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A city for all time

Menka Shivdasani

Is Mumbai willing to become a Shanghai... or Dubai?

These days, there is so much talk about converting Mumbai into another Shanghai or Dubai, you would almost begin to believe the city had no character of its own. The fact is, as speakers reiterated at the Urban Renewal conference organised by Bombay First between May 24 and 26, you need political will, clear direction, a performance-oriented approach and better legislation — not to mention that vital ingredient, `Vitamin M'.

Then, of course, as Maharashtra Chief Secretary R.M. Premkumar pointed out, much as we would like to see Mumbai becoming a world-class vibrant city, every stakeholder has a different perspective and that's where we get into trouble.

Shanghai had no such problems; its mayor once told Premkumar that human rights were the "dessert, not the main course"; you first did what had to be done and then worried about people's views. Imagine such an approach in Mumbai!

Over the decades, there have been many discussions on a better Mumbai and, despite the best intentions few led anywhere. In 1944, the legendary industrialist JRD Tata had sponsored an eight-member panel that wrote the first economic plan, the Bombay Plan.

The panellists, including G.D. Birla, were trying to work out how to provide better living conditions, and their calculations revealed, among other things, that the ideal space for an individual was 100 sq ft in a house.

"For the new poor, those who come from the villages to the city in search of employment," a deeply disappointed JRD said when I met him sometime in 1990, "the only luxury is tarpaulin."

In a city that is in constant motion but which never seems to change, JRD's words still hold true.

Pets' day out

Dog lovers in this city do the strangest things. They dress up their four-legged family members in T-shirts that say `Puppy Love'; they feed them ice cream and get them groomed at beauty parlours; they organise `marriages' with such fervour, you would think it was a son or a daughter's wedding.

Shunali Shroff, a public-relations professional who currently works with husband Shravan's Shringar Cinema, says there are people who buy dog collars from Harrods and Gucci jackets for their pets. She also knows of dogs being fed from Cartier bowls.

She recalls a visit from the ladkiwale (`girl's side'). "We were looking for a mate for our Shih Tzu — a Chinese breed that looks like a Lhasa Apso. We put an ad in the papers and that didn't help; later we got a call from some interested people. But the kind of questions they asked!" They checked the pet's papers and enquired about its diet, and even the shampoo used for it!...

It may be hard work, but there is no shortage of dog lovers in Mumbai, as was evident at the Taj Lands End on May 17. Owners of Labradors, Dobermans, St Bernard's, Afghan hounds, Pomeranians were present — some to find mates for their pets, others simply to give the dogs a good time.

The evening, organised by Ultra Distributors and Pedigree, was supposed to feature a special screening of the film Airbud, about a 12-year-old and his Golden Retriever that plays basketball wonderfully.

But what the gathering got to see were just short excerpts from the film. What made the evening memorable for the dogs and their owners was the variety of games.

The enthusiasm was so infectious that old men, salwar-clad women ... all joined in. The hotel staff must have had a tough time getting their lawns back into shape afterwards!

As celebrity vet Sangeeta Vengsarkar pointed out: "There are such few events for dogs and dog lovers in the city."

Response can be sent to life@thehindu.co.in

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