This Urban Hell

This post appeared in Mid-Day on July 15, 2002 with the same title.

“I’m tired of the efforts to romanticise this city. A misty drizzle makes the sodium street-lights glow off the tops of the shiny black cabs, you see people in their genteel coffee bars sitting around reflecting ‘we are so international’ thoughts into the foam on their lattes, talking film, playing guitar, blowing imported cigarette smoke into the salt-heavy sea air. Then they get into their fancy cars, back up sleekly while the reverse siren belts out a hiccupping lambada.

There must be two Bombays. One inside the BaristaOliveIndigoAthenaStarboardPage3Wherever. One in your real life.

I made a list of things that scare me about this city.

Security guards. Imported in bulk, fresh off the boat, they’ve been given a smelly uniform, taught to salute, wake up hastily when you pass by and wave unconvincingly at the baby. They’re faceless, nameless and across the city, in the numerous buildings I visit to work, meet family or friends, they make my skin crawl.

Traffic etiquette. I don’t care if you slurp your soup, eat your pasta with your fingers or cough into my telephone receiver. When you get into your car, please show a little style. Don’t try and cut off little old ladies on their way home from church, don’t you honk at the sixty-year old grandfather taking his granddaughter out on a bicycle ride, don’t flash your lights at me and if you’re in a very residential area, disconnect your freakin’ back up siren (especially the frantic Hyundai ones). You wake Baby A, you come up and breastfeed her back to sleep!

The Powers that Be. Keep a watchful eye on them. They are wracked with fraud, failing at their functions, flamboyantly irresponsible and accountable to no one. The roads are a hacking ignominy, immigrants of dubious origin have more property rights than you (two storey condo-slums? Give me a break!), the legal system is a dodo, random acts of unprovoked police aggression are on the increase. The city is spiralling into lawless chaos and there’s diddly-squat you can do about it.

The Indian Aids pandemic. Coming soon to a home near you. Educated paranoia is my strategy. The highest risk community remains the ignorant. Please scare the bejesus out of your potentially sexually active teenager. (See if you can drum up sex-education excursions to the local pharmacy to buy condoms. Safety in numbers will take the embarrassment out of the experience and you’ll have some great stories to tell later that start with ‘Twelve 18 yr olds walk into a med shop…’) Talk to the people who clean your house or drive your cars. They don’t realise they have a right to demand disposable syringes or pre-tested blood. Statistics indicate you already know at least one person who is HIV positive. Statistics also indicate that they may not know themselves.

The Exodus. They’re leaving. The people that make Bombay Bombay, who listen to the music, who love the food, who spin fine thought into intelligent conversation — they’re all making migration plans.  

Some days I want to gather into my arms my baby, my husband and all the people I love and run like seven devils are chasing me — one for every island that makes up this urban hell. Some days I just pray someone will tell me how I can make things alright.”



About genesiaalves

40, married, mum of 3. Writer, biter.
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