Free Press Journal

Elphinstone tragedy musings: In praise of the Mumbai Spirit, that does not exist


Elphinstone stampedeElphinstone stampede. Photo by BL SONI

Every time a tragedy befalls Mumbai, be it heavy rains, building collapses or stampedes, like the latest one in Elphinstone Road railway station, along with stories of calamity, there is another entity that is often brought to the fore – the Mumbai Spirit. Politicians, the media and sometimes we ourselves, go gaga over how this spirit and resilience of Mumbai remains intact despite all that we Mumbaikars go through. But, how much truth exists in this oft-used theory? Is there something really called Mumbai Spirit.

Take the case in point of the Elphinstone Road tragedy on Friday. The killer foot over bridge where the stampede occurred will be frequented by people every day, even with the knowledge of what has transpired at that place. Will they be doing it because they have strong-willed determination? Or do they just don’t care about what has happened, and just move on with life? No, do they have an option? In spite of being aware of all the dangers, Mumbaikars will be forced to walk on the same deadly bridge until some miracle happens and it is made safe for use. It is because of compulsion and not choice.

The same applies to travelling in crowded trains. No one with a sane mind would want to travel in overcrowded trains, in unhuman conditions, where standing on the footboard is seen as a normal activity (railway announcements of not standing there cannot be practically implemented), and fans don’t work. They probably haven’t been cleaned since the British left the country. Tubelights and wires are seen dangling dangerously, and can cause severe damage to commuters. Going to work despite all this, risking lives every day, fearing salary cut at work in spite of it being the fault of Indian Railways being late – each damn thing in this city is passed off as part of the great Mumbai Spirit.

Over the last few decades, the term Mumbai Spirit has been recycled by politicians and administrators as an excuse to hide their blatant ineffectiveness. Even the media, to an extent, has played it up to get great stories of human interest. At the end of the day though, the ground reality remains the same. Be it Congress in power, which ironically has the guts to question the BJP despite being equally responsible for the Elphinstone tragedy, or the current BJP-Shiv Sena combine, no one really is bother about working towards Ache Din for Mumbai and its citizens. Not a bit.

But, wait a minute. The Mumbai spirit may not exist, but spirits do exist. And, they are spirits of Mumbaikars who lost their lives in various tragedies over the years in the city. They must be definitely wandering around, deliberating why their lives were taken away so cruelly, for no fault of theirs. There must a few more spirits around now, following the Elphinstone Road tragedy. RIP Mumbai Spirit. Rest In Peace till the next tragedy occurs, and you are reincarnated.