Yesterday, the first lady of India, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi inaugurated the 5.6 kilometre long sea bridge that connects Bandra and Worli amidst much fanfare and celebration. Dubbed as Rajiv Setu, the sea link — the longest one in India — is touted as an engineering marvel that promises to cut down travel time between two distant suburbs of Mumbai from some 45 mins to 7 mins. The media guys, who have gone wonkers on the bridge, would have us believe that because of the sea-link gazillion gallons of petrol will be saved, atmospheric pollution will come down, global warming will be solved, India will become a super power, humanity will live in peace, etc. etc.
And yet, speaking for the average Mumbaikar or the Bombaywallah, there is something about this bridge that just doesn’t seem right; and it has nothing to do with its splendid architecture. The trouble to be honest is very existential in nature and can be stated as following:
DID MUMBAI REALLY NEED THIS SEA-LINK?
Mumbai, for the uninitiated, is a longitudinally spread city, i.e. unlike other cities that usually take a circular sort of shape spreading out from all directions, Mumbai does not. Thus when the Britishers came here in the 17th century and settled down in what is now Colaba, the city has been stretched like a rubber band to the northern side. In fact, till around 1950s, places beyond Bandra (or as Salcette Island as the Portuguese referred to it) were not considered to be Bombay at all. People would loathe to live in places like Goregaon, Kandivali, Joegeshwari, etc. In fact, most of the city denizens would not deem the suburbanites to be second class citizens, much like the compartments in the local trains.
But in the past few decades that has changed drastically. Driven by commercial needs the city has expanded frantically and what was despised in the 1950s is now much desired. While Churchgate, Colaba, and Dadar were the centers of the olden days; Andheri, Ghatkopar and Kurla are the new hubs of a modern and vastly overcrowded city. In fact, the change has been so drastic that it is almost as if there are two different cities that stare at each other over the Mahim creek. Continue reading