A few years ago, this was touted as the new dream road, a toast to West Bengal and Kolkata's (Calcutta) future. The New Town/Rajarhat road which leads from Salt Lake to the airport was as smooth as silk. I remember racing towards the airport at a 130 kmph and wondering how Kolkata had changed so much. This road strikes out from the city and heads out into open fields, now earmarked for IT parks and the like.

Construction is on but the road is in shambles, as I discovered last week. After getting thrown around like a doll for some distance, we were mercifully transferred to the other lane. So, most of this once gleaming road has been closed off, for pothole covering work. The ride into the city after clearing Salt Lake was not much better. But than who ever expected Kolkata to have good roads. So on we went, bumping along, negotiating potholes and tram tracks till we reached Alipore.

Last month I drove to Pune. This is an uplilfting experience since there are very few moments you are actually seated. For the roughly 50 km run from Mumbai to Khargar, its like flying over the lunar surface. Then you touch the Mumbai-Pune expressway which is obviously a dream. And then, its the last 25 km into Pune city. I thought roads could not get worse than this. Actually, they don't...because they are not roads any more..its very simple, just a change in nomenclature. What I thought was the Aundh road turned out to be a dirt track most of the way.

A National State Of Mind

I am not even talking about Mumbai roads because there is nothing to talk about them, except perhaps gaze in utter amazement and initiate scientific studies on how mankind could create something so beautifully random. Or contemplate how this randomness can actually be used as a weapon of mass destruction.

Imagine, if you let our road contractors loose in Baghdad, then Bush would have been saved a lot of money in Iraq and misery at home. Every Baghdadi would have had spinal failure by now. I mean, I have nothing against Iraq specifically, but lets say we wanted to invade someone. Think about it..now outsource from India..Strategic Pothole Disability Weapons (SPDW). Incidentally some Iraqi roads are the world's best even now - a friend did a Amman-Baghdad run, more than 1,000 km in 8 hours last year !

Potholes are a national problem. And they reflect a national state of mind. One of the ultimate Indian disregard for workmanship, the supreme chalta hai way of life. The quality of products and services put out by India's private sector have improved dramatically over years. So have those served by the once moribund public sector. Though not to the same extent. But when it comes to roads, we are treated to the same standards that applied when governance and controls were at their worst and apathy highest..maybe the seventies or eighties or both. Tackling this is going to be one mighty challenge.

The Last Big Hurdle

I always wonder, as I negotiate the roughly 300 or 400 potholes, bumps and uneven roads that I do in Mumbai, everyday - what makes these guys do such shoddy jobs ? Are they blind ? Can they see, feel, experience, or are they bereft of some of the senses which you and I are thankfully or perhaps not so thankfully blessed with ? Yesterday, I wondered if I could somehow unhook my spinal cord and place it in some cyrogenic freezer, to be retrieved at a later date.

And do our civic authorities and officials not experience these terrible roads themselves ? Do they know not what a basic evenly laid out road is ? Did they study geometry in school ? Or is schooling not a prerequisite to bag contracts with Mumbai's BMC or whoever the giver of contracts in your city is. I am pretty sure not. I have questions but no answers.

I do know that our central and state government services are the last biggest hurdle we have to cross, if we are to aspire for anything that resembles a decent quality of life. And they will kill you for even trying..as they put me to slow death everyday. Till then, suffer along !


phantom363 said…
i am with you 100%. there is no sign of acknowledging the problem. and no solution in sight.

in chennai, in the residential areas, no sooner than a new road is laid, than it is immediately dug across by water works, electricity, phone or cable folks. there is no concept of repaving the road which remains forever and a hospital that gives birth to millions of mosquitos.. :(

our roads are potholes, with macadam inbetween. :(
Anonymous said…
Perhaps, democracy is relative, in the sense that it depends who is practicing it. Democracy is a system where people get the government they deserve. The US deserve a Bush and we deserve the dense morons that inhabit our goverment. Both are, as the media never lose a chance to mention, flourishing democracies. I really fail to see any real similarities. I feel we have more in common with Pakistan or some African country in terms of the quality of life.

So coming back to what we deserve, since we deserve the idiots we elect, we deserve the roads they build. I don't think the preferences of a few bloggers really matter. It's the millions and millions that inhabit India's hinterland that shape what this country is really about. With a few exceptions, this country is just one giant public lavatory. And the people of India deserve it. In fact I know people who staunchly stand by this giant lavatory. Shit on...
Wanderer said…
Hey Govind,
An interesting tidbit here - a certain Shiv Sena politico who took over the BMC Roads department lived in Chembur in a modest flat. Two years later he bought himself a bungalow on Peddar Road.
The backlash was so harsh, particularly 1-1.5 years back that the Tiger had to distance himself from this guy.
Balaji said…
Money talks..

Everyone wants to milk crores of rupees from the govt. official to the contractor...And how best to do rather that produce shoddy work...

The same chap will be travelling by a car in the same road and then smiling to himself....
Anand Gadiyar said…
Here's a similar incident. Worth your time.

Anonymous said…
I really dont understand why shoddy work and corruption are somehow related and intertwined. Can't these guys take their cuts, and produce good quality work?!
KM said…
The Roads or the lack of it mirror the Society itself. It is this Chalta hai attitude which has become the bane of our Society. That is how we let British rule us for a long time. That is how we let these Goonda Politician rule us. People in our Society consider someone successful if he/she made tons of money. It does not matter how they made it. Naturally if you get something good it is only because it is an exception and not the rule! The state of our Roads show the state of our Society as a whole!
Anonymous said…
Simple solution-leave India and emigrate. Canada actually welcomes educated migrants
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