Last Man in Tower

"We are all in it together for the taste of it, for the fun of it,

Campa Orange flavor, all the flavor of fun!"

If you remember this jingle, you are also likely to remember Gold Spot , Thums up , Mangola and Limca. You probably belong to the generation who enjoyed these soft drinks without the guilt of calories since there was no diet version to compare. You may also have grown up watching Nirma, Onida and Only Vimal on the idiot box. Gold Spot faded away, Limca lingered on a little more and Mangola retained a loyal brand of followers. And if you associate Coke with George Fernandes and not Shahrukh Khan you are certainly now middle aged.

Campa Cola has come back into our lives and in what a strange way. This group of upper middle class buildings built on what was once the Campa Cola factory compound in Mumbai’s once working class but now gentrified Worli area has been the subject of enormous media attention in the last year. For those who have missed this saga, the top floors of many of these buildings have been declared illegal by every court in this country and await demolition in the next few days.  The residents have carried out a massive campaign to stall the demolition including physically preventing the demolition team the last time they tried to do so. In an interesting convergence of solidarity, politicians cutting across the entire spectrum of parties have expressed sympathy and support for the residents struggle. As the drama inevitably proceeds towards its last act the municipal corporation has yet once more given a final three-day reprieve in view of the death of one of the elderly residents of the society.

What then should we make of this sordid spectacle? Should we be happy that it a sign of the rule of law being enforced in spite of the clout and connections of these residents? Should we be sad that these people like us are being uprooted from their dwellings of many years many of whom have perhaps been unaware of the shenanigans of the builders and officials who colluded in the patently illegal permissions? Or are we allowed to experience both emotions at the same time for the two are not contradictory? Do we also want to use this moment to pause and reflect on the plight of thousands of the people not like us whose tiny slum houses are brutally flattened by bulldozers in far away sounding places like Govandi, Mankhurd and Malavani? And acknowledge the fact that many of us regularly break the law by making alterations or repairs in our homes, which are illegal by the same rulebook that is being applied to Campa Cola.

The Campa Cola compound is not far from where I live .  I cross it on my daily commute to work. Worli around it is a microcosm of Mumbai and its collisions. Behind the compound is a hill on which are precariously placed huts forming the slum colony of Ambedkar Nagar, a typical Dalit settlement. Across the famous Worli Naka are the old and derelict BDD chawls in which thousands are packed into one room tenements and currently awaiting their turn to get on board that peculiar Mumbai mirage called redevelopment. Just behind them a humungous new tower “Palais Royale’ slated to be on of Mumbai’s tallest buildings rises up into the sky its march towards the clouds temporarily arrested by irregularities in permissions. Further down towards the Arabian Sea is the Worli Sea Face, the sea front houses of which are one of the costliest pieces of real estate in the world. Jutting out from this sea side drive is the Worli-Bandra sea link, driving on which you now get a breathtaking view of the new glistening skyline of central Mumbai dotted by skyscapers of various hues almost resembling the Manhattan skyline. And as if this homage to New York was not enough, wait for a few years and you will have our own answer to the Statue of Liberty in the form of  a towering statue of Shivaji the local warrior king.

The current deadline for the demolition ends day after tomorrow. There have been multiple such deadlines before which have been extended. Some of the residents have left while others like the stubborn old teacher in Arvind Adiga’s Last man in Tower have stayed put to fight it out till the end. The municipal authorities will first switch off electricity and water supply to the flats slated to be demolished. They will then move in with hammers and other demolition equipment. Whilst we watch voyeuristically on our television sets I am not sure whether will we have the mixed feeling of sadness and satisfaction or will the sight of perfectly normal houses belonging to people like us being torn down bring a tinge of sorrow? What though will cross the minds of the laborers many of whom reside in slums like Ambedkar Nagar as they actually wield the hammer to break the walls ? Will it be just another job that they are used to doing or will they also face a duality of feeling? And will that duality be regret and revenge?

About Author

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Sanjay Nagral is a surgeon based in Mumbai who occasionally puts down the scalpel to wield the pen on issues in contemporary Indian Healthcare from within the belly of the beast.&nbsp;</div>
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