Was bumper to bumper on the way home today and bumped into a car in front of me when they slammed their breaks in response to someone in front of them who slammed his breaks.
It was in front of the JJ flyover with a late monsoon shower breaking loose over us. The policeman tried to get us to patch up ("samjhauta kar leejiye", come to an understanding), but I was at fault and the driver of the Government of India vehicle couldn't afford to have the cost deducted from his salary.
His passenger, a South Indian lady called Mrs. Shankar, berated me for driving too close to them. Try keeping three seconds' distance from the other car in Bombay traffic.
We exchanged insurance details, bumped iPhones so to speak, and moved on, but not after I had apologized and she had rolled her head.
The entire city lives bumper to bumper and when stuck in traffic I am amazed if not exactly fascinated by the lives of people that I observe on the street. Increasingly I turn away, which is as sure an indication as any that I am turning into a Mumbaikar, a Bombayite, seemingly impervious to the poverty around him. And yet I am amazed when I see women and children sitting under a tree or a lamp post, combing their hair as they would when living under a roof, and laughing. The toddlers trying to attract their mothers' attention and the mothers responding as mothers typically do, by smiling and laughing back. How do you smile and laugh when you're living under a tree, in what would appear to be inhuman conditions? Or is there something essential about being human that comes to the fore when your life is stripped of its
News of David Frost's untimely passing just came through, he who along with comedians in Britain and the U.S. first created a satirical news programme in 1964 titled That was the week that was. Years later I was hooked to Frost's Breakfast with Frost on Sunday mornings on the BBC and his piercing interviews with British politicians. His grilling of Tony Blair at the onset of the Iraq War remains most memorable.
What would Frost make of the week that just passed here in India? The photographer who was raped in Mumbai a little more than a week ago left hospital with her head held high but is, as Shobha Dé writes in today's Sunday Times, the exception rather than the rule. The attack on her is also an inkling of the existence of two Bombays, of the super haves and the absolutely have nots.
Dé predicts the ghettoizzation of large parts of Mumbai, Sao Paolo style. It's a more dramatic take on what has occurred to me more than a few times, that the part of Bombay where we live will turn into a quaint open air museum ten years from now.
A few months after coming to India in 2010 I met the head hunter who placed me in my current job for lunch. "Isn't there something seriously wrong with the Indian economy?" I asked her. "The bulk of the growth seems consumption led, with a huge 'BS' component. If you sell enough expensive apartments and cars you will show growth." It was colourful language for a South Bombay lunch and she gave me a quizzical look. In the past several months the BS economy has come home to roost.
I'm borrowing unashamedly from today's editorials in the Sunday Times as they capture the huge economic and social challenges faced by India and the unlikelihood of any of them being resolved quickly. Mr. Swaminathan Aiyer, an erudite economist, predicts that the rupee will sink further to 80 rupees to the dollar.
As with all crises a new equilibrium will be found in time. 'Never let a good crisis go to waste' goes the expression. The country is under such shock that few people will have the temerity (I hope) to protest increases in fuel prices. Increases in fuel costs may actually slow down the movement of goods via road. Imports will be affected drastically and will come down. Exports will increase in due course, although manufacturing still needs to pick up and is unlikely to do so in the short term with high borrowing costs. Indian services will become cheaper and may spawn the start of new businesses.
Sorry, last clipping. This one is from M.J. Akbar, one of India's best commentators. He calls the bankruptcy of the current Government.
A good friend called me today, to enquire why I hadn't been showing up at the gym. He's 85 and a gym regular! After telling him why I hadn't been going (minor surgery a few weeks ago, all Schwarzenegger type exercises on hold by the doctor, and so my physical evolution into Arnold of Mumbai is also on hold) I asked him whether there would be early elections.
"Are you nuts??" he asked. "Who wants to run the country in this state?". There'll be no elections till next year.
On a positive note, India has faced its share of crises before and at the senior most level minds come together to redress the balance. Here's hoping it happens quickly this time round.
We went to an art exhibition today at the Tao Gallery, in Worli. Some very good modern Indian art.
Cubbon Park, Bangalore, a few weeks ago
On a Sunday morning flight to Delhi for some personal work. Clear skies, brand new aircraft, excellent service on Jet: India at its best.
Down below, 30,000 ft lower, things are in turmoil, more than usual.
A young woman photographer was raped in Bombay. Safety of women is a major issue across India.
The Indian Rupee is at an all time low and almost touched Rs. 70 to the US dollar.
Inflation is high, growth is declining rapidly, industrial output growth is close to zero and there is limited fiscal room to maneuver for the Government.
The rains are good, and that means that three months from now at least agricultural output will once again be high, bringing down food prices and boosting exports.
Not everything in daily life is profound, not everything is doom and gloom, not everything is funny. Sometimes you just amble along, enjoying the service oriented culture in a snazzy part of town, interrupted by my daily 8 a.m. outburst because the traffic from the opposite end starts moving when their light turns red.
India is in for a slowdown, red lights or not, so may as well enjoy the ride.
Btw, the banner photo was taken from our holiday home outside of San Gimignano at 6.20 am. What light! It lasted all of five minutes.