Day 6/ 365 – Mumbai traffic woes

Today after the MBA lectures got over, we decided to go for snacks to a nearby place. We were in a friends car when suddenly we started discussing how much of a pain it is to drive in this city. There are traffic jams everywhere and nothing is being done to manage them. I got a car recently and to be honest, I dread about driving it in Mumbai traffic. There are vehicles everywhere. If you are not surrounded by vehicles, then there would be people jay walking. If not people, there would be cows and if not cows there are always dogs!! I mean there is place for everyone but for you to drive. Recently the government approved some 3000 odd rickshaw permits, don’t know where they would be driving or where we would be driving. The traffic situation, I feel, is worst in the suburbs with auto rickshaws and bikes cramming for every little available space.

This leads to the question: how to manage all this much traffic? May be some sort of car pool system. Or may be rickshaws/ taxis could operate only during designated hours during the day or only a fixed number of rickshaws or taxis to operate during the day. Probably this would help reduce the number of vehicles on the road and thus freeing up some space for the private vehicle to drive. Also private vehicles should be occupied with minimum 4 people while on the street. This would also encourage people to carpool and reduce pollution as well as the number of vehicles on the street.

I feel these are some solutions that the government should initiate as soon as possible to reduce the traffic woes that have currently plagued the city. All of these initiatives require political will and discipline from the citizens of the city. Will be able to implement any of these? Only time will tell.


Visit to Lalbaugcha Raja 2013

It is September and since last one week, the 10 day Ganesh festival is on in Mumbai and rest of the country. Last week I had the opportunity to visit Lalbaugcha Raja in Parel. Lalbaugcha Raja is one of Mumbai’s most famous Ganapati’s and attracts hordes of people every day while the festival is on. I It is believed that this Idol of Lord Ganesha is Navsacha Ganpati (which means the fulfiller of all wishes) and hence over 1.5 million people visit this Ganesh Pandal daily during the 10 day Ganesh festival. Soon Lalbaugcha Raja may become a place of pilgrimage. My tryst with visiting Lalbaugcha Raja started 3 years back when I decided to go and visit, since I had heard a lot of people visit the pandal and because it is so famous. Since then I have been going there every year. The entire madness around the place attracts me. There are so many people just waiting to get a glimpse of the Lord. There is always a mad rush to visit. For the past years, I used to visit early in the morning in the anticipation of fewer people, but was proven wrong. So this year, I decided to visit around midnight. As soon as I crossed Curry Road bridge, I was amazed to see throngs of people just walking towards Lalbaugcha Raja. I have never seen so many people gathered in this part of the town during this time of the night. It seemed that all the people from Mumbai were there. In this I decided to call up my friend Prakash and asked him to come along with me. Luckily Prakash knew one of the volunteers who manage crowds and we could enter the VIP lane, which was sparsely populated and managed to pray silently for some time. This isn’t the case when you are standing in the other two lines. You get jostled, pushed etc, which hardly allows any chance of a silent, peaceful prayer. The entire experience this year was just too good and couldn’t have been possible if my friend didn’t know a volunteer there.


Evening skies before the rains

Captured this today in the evening. The skies filled with monsoon clouds. The fresh smell of the mud. The street vendors busy making onion pakodas and bhajji’s. The kids in the ground welcoming the rain with joyous screams. The excited chirping of the birds, awaiting the first drops of rain from the sky. The hot Earth awaiting for the first drops of rain to cool it down. The season of monsoon and grey skies is here.

Mumbai looks beautiful in the rains.


Service tax on an under construction property

In my previous post “House Hunting in Mumbai”, I had described how me and my wife have been looking out for property over the last few weeks. Recently, we came across a couple of under construction properties which we really liked and decided to do the approximate costing for those apartments. While doing the costing, we came across another term “Service Tax”, which is being levied at 3.09% of the cost of the property. I was very surprised to see that, but I didn’t pay much attention to it , thinking it is just a component of the overall cost structure of the property. While discussing this with a friend, he asked me what is this Service Tax? He mentioned he didn’t pay the same, when he got a property. So it turns out, the govt. has now decided to levy Service Tax on under construction properties as the builder is providing “us” a service by building the property. This is now applicable since July 2012.

If you are a cost conscious consumer (who isn’t in these days when the budgets are tight), this additional 3.09% is a huge cost.  As it is we are paying 6% stamp duty on the flat cost, plus there is Rs. 35000 of the registration of the property, there is 1% Value Added Tax and now this 3.09% Service Tax. So if you add up, it is an increase by atleast 10% on the overall cost of the property. So if the cost of the property is say Rs. 50 lakhs, the consumers end up paying an additional Rs. 5 lakh on the property. People budgeting to buy homes should also keep this in mind, while arranging their finances.


House hunting in Mumbai

So some couple of months ago we, me and wife, decided to get a house of our own in Mumbai. If you are following the realty market in Mumbai, buying a house in Mumbai, with the right price, right views, right locality etc. is like going on wild goose chase. Looking at the prices of the apartments that are listed, makes me wonder – there is way too much money with a lot of people and only we seem don’t seem to have enough. A lot of places where we have seen the apartments, builders and agents have asked us “how much black (cash) we would be paying”? I look at them and wonder – do they think two working professionals with normal jobs would have 10-15 lakh rupees in cash? At such times, our normal answer is we would not prefer to pay anything in cash. However, the cost of flats in Mumbai has seriously sky rocketed. While searching, we realized that there is a concept of carpet area – what is the usable space in the house, and sale able area – includes usable space in the house, plus lobby space in the building, garden etc. and the builders actually charge as per the sale able area. The difference between sale able area and carpet area is usually between 35% to 40%. Basically the cost of the flat increases by 40%. Builders also charge floor rise usually between range of Rs. 35 to Rs. 50 – i.e. every increase in the floor rise would cost Rs. 50 per sq. feet more.

In far suburbs of Mumbai like Borivali, Kandivali, a 1 Bed Room Hall Kitchen (BHK) would easily cost around 65 to 70 lakhs and a 2 bhk could cost anywhere from 80 lakhs to 1.5 crore. We decided to check out areas like Vasai and Virar which are farther north and the rates there are much lower. 1 BHK in Vasai & Virar would cost around 27 lakhs, while a 2 BHK would cost around 35-40 lakhs max. However, the size of the rooms that we saw left lot to be desired. The apartments were match box sized. Hardly any space to have any furniture. Living in an apartment where we have windows on 3 sides and no building surrounding us with super spacious rooms, moving into such rooms was simply not acceptable to us.

Mumbai has everything for everyone, one just needs to keep searching and find it. So far we have not been able to find something that fits what we are looking for. But the chase is still on and the adventure continues. Mumbai – I know will not disappoint me.


Encounter with traffic police

Last Saturday while I was at my MBA classes, I had parked my bike outside the college gate as there was no parking allowed in the college premises due to some construction work. I have been attending the classes since last 3 weeks before this past Saturday and during the 1st week itself I had asked the security guard whether it is safe to park outside the gate and he said there shouldn’t be any problem. So as usual, last Saturday I parked outside my college gates at my designated spot. My friend also parked outside the gate but on the right side of the gate, while I was parked on the left.

So our lectures are going on and all of the sudden the professor gets a call from the college admin authorities saying that the police towing vehicle is here and they are towing vehicles parked outside the gate. As soon as we got to know this, we all ran down to the gate to check on our bikes, cars etc. In the mean time it had started to rain heavily. I came outside the gate and saw that my bike was parked where I had left it and it wasn’t towed, while my friend was not so lucky and his new Royal Enfield got towed away. We asked the security guard where they had taken my friends bike and he said that they have just left like 5 mins back and we should be able to see them on the main road. Since my bike was still there, we decided to give chase to the towing vehicle. By this time, it was pouring cats and dogs and we were totally drenched. After riding the bike in the direction pointed by the security guard, we saw the towing vehicle on the road. We chased the vehicle, overtook it and parked it right in front of the towing truck.

With the rain pouring very heavily, the traffic was already very slow moving and with me parking right in front of the towing truck and not allowing it go any further, traffic started piling on the road. While I waited on the bike, my friend went to negotiate with the traffic cop and requested him to hand over the bike to us. At first he refused and asked us to come to the police station and take the bike from there. But my friend not relenting and the vehicles honking from behind probably made him change his mind. He asked us to move a little ahead so he could park on the side and give us the bike. After parking the towing truck on the side, we were asked to pay a fine – which we duly paid and he handed over the bike to us.  We took the bike and brought it back to the college.

The scenes at the college was chaotic at the best. There were many students and professors who had got their vehicles and were scrambling to find a parking spot and wanted to park in the college premises. Some of them even went and met the principle of the institution, but she didn’t give the permission to park the vehicles in the college campus.  In the meanwhile, another towing truck passed by and we stopped the truck and asked the traffic inspector to tell us where do we park. He told us simply to look at the parking board. He said you were parked in the no parking zone and hence your vehicles got towed away. He asked us to park on the opposite side of the road where we could park without having to worry about our vehicles getting towed away.

We parked on the opposite side of the road, but kept checking our bikes every 2 hours just to ensure that it is still there and not towed away. Least to say it was a very interesting Saturday.


A hard place

Mumbai, as I have observed over the last 6 months, is a very difficult place for someone who is new to the city. The sheer pace of life, the number of people on the streets, the traffic etc.. can take a toll on anyone who is not used to such frenetic life. I encountered one such person today in the train. This boy was sitting on the 4th seat and was feeling uncomfortable, so he was moving his arms, head around and constantly irking his fellow passengers. He finally got up at Bandra to get down at Dadar. Once the station arrived, the crowd got empty and this fellow went to the other side of the door. After a few seconds, I heard a girl cry out a name. On hearing the name, the boy responded but it was too late for him to get down. By that time, the people had already started boarding the train. He tried to move against the crowd and get down.. but it was an impossible task. The train started moving… the shouts of the girl for that boy kept on increasing.. until the train moved out of the station. The boy, even though new in the city, kept his composure and asked where the next station would come. Unfortunately for him, he was in the fast train and thus he would have only got down at Mumbai Central. I didnt see him get down at that station. I hope he is ok and reunites with the people he left behind at Dadar station. In some ways this city is very cruel. May be in some other city, people might have made way for him to get down.. but not today, not in Mumbai where everyone is running to get somewhere.

A City of Discrimination

This thought stuck to me while I was traveling in the train. The people in the city are the most cosmopolitan as well as most discriminating. Right from the train travel where we have 2 types of compartments, 1st and 2nd class. In 1st class people are dressed well, sharp, look sophisticated and generally have an attitude of superiority. While in 2nd class, you will see people of all types. I wonder why do we have such classes? Why cant all citizens be treated as equals? I have used public transport in quite a few cities around North America and there I didn’t see any divide between suit wearing hippie and a construction guy. They all travel in the same manner. I guess even after dividing people based on their religions, caste, sub-castes etc. we are still not satisfied. We want more division. We just want to live with “our” type of people. Nowadays even housing societies in this city are dictating which “type” of people should stay, what kind of food they are allowed to have? This is just plain ridiculous. There are pure-veg societies. Some only allow people from one particular religion, caste, sub-caste to stay/ buy the property etc. If this was not enough, there is now discrimination between outsider and natives. This is just so backward. No wonder the Britishers were able to rule us for such a long time. I dont think we have learned anything in the last 60 years of our independence. This is the state in India’s most cosmopolitan city, I fear how things might be in other cities or small towns across the country.

Life moves on or does it?

So finally after 60 hours the siege over Mumbai ended. There was celebration in some streets, people mourning in some, for some it was relief, for some were overcome by grief, but for a lot of them it was rage, anger that their city, country had to go through this.I wait and hope that this anger is constructive and something positive comes out of it. As I sit here and write this, I know that we may move on, the city might come back to normal, but we will not forget what happened on 26/11/2008.

Life in a busy lane

The last week has been pretty hectic for me work wise. I am now working from the Chembur office in Mumbai and have been shuttling between 3 offices. A lot of work has been thrown in my direction right from driving a certain process to developing a certain process and handling a new process. So a lot of things are there to be done. Right now, my number one concern is the commute. The commute is a bitch to be honest, both by car and train. It takes a minimum of one and half hours either by train or by car. The traffic in the city is horrible. There are way too many cars, buses, autos, animals and humans on the street. It takes forever to get from one end of the city to another. The train journey is also not any better. I have to change 3 trains to get to Chembur and traveling during the rush hour is just a train too many. Anyways, I guess this is how life is going to go on until I am here in this city. Really looking forward to going somewhere else.