The colony came up in the 1950s. Roads were wide, drains worked, trees gave shade. All was well with the world. These upper class people needed their servants who settled into what became a huge slum nearby. The colony residents complained to each other about the area being degraded but did nothing about it. They needed the servants you see. As for their living conditions, what is the Government there for Saar?
In the 1960s came a huge cyclone and the government was faced with the problem of housing the affected families. The slum near the colony was selected as a suitable area for this. An election was coming and so it was imperative to do something. Build houses for them said the Government. But the area will get congested protested a Corporation Engineer. And it is against the land rules. Water supply will become an issue he said. The Government had him transferred to the Archives and told his successor to adjust. This was done and the slum colony doubled. The Government was re-elected. Most of the new allottees went back to their original slum after renting out their new premises. These became shops and because shops need a street frontage, many took over the sidewalks and built facades on them.
Those in the bungalows protested but the local MLA died just then, bringing about a by-election. The bungalow dwellers were promised an eviction drive after the election. Just then the opposition engineered a protest by the slum dwellers, who were now demanding electricity. This was agreed to at once. Makeshift junction boxes came up, from which cables dangled all over the place. When it rained, someone or the other was electrocuted but then in a country with such a vast population Saar something like this will happen no? By then, many in the bungalows had begun to argue in favour of the shops – everything was just around the corner they said. Mamas who smoked on the sly were vociferous in their support. The shops were there to stay.
The groundwater soon dried up. There were some who pointed out that this was because of the excess drawing from the ground and the covering of the area in concrete and asphalt but these were shouted down as idealistic. This is a poor country Saar they said, and such notions are for Europe. A protest in which everyone joined in, bungalow and slum, soon resulted in plastic water tanks to be put up at every street corner. Someone said building a temple would be of help and so up it came, blocking off part of a street. As though in answer to this prayer the rains came copiously and flooded the area. The Corporation engineer said this was because the temple had blocked the drain. But who can evict the Gods? The local minorities complained that the temple played religious music each morning and disturbed their sleep. So a church and a mosque were built, at two other corners. Now music was on tap for most of the day. The area flooded every year but the wells remained dry. Raising the road level was the only answer. This was done.
By the 1980s, the bungalows were emptying one by one. Children from the US came down to strike real estate deals. Development was the order of the day. Brokers, contractors and architects swarmed the area. They all had only one refrain – maximise the return from the land. As per law the road width permitted only ground plus two floors, but everyone knew someone in the Corporation and so many additional floors were built. All were regularised later. Because the area was prone to flooding, these new highrises were built on raised plinths. Nobody wanted drain in front of thei property (market value Saar) and so quite a few were closed. The roads flooded even more. And so the road level was raised. The slum opposite protested. A meeting was held and it was decided that the place would be demolished and redeveloped into four storey housing board flats. This was done. And yet the roads flooded during rains. And still the wells ran dry. Nobody bothered – they had water delivered by tanker and if that failed there were 500 feet bore wells in every building to tap some deep vein of subterranean water. No matter it was brackish or blackish or both.
Last week came the mother of all downpours. There was no let up. The water levels rose alarmingly. The drains were working in the reverse, bringing in water from elsewhere. There was only one option – the authorities dug a deep trench in pouring rain for which everybody praised them. The water began filling the gaping hole. To avoid any accidents, the authorities placed a set of metal barricades across the trench to prevent people from crossing over. But this is the land of the enterprising. People thought nothing of jumping across. Some two wheeler riders discovered that if you moved a barricade or two, you could go ‘manage’. Even cars followed suit, though they did have a bumpy ride and the occupants cursed the authorities.
Not everyone was so lucky. An electrician (father of two) tried crossing the trench on his bike, fell in, was pulled out and died a short while later. Residents of the colony staged a protest against the failed infrastructure of the area. The incident received wide media coverage. The authorities promised action.