Thursday, February 19, 2009

On the importance of digging up roads in Mumbai

In the little coffee parlor that is frequently our haunt in the early hours of eventide, the conversation turned to the enthusiasm and regularity with which our beloved Municipal Corporation excavates our roads.

"What this city needs is more roads and fewer excavations", said a Latte, who had evidently thought deeply into the matter.

"They can't foresee ALL public work requirements. It is a growing city and public works are alway important in the smooth running of any metropolis", said a Macchiato, whose cousin was rumored to be running a road construction company.

"Only corruption in this city, I say, only corruption", said a Bitter Almond Pastry, bitterly

A lull followed in the conversation and our eyes automatically turned to the Sage of our group, Mrs. Shenoy.

She smiled, as if to herself. "If Mr. Shenoy will kindly trouble himself to fetch me another Iced Eskimo, this time taking care not to spill half of it on his shirt as he fetches it here, I will tell you the true story about the digging"

The same question had occurred (said that elegant woman) to me one evening as I stood at the intersection near our house, surveying the devastation strewn about by a diligent team of the Corporation's faithful.

I knew it could not be anything so simple as an essential service. When the corporation wants to provide an essential service it does not dig roads. It black markets that service. No, it had to be something deeper than that. Something far more important. I decided to find out exactly what it was.

A trip to our ward office proved fruitless (or bootless). Our ward office, an interestingly designed building which has the ventilation of a morgue, the color scheme of a bordello, the layout of a laboratory maze and the liveliness of section 54 of the Income tax Act, houses the Ward Officer, a shifty eyed, rat-faced man who knows a sum total of six words, namely "This matter is not my responsibility".

Adjudging the situation to be hopeless, I decided to drop into the Engineer's office. there seemed to be an animated discussion going on inside. Like any self-respecting person, I refrained from entering the room and eavesdropped instead.

And good thing too. The discussion within clarified the matter for me. Without going into details of the conversation, here is what happens

1. The Executive Engineer, the Assistant Engineer, the Sub Engineer, the Assistant Sub Engineer and the Executive Assistant to the Sub Engineer open the sweepstakes.

2. Bets are taken on what color it is at say 20 feet below a location at a suitable arterial road.

3. Odds are offered by the bookmaker, usually the Executive Engineer himself

4. The road is dug up on the appointed day and the color inspected by said worthies, and bets are settled accordingly.

5. The road is left open for fifteen days in order to allow the color to be reinspected by sceptics

6. If anyone (such as myself) should ask why that road has been dug up, a standard set of responses is offered
a) "This matter is not my responsibility"
b)"This matter may be my responsibility but I have not yet officially taken charge"
c)"This matter may be my responsibility and I might have officially taken charge but the matter is subjudice and I cannot comment upon it"
d) "This is an archeological excavation for an Indus Valley Civilization site"


Anonymous said...

one more possibility to be added to point 6:-
we are doing the nation a service. we are digging up trenches for nsg to use in their battle against terrorists in the next terrorist attack.

RukmaniRam said...

wait- what was not their responsibilty?
digging up the roads? filling up the dug up holes?
or ansering random citizen type dudes who walk in and ask why the road has been dug up?

Nowhere man said...

Been reading up on Mr.Mulliner lately are we ? :)

Pitu said...

This reminds me of an idealistic friend who joined the NSS while in college when the rest of us spent our free time ogling hotties. The first assignment they got was-

Here's a shovel- Dig up several massive holes.

They huffed and puffed and somehow did it.

Here's a shovel- Now fill up all those massive holes.

Seriously. She had many such bizarre tales to tell.

K.Ramachandran said...

Jolly good, what, what? Right-Ho. really njoid ur blog, bcoz my nearest library has only 3 PGW's, and 0 Mulliners . 4 yrs since i read a Mulliner, from my neighbouring Lending library when in Chennai. my PGW collection has provided sustenance to sundry rats , cockroaches, and silverfish in lofts in various flats in Chennai, Cal , etc. Loft to truck to loft !!

SRK said...

A famous economist, some Peter i think, had said digging roads and refilling them act as economic stimulus!!!

Siddharth said...
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Siddharth said...

Too Good Sir :)

In 2006 it was published that there were only 40 or 60 potholes in Mumbai. The rest as pointed out chokkathangam were trenches :)

Also, your thoughts on Milan, Khar and other Subway's offering exciting boatrides during Monsoon?

Vishnudas Prabhu Kunjibettu said...

After reading this post, I actually went back and dug out my PGW books - somehow Mr.Mulliner looked more interesting now! Great read - Shenoy maam!

What's In A Name!? said...

Aah, the woes of dug up roads! Here in Ahmedabad, I've forgotten how some of the roads looked like, because they're being dug up ever since I was a little girl. There have been diversions on the roads since time immemorial.

//the liveliness of section 54 of the Income tax Act

Ok, I personally feel that section 54 is one of the most interesting sections of the Income Tax Act.. seriously. :P

Gajar Ka Jalwa said...

My guess was you've been inspired by (not that you need it) Eggs, Beans and Crumpets because of the Latte, Machiato references. And Eggs, Beans and Crumpets contains Bingo Little and Ukridge stories as far as i remember.

Long time since I read a Mulliner. Why're ppl comparing this to Mr. Mulliner?

Our ward office, an interestingly designed building which has the ventilation of a morgue, the color scheme of a bordello, the layout of a laboratory maze and the liveliness of section 54 of the Income tax Act, houses the Ward Officer, a shifty eyed, rat-faced man who knows a sum total of six words, namely "This matter is not my responsibility". - Superlative!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for opening the New Anglers' Rest, sir. Though Mrs. Shenoy might not appreciate standing in for the Oldest Member.
Would you by any chance be the new Miss Postlethwaite?

Surdeep said...

came here for the Mulliner references ..... I was not disappointed :-)

Mama - Mia said...

seems like the Bangalore engineer, sib engineer and gang got some training from Bombay recently! :p



narendra shenoy said...

@chokka-Some really deep trenches!

@rukmani - All of the above ;)

@nowhere- Accurately diagnosed!Actually, not so much reading Mulliner as remembering him

@Pitu - She would have made a great civil servant!

@KRamchandran - I just LOVE wodehouse. If you want to join a yahoogroup (wodehouseindia@yahoogroups), mail me (

@SRK- :D That was Keynes. His dad was in the Municipality.

@Siddharth - Thanks! I remember that outrageous statement (40 potholes) Some crust! I love my municipal corporation!

@vishnudas - Mulliner is one of my faves. The perfect tall stories. Wodehouse was a genius!

@what's in a name- Ah, jolly old section 54! I could hardly wait to find out how it all came out in the end

@gajar - The setting is Mulliner. Though it's been a long while since I read one. For some reason, Mulliner books are just not available.

@Anonymous - I am indeed the sensitive Miss Postlethwaite!

@surdeep - Wodehouse fan? You must let me introduce you to wodehouse india

@mama mia - Bangalore is following in our illustrious footsteps? That is great news for the Keynesians!

maxdavinci said...

they were all either digging for gold or water.

the dug up roads though now serve as temporary ponds! It's a new patented technology called roadwater harvesting!

Arun Sundar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Arun Sundar said...

Is the betting window still open? ;)

SRK said...

"@SRK- :D That was Keynes. His dad was in the Municipality."

er, it is also attributed to Joseph Schumpeter, and his theory of 'creative destruction'.

So, my 'some Peter' pun just petered out :(

narendra shenoy said...

@srk - Ouch! I missed that! Brilliant, young SRK! 'some Peter'! Actually I didn't know it was Schumpeter who said that. Always thought it was Keynes. I suppose I missed the part where Keynes takes off his whiskers and says "April Fool! I'm Schumpeter."

Vivek said...

April already?? :D
Its funny that they do dig up roads.
Some corporation folk here fell its too much work and just lay new roads on top of the old!
PLUS SIDE: Gives you the feeling you'll escape the rising sea level crisis.
BOTTOM SIDE: You need staircases(downward) to every building on the block.

"This is an archeological excavation for an Indus Valley Civilization site"


Little Girl Lost said...

this was a hilarious post... i loved your blog

no signal said...

The importance is same across Indian Metros and non-metros. Just the motives vary to a narrow extent. By the way, you were lucky to catch up with officials (usually missing from office) :D

Coconut Chutney said...

This was awesome! :D

So what else is new ? :)

Maddy said...

no - they are digging for gold, I guess, they way it is done. with no real purpose other than to get to the depths.. one day they may hit oil - u never know.

in calicut they had done the same, and everybody was blaming the japs for it was called japan water project. the japs gave aid to put some concrete pipes and get drinking water properly pied to various parts of the city, the corporation dug up the whole place and everyday the public blame the Japanese for all this!! that is our world...

Prem Rao said...

Good article, old chap. I am a big fan of "Plum" as you seem to be:)

What's In A Name!? said...

Erm, I'm a Chartered Accountancy Student.. Hopefully, will be a qualified one in 6 months' time! :P So, saying anything against the income tax act, even if I absolutely detest the assessment procedure sections, makes me feel as if I'm cheating! :P