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Safe and Warm in the City of Mumbai

Call me Pollyanna if you must, but I believe that people are generally good until proven otherwise. However, it’s very difficult to stick to this truism in many places around the world, especially the very large metro areas. It’s not that people are not good there, it’s just that we see very few demonstrations of it.

Either its a New York City where you are invisible – just one of the multitudes lost in the crowds, or it’s Los Angeles where again you are invisible – in the vast expanse of neighborhoods. Actually, I take that back, in NYC, sometimes you are not invisible but you wish you were, because someone else was rude to you just now…:)

I do see a difference in some of the southern US cities, and I see a difference in smaller towns, wherever they may be. 

Not that it’s a small town by any account, but that brings me to Mumbai.  I’ve compared its similiarities to NYC in another post but there are a couple of major differences.

Safe and Warm in the City of Mumbai!

For one, in Mumbai, people are warm to others. You may be a stranger or you may be a lifer, whatever the case may be, you are rarely invisible, and it’s even rarer to encounter rude behavior. People generally have a ‘live and let live’ attitude, and they are helpful when you need help. This is why I enjoy taking my visiting friends and showing them around the city. The weather may be unbearable in summer, but its people are not!

Here’s another quality that may surprise you. Notwithstanding all the stories you hear about the Mafia underworld of Mumbai, this is a safe city. It is said that a woman alone can take a taxi at 2 am in the morning and feel safe about reaching her destination problem-free. I have never done that before. But I could, without being overly concerned, since I have heard about Mumbai’s safety so many times from so many different people. I can’t say I’d do the same in New Delhi! And I won’t even feel that comfortable doing so in Bangalore or Hyderabad.

People in Mumbai - Monsoon Sunday at Gateway of India

Now that I’ve been here for a few months, I really believe in these qualities of Mumbai – people are generally nice to you, and it is known to be a safe city for ordinary people. I say this while acknowledging but ignoring some very special cases such as 26/11 and even the most recent bomb blasts that occurred just a few days ago .  I relegate those to terrible acts of terrorism by a small fringe element – people essentially not from Bombay but seeking to destroy its very essence.

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So, back to the premise that people here are basically good-natured and warm. What I wonder though is, why is this the case?

Is it simply endemic to the region, i.e., are people from Maharashtra just built this way?

Or, rather, is it because Mumbai is a melting pot of so many different cultures from around the country (and world) that it has become that way?

I really don’t know the answer, but would sure love to hear others’ theories about this. Please, enlighten me!

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Photo 1: http://www.flickr.com/photos/joezach/90248788/ {{cc-by-2.0}} 

Photo 2: Sandhya – June 2011

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India: Overwhelmingly young.

When I think of youth, the words that pop in my mind are energy, vitality, potential and future.  In India, when I look around, I see a predominance of youth.  I see many more young people and children than I do the middle-aged or older folks.  I see them in the city and in normal day-to-day places that I visit. Whether it is the office, the supermarket, the mall, the cinema or yes, on the streets of Mumbai (or any other city in India).

It seems strange to describe one of the most ancient cultures in the world as young.   But, that’s just what India is today.  Most of the people of today’s India are young.  It’s a great competitive advantage for the country.  And it speaks volumes for the potential of the country and its future, as you can imagine.

Now for some dry stats.  According to the latest demographic profile of India, the median age is 26 years and over 29% of the country is below the age of 14 years.  Incredibly, 50% of the country is under the age of 25 and 65% under the age of 35 – this has to be the youngest country in the world!  In sheer numbers if not in percentages, it has to be.  By 2020, it is expected that the average age in India will be 29, compared to 37 for China and 48 for Japan.   Here’s more – the median age in the United States today is already 36.5.   For such a young country, it’s definitely an older nation!

Doing a quick calculation and using the rounded population of 1.2 billion, the number of people under 25 in India is approaching 600 million people. That’s not only a staggering number, it’s TWICE the population of the United States!

And so much has changed in the years that I have been away!  When I was growing up in India, I was definitely living in a different world.  The third world.  I knew it and I felt it, and so did everyone around me.  The grass not only looked greener on the other side, it was.

Random Street Scene - Do you see any older folks?

But the youth in India today appear to have a different perspective.  There is not this sense of being disadvantaged.   Instead, there appears to be a reflection of hope and progress and growth.  A feeling that whatever economic level they find themselves in, they believe that they can persevere, and that with hard work or with sheer smarts they can move to that next level and then the next after that.  In addition, they seem to feel that in order to do that, they don’t need to ship themselves out of the country to some foreign land of opportunity.   That’s because, their perspective is that the land of opportunity is right here.

I am generalizing a bit, but even so, that is the overall feeling that I get when I see and listen to these young people.  Many feel that this is the happening place, that this is the land of opportunity, and that they are young and hopeful enough to get a piece of it for themselves.

So, that’s the rosy side of the equation.  There is this tough veneer of progress and growth.

What I am unable to find or identify is the leadership that is ensuring that this critical and strategic advantage of India is being harnessed, positioned and developed like it should.  Whether in education or sports or arts or science or business, are all the young people being given that platform from which they can launch themselves to create a better tomorrow for themselves and the country?  Or are they simply, selectively offered opportunities based on the accident of their birth family and situation?

You may say, why, that’s what the government is doing.   But, you’ve got to do better than that to make me a believer!  Name an individual or two – who are excited and concerned, and are proactively working to have a 5, 10, 15 year plan that is focused on harnessing the power of youth.   A vision, a bit like the Green Revolution of old times, that resonates, and that citizens recognize and work towards…

Okay, I’ll stop now.  Today is the day to to simply reflect on and celebrate the preponderance of youth in India today, and what this could mean for the country.

Reflecting on what realistically could happen to them and their potential is a rant for another day.

Photo: vishalphotography.com

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