A Tale of our Two Cities

18 Jun,2020



By Avik Chattopadhyay


Years back, I came across a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit on the future competitiveness of cities in the year 2025. I remember I was quite pleased at seeing seven Indian cities feature in the list of 120 but mighty upset at seeing none in the Top 50. Mumbai and Delhi ranked #51 and #56 respectively while Bengaluru, Pune, Hyderabad, Chennai and Kolkata were hovering around the 100 mark. What nerve, I had thought then, to have found no Indian city good enough for being in the Top 50.


If the EIU were to undertake the same exercise today, what would the rankings be, given how each city in the world has tackled the pandemic and handled the concurrent economic meltdown? Would New York still be #1? Would Mumbai and Delhi drop further? Would Bengaluru and Pune move up? Would Kolkata be off the list altogether?


Places, just like people and products are brands. For, they have a history or legacy, a unique culture, a set of values, a promise to their inhabitants and a certain personality that makes each unique. Unique enough to elicit a certain kind of response when mentioned. Conjure up distinct images of that place, whether good or bad, driven from the inhabitants and their behaviour, culture, food, architecture, ethnicity, industry, opportunity and consistency.


In the tackling of the current pandemic in India, the two cities of Mumbai and Delhi stand out as symptomatic of the current state of affairs. Their own brand images have taken a battering that will take some of the most expert of minds and hands to repair.


Mumbai is money and entertainment. Delhi is power and size.

The ‘Bhais’ are in Mumbai and the ‘Baaps’ are in Delhi.

The Mumbaikars and Dilliwalas take pride in “Mumbai Meri Jaan” and “Dilwaalon ki Dilli”.

Mumbai always ‘bounces back’ and Delhi ‘never gives up’.

The former is the City of Dreams and the latter is the Capital City.

Both have the lenses of national and global media aimed at them.

Both cities embody “India” as a brand, both internally and before the world.

Therefore, how both cities have been ‘behaving’ during this crisis leaves an indelible imprint in the minds of millions – the citizens, the diaspora and the others.


Both cities displayed behaviour that is truly disturbing and have failed in the specific areas their personalities have been built upon.


Both have failed in the fundamental tangible areas of planning, resource building, implementation and enforcement. Both have equally failed in the intangible aspects of empathy, inclusiveness and social security.


The Bhais of Mumbai could not rally resources to roll out sanitisation, sterilisation and distancing at every ‘shakha’ level. They did not offer their famed ‘protection’ to the millions of migrant workers who believed in the city of dreams.


Apart from making a few cursory videos the famed Bollywood did not come together united and dive into the action for their fans that make them. The billionaires in their tony homes could have pooled in resources to create living facilities in the stadia, in hotels, on the beaches and in closed educational institutions which could have housed thousands that make up the backbone of the city, her migrant workers.


The underworld that so famously protects could have adopted specific slum clusters and given their all for the inhabitants. Suddenly, everyone seemed to maintain social distancing to the hilt…right to the wallet and clout too. Political factions used this as yet another opportunity to hoist the ‘son of the soil’ flag.


The “jaan” went out of Mumbai’s life when these hapless and overanxious people came out onto the streets wanting to go ‘home’, not to spread the virus but to save themselves from it. This city was not their home anymore. It had let them down when it mattered. In fact, abandoned them when they were most vulnerable. Just like the new-born child crying in the trash bin that we have seen in so many Bollywood films. Imagine if he grows up with a grudge against this “sapnon ka shehr” [city of dreams]. It is not even “apnon ka shehr” [our city]!


Delhi, to the Mumbaikar, has always been a brash, selfish and uncultured lot of people. While I beg to differ on the last count, I do tend to agree on the first two. Thankfully, being the capital, the state and central government machinery takes care of the physical manifestation of the city. While the Dilliwala can be brand and selfish, s/he cares a damn for this ‘son of the soil’ thingy as most of them have anyway migrated from some part of the country [and Pakistan] and settled here.


Delhi is full of “Baaps” and one typically cites one of them at all junctures of life, from a traffic fine to an ED raid. However, all the Baaps let Delhi down, of all colours, castes and hues. The famed machinery was initially sputtering along on first gear and now attempts a reverse. The city is all about tangibles but each parameter has been found wanting due to lack of cohesion, state-centre politics and refusing to get the domain experts drive the vehicle of control and cure.


The glaring lack of infrastructure coupled with inept planners have been exposed. And then in a moment of utter panic, the “dil” of Delhi also went bust when the daily wage and marginal workers were asked to go ‘home’. The Baaps could have come out united for the cause, demonstrating a rare moment of maturity in a state of emergency. Their cadres could have worked together, their resources could have been pooled for greater impact. None of that has happened. The machinery just raised its hands in despair, driving more fear by painting pictures of impending disaster hoping manna would fall from somewhere. And the Centre must be pleased for the State had to finally request for immenent help. One “Baap” more powerful than the other.


Today, Delhi is not just a ‘hotbed’ of the pandemic, it is a ‘powder keg’ waiting to explode with no clear projections of where the capital city is headed.


Both cities are so symbolic of where the nation stands today.

One city tells you we are getting yet more parochial and insular as regions, states and cities. The unique fabric that is India, is being taken apart, yarn by yarn.

The other city is a demonstration of abject infrastructure and implementation, with corruption reaching the deepest levels of functioning and work ethos and political one-upmanship taking priority over national calamity.

Neither is a city where any self-respecting Indian, across the economic strata, would like to live in.

For it can disown, discard and divide you at a moment when you are most vulnerable.

Not the best flag-bearers of the India brand anyway.


Avik Chattopadhyay is a senior marketing and business strategist. He writes most other Thursdays on MxMIndia. His views here are personal



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