Bombay has changed. It isn't the same as before. And it isn't just the name that has caused it to metamorphose into Mumbai. Look around, and the signs of how the city has been brutalised are there for everyone to see.
The first indication is the rapid disappearance of open spaces. Playgrounds have been swallowed up by buildings and roads. Schools are allowed to come up without playgrounds, and sometimes two or more schools 'share' a playground which is not very close to either of them. Vote-bank creation encourages squatting on the few open spaces that still exist.
Children are the worst affected. There are no trees for them to climb. No open spaces for them in which to play football or even cricket. Some end up watching TV or playing computer games. If the urge to play is tremendous, children in the suburbs play on the streets. Neighbours ask them to "go play somewhere else", but there aren't enough open spaces around. South Mumbai is luckier because it still has a few open spaces — the Azad Maidan, Gowalia Tank, Cross Maidan, Oval, among many others. A smaller population with more open spaces. A population that pays less taxes than residents of North Mumbai, but enjoys more amenities and privileges.
Go to North Mumbai, and the scars of Mumbai are stark. Forget playgrounds, even footpaths have disappeared. Close to railway stations, the roads get swallowed up by hawkers and commuting crowds. An altercation between motorists often explodes into brawls. Motorists believe that they have the first right to roads; pedestrians believe that they matter more, and are compelled to walk on the roads because the pavements are choked with hawkers, illegal stalls and rubble.
The absence of open spaces has brutalised the innocence of young lovebirds as well. There are few parks through which they can walk safely, peacefully. And the few patches of green that survive have stags hanging around, lecherously gazing at any couple or a single girl passing by. The only place where a couple can be safely 'alone' is sadly a cinema hall. Dark corners and lonely streets are quite unsafe. The innocence of love — in discovering love — is fast fading.
The police too has changed. Instead of being a professional force, famed for its investigative prowess, it has become a peeping-tom force. Many of the new laws are meant to give cops perverse voyeuristic pleasure in catching bar girls and 'rescuing' them, or fleecing money from customers who visit a brothel. Earlier, it was only prostitution that was illegal. Now, even a customer can be arrested. All of this raises the question: Is the job of the police to prevent crime, or peek into bedrooms?
Sadly, Mumbai's legislators haven't realized that the need to legalise prostitution is all the more urgent with a large migrant population residing in Mumbai with families left behind in faraway homes.
Eventually, in anger and disgust, people howl against criminals, but are too weary, or indifferent, to the manner in which sick surroundings often 'promote' more sick minds. The softer lines of a youth's face have quickly morphed into wrinkles of cynicism and rage.
This wasn't the Mumbai I grew up in. It isn't the city I would like my grandchildren to grow up in. And many like me have begun looking for cities where work and lifestyle can be a lot more humane.
The author is consulting editor with dna