It’s a crazy world. Consider this, for instance. Mumbai boasts the world’s second most expensive commercial real estate! I just read it (http://specials.rediff.com/money/2008/feb/21sld1.htm). Mumbai is right up there between London’s West End and the City of London. Now, as a born-and-bred Mumbaikar and a former resident of Red Ken’s London, I think I am well-placed to declare this absurd.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Mumbai. Its trains, its rains, its hustle and bustle and its general joie de vivre. London is cold and grey and clinical and frankly a lot more posh than it has reason to be. But that still doesn’t explain why anyone would be willing to pay more for a Nariman Point address than they would for a Cannon Street address. For your pounds in London, you get to be in a globally-networked financial powerhouse with clean streets, functioning transport, good internet connections, strictly regulated traffic norms, a great night life and a touch of je ne sais quoi. That last bit is what makes London the city it is, in my opinion. If you are based in the City, you are a stone’s throw away from such breath-taking attractions as Saint Paul’s, the National Gallery, the Tate Modern, the South Bank and the Tower. I can perfectly understand shelling out between $ 200 and 300 per square foot per month for such privileges.
But if Nariman Point is where you are at, you get to be part of a notional, over-rated boom amidst filthy streets, overcrowded commutes, snail-paced internet connections, routinely-flouted traffic regulations, a morally-policed night life and a tiny, restricted elitist cultural scene. True, you are close to the Museum and the Kala Ghoda art enclave, but the former is crumbling and dusty and the latter is pretentious and exclusive. And while you sit proud in your glass towers, the poor fishermen, the original Mumbaikars live in miserable hovels along Cuffe Parade, in the shadows of the towers of hubris.
The point of this rant? I think Mumbai can do better. It is home to some of the leading enterprises of India. The world-class corporate entities of Mumbai and its super-stoic, super-spirited citizens deserve and can build a better city. I am sure the same is true of our other cities. So lets discuss this. The next time you make a call to India, take the pulse of the people. Make it a talking point. Let’s see that Mumbai (and India) lives up to the hype. Or we will remain, like the fabled emperor’s new clothes, pieces of imagined finery.