Not surprised by film star #RishiKapoor‘s recent tweets that an emergency should be declared and liquor shops should be kept open during the current lockdown.
Without drinks, life becomes so boring for him. But he and other residents of Pali Hill in Bandra do not seem to realise that their policies are making life miserable for hard working people in the area.
Walking along Nargis Dutt Road, named after the famous film star, and the winding Zig Zag road on Pali Hill can be very instructive. Flower beds on the street outside many buildings and bungalows have pointy granite stones embedded in the concrete. Even the surfaces of concrete parapets around the trees on the street bristle with sharp pebbles to prevent anyone from loitering in the shade.
Built on public space, these flower beds are beautification for the rich but torture for the poor.
The number of domestic workers in the neighbourhood is not insignificant, given that each family living there has a retinue of maids, drivers, cleaners, childminders and security staff. The lives of these workers would be a tad easier – and the social life of the street livelier – if they had comfortable places along the street to perch themselves. Ideally, the Mumbai municipality should have built benches along with Pali Hill. The utter indifference to the needs of ordinary people is also apparent from the fact that the Pali Hill does not have a footpath. While it gives its high-profile residents extra space to park their cars, it makes passage particularly dangerous for pedestrians.
The absence of pavement is unlikely to inconvenience the area’s many prominent politicians, film celebrities and businessmen. Unlike their counterparts in the West, India’s elite do not have a walking culture. They walk for exercise on treadmills in air-conditioned gyms or in manicured parks, but rarely to fulfil routine functions like going to shops.
Rishi Kapoor used to come to Joggers Park for a walk till a few years ago. So these people want to create space for leisure walking for themselves and deny footpaths to ordinary people.
The most grotesque obstruction on Pali Hill is outside Girnar, the former bungalow of Baburao Patel, the legendary pioneer of film journalism. It is said that Shanta Apte, the famous film actress, hit him with a stick once because of his gossip writing. That bungalow is now converted into a high rise Vinayak Heights. The width of the road outside has been reduced by several feet with the construction of a green enclosure with a big sign of I Love Mumbai. If these people loved Mumbai, they would behave much better. The only consolation is that they have not uprooted trees on the road. But they drive with the utmost disdain for pedestrians who have to run for their lives in the absence of a footpath.
When it comes to building welcoming streetscapes, it is not that we lack international examples to follow. For instance, the American urban expert William Whyte spent 16 years studying pedestrian and sitting behaviour and regularly advised the New York City Council on how to create inclusive, social spaces with benches on roads and in public spaces.
Unfortunately, this sort of research does not seem to interest the lobbies that influence city planning in India. They have drawn from the worst features of hostile architecture in the West, ignoring the initiatives around the world to create cities that are truly inclusive and serve the needs of all residents, rich and poor.
Btw, I first saw Rishi Kapoor when he received the Filmfare award for Bobby in the seventies in Shanmukhananda hall. Yes, that was the venue in those days. He looked so likeable then.