Jul 12, 2007

Big Apple Difficult to Digest

Just back from a rather exhausting east coast trip. A lot to see, absorb, learn & be shocked at. In retrospect, California seems rather laid back & a far friendlier place. From downright rudeness, unfriendly demeanor, uncooperativeness (Holiday Inn, Queens), to unabashed racism (Madame Tussauds, River Inn (Niagara), I think we glimpsed all this in the last 10 days.

Of course, it’d be absol unfair if I didn’t mention the M42 bus drivers & pedestrians who helped us with directions; the sweet young couple at central park who wanted to gift a ‘free’ balloon to my daughter & whom I unwittingly refused (rather primly), driven by my suspicious mind that there had to be more to their apparent friendliness; the kind old lady at the airport who offered snacks to my lil one after AA deigned to let on that our flight was cancelled (without as much as an apology!)

Thing is, NY left me angry & I can’t shake off the feeling of resentment at the hostility that I sensed there. It’s akin to what one might feel in a city like bombay/delhi if one were accustomed to the genteel & refined ethos of a Bhopal or a Calcutta. I remb how i'd shudder, when I’d 1st arrived in bby, at the way women in crowded local trains behaved for a wee bit of space. Forget kindness, they lacked basic etiquette's & decency. They’d even jostle & push a blind kerchief seller to get to their ‘reserved’ seats. Much later I realized, when ur commuting close to 4 hrs daily, chopping vegetables in the train to save time at home, working ur mind crazy trying to figure out ways to book that 1-BHK at kalyan & wondering whether ur teenaged daughter is hanging out again with the shady guy on the chawl verandah, things like etiquette & kindness take a backseat.

I sensed the same desperation, anger & mind-numbing fatigue in the rush hour NY subway & streets. A walk down canal street on Bronx which is lined with shops & itinerant vendors selling everything from smuggled electronic goods to perfumes & purses, where pimps, beggars & hawkers will accost u every 2 ft, where pedestrians r forced to walk on the streets (which causes an eternal traffic jam) as the pavements r clogged with hawkers & their small stalls, will take u readily back to good ol’ gariahat in Calcutta or lokhandwala market in bombay & give all those who wax eloquent abt Times Square & Lexington avenue a much-needed reality check.

Take away the mid-west with its vast open spaces, multiply the black population in Bronx a good 10 times & sprinkle them across the country & US wud not be entirely different from any other crowded city in India. What irks me is when ppl behave as if traffic snarls & dirty streets r relics of starving, developing nations & have no place in the higher order of things that exists in civilized places like NY, London, etc.


Anrosh said...


Shaji.k said...

You describe with precision the mental states of women who commute on mumbai's electric lines and identified their parallels in NY. Arent these the consequence of modern urban processes identical to all cities and whose effects all inhabitants are bound to undergo? In ignorance, we believe our cities alone encounter all problems and sell the dream that by turning mumbai to shanghai, everything will be well.

drift wood said...

Shaji, cant say i agree with u there. Having lived in Tokyo, Kolkata, Dubai & Toronto also, methinks life in those busy metros is markedly diff. frm the one i've described. tokyo, in fact, with its teeming hoards who clog the tube during peak office hrs, was a revelation. despite high density of populatn, exorbitant cost of living, the japs do not display the hardened, agrressive demeanor that others in ny & mumb do & u dont see 'modern urban processes' getting any better than in japan.
i think part of the prob. has to do with the values a culture chooses to embrace & celebrate. i am most disturbed when mumbaiites & new yorkers brag abt being continuously 'on the move', being 'go-getters' & not offering any1 a 'free lunch'.