Tamil. Else, why would need it. The CM’s son does not seem to know it. The person who explained the functions of that box to me knew only Tamil and no other language. Not only that, he was dressed in dirty pajamas and I don’t want to hazard a guess on his education. It is like showing middle finger to the customer. As it is only CM’ son company which can sell the set top box. So, the customer has no other option.
Talking of the inconvenience, there are many posh localities in Delhi, where if a not so rich man happens to go and he does not have a car, he wont be able to find either a bus or a rick. You would be left stranded. No matter in which part of Bombay you are, you will easily come across auto-rickshaws.
Similarly, a country should be judged by how well it treats its minorities. For all practical purposes, minorities are referred as outsiders in the majority circles. So, India should not be judged by Hindus, rather it should be judged by what Muslims and Christians have to say about it. And, I am sure we will have to cover our faces in shame in many cases, if we were to ask them. This is precisely the strength, which US has, and this is why no other country will become super power unless it adopts a liberal migrant policy.