Thursday, 8 March 2012


Indians are great ones at comparisons and at imitating, in their own characteristic style, what people abroad have discovered or invented or made. We are also good at making words that never existed originally in the 'foreign' language. For example, if the English have a word called postpone, we feel that pone must be a word by itself and can be used with both post and pre. (Thank God, we don't have a Preman to deliver mails that we are about to write). So, if they have a Hollywood, we must have a Bollywood. If they have a great city in Shanghai, we must have aamchi Mumbai equally great.

Hence, irrespective of where we are currently (Mumbai placed 116th in world cities for liveability ahead of only Dhaka, Tripoli, Jakarta etc) we have come up with a comparison between Mumbai and Shanghai; believing, as with everything else, that if it rhymes, it must also appeal to reason. We feel that simply by hoping and wishing, some magic wand will be waved and, lo and behold, Mumbai would become Shanghai. The fact is that despite the Western propaganda to forever denigrate China, Shanghai now ranks amongst the best in the world and Mumbai amongst the worst. Foreigners come to Mumabi to transact business as our corporate honchos have headquarters in Mumbai. However, rarely does anyone visit Mumbai to look at anything beautiful here.

Two years ago, in January, I visited China with the Naval Higher Command Course of the Indian Navy (I was the Director of the College of Naval Warfare). The first Chinese city that we touched down at was Shanghai, straight from Mumbai. Here is what we saw.

An elevated way goes across the city
We found the city spic and span; with no comaprison with Mumbai whatsover. There are no ubiquitous slums, filth, traffic chaos, dust and confusion. As far as traffic is concerned, they have an elevated way that goes across the length of the city. At least I didn't come across the kind of perpetual traffic jams that are so common in Mumbai.

The old existing with the new
What Shanghai is all about can be seen on Wikipedia or Wikitours and other sites. But, I am giving the pics and description to show my impressions of the city.

Lets start our visit from Xintiandi. It is an affluent, car-free shopping district of Shanghai. Seeing it at night is an exquisite experience. Even though it is the site of the first congress of the Communist Party of China, the narrow streets are marked by restaurants, cafes, shopping malls and theatres. Have a look at the following pictures:

My wife and I at the Xintiandi

Nanjing Road is the main shopping street of Shanghai and is one of the world's busiest shopping streets. The first thing that occurs to you here is that it appears as grand, if not better, than the Times Square in New York. Except for the toy trains, which don't come in your way, it is a pedestrian's delight. Have a look at the following pictures and see if Mumbai would ever have something similar:

Nanjing Street at Night is a Visual Delight
Night or day, it is meant for pedestrians only

One of the toy trains for the shoppers

Despite all the population of China....

....people dont bump into one another as they do in Mumbai

The orderly behaviour of the people is commendable
It is a shopper's paradise

Shanghai glitters at night and is spic n span by day. One reason why day-dreamers in India and Mumbai ike to compare with Shanghai is because the re-development of the city into one of the top financial capitals of the world began only about two decades back. It is now ranked fifth in the 2011 edition of Global Financial Centres Index published by the city of London. However, even in the beginning of the last century Shanghai was the most prosperous and largest city in the Far East. Three years back, the Shanghai Stock Exchange was ranked third amongst the stock exchanges of he world in terms of trading volumes and sixth in terms of total capitalisation of listed companies.

Central Business District of Shanghai is Pudong. Compare it with Colaba and also compare it with the efforts in last two decades to have a brand new CBD in Belapur, Mumbai:

Pudong at night
Pudong in the daytime
The sky tower to the left of the picture above is the TV tower in Shanghai called the Oriental Pearl Tower or simply the Pearl Tower. Even though I was not a very senior Indian Navy officer, but, being the head of the College of Naval Warfare (Now Naval War College) from where most flag officers in the Navy graduate, the Chinese accorded me a grand welcome. We, in India, reserve this kind of welcome for the political big wigs only; having no respect for the armed forces, except when we require them.

The Pearl Tower is 438 m high and was completed in four years between 1990 and 1994. For 13 years stood as the tallest structure in Shanghai until it was overtaken by the Shanghai World Financial Center. Even though a symbol of modernity,  the design of the building is said to be based on a verse of the Tang Dynasty poem Pipa Song. The poem by Bai Juyi reminds one about the sound of pipa instrument, which is like pearls falling on a jade plate.
The following pictures give the views of the tower, the viewing gallery and of the areas around the tower. Even though it is a tourist place and tourist district (people throng here in thousands), please notice that there are no ubiquitous garbage dumps, litter and filth unlike Mumbai.

The Oriental Pearl Tower at Pudong, Shanghai

My wife with the PLA (Navy) officer Guide 'Maria'

Ferries at the Huangpu river
All that you see from the tower is marked on the glass consoles at the gallery. In addition, one can listen to the commentary on an audio-video device. And then, of course, there are guides:

A view of the Viewing Gallery

Have a look at the Oriental Pearl Tower in comparison to other TV Towers in the world:

At the ground floor of the Tower is the Shanghai Urban History and Development Musuem. It is really equisitely laid out showing the history of the city of Shanghai, its culture, traditions etc. I found it is better laid out and more imaginatively displayed than Madame Tussaud's at London. Have a look: the first three pictures are of displays just outside the museum:

Entrance to the museaum

Perserving history; Shanghai style

More realistic than Madame Tussaud's

There is a display on every aspect of city history and development:

This is not a picture in the musuem but a large court room with wax figures

Ballroom with life-size figures

Shanghai Expo was going to be held from 1st of May 2010 to 31 Oct 2010. Even though we visited Shanghai in the month of January 2010, everything about the Expo was ready and there was no last minute rush as could be seen at New Delhi Commonwealth Games etc. Picture below is the entrance of the Expo Gallery:

The large real-life displays in the Gallery had visitors see the city, its sights and greatness:

The displays could be lit too to show the city in all its glory at night:

Signing the Visitors Book at the Gallery
The Gallery also had a 3D description of the city and the various Expo pavillions.

Back to the entrance
Chinese are very fond of pets and these can be seen everywhere. Like people, these too are very well behaved. Mumbai is not the city for pets but for stray dogs:

This is how spic n span Shanghai looks:

Even the old quarters are clean:

Before I end about Shanghai and show Mumbai in comparison, let me take you to the Yuyuan Garden in the heart of the old city, showing taditional Shanghai in the midst of modernity. Here is a description of it from Wilipedia: The garden was first established in 1559 as a private garden created by Pan Yunduan, who spent almost 20 years building a garden to please his father Pan En, a high-ranking official in the Ming Dynasty, during his father's old age. Over the years, the gardens fell into disrepair until about 1760 when bought by merchants, before suffering extensive damage in the 19th century. In 1842, during the Opium Wars, the British army occupied the City God Temple for five days. During the Taiping Rebellion the gardens were occupied by imperial troops, and damaged again by the Japanese in 1942. They were repaired by the Shanghai government from 1956–1961, opened to the public in 1961, and declared a national monument in 1982.

Views of the old city just outside the Yuyuan Garden:
Modernity with the tradition
Entrance to the Yuyuan Garden
No photo-essay about Shanghai can be complete without a mention of the famous Sahnghai Acrobatics. The acrobatic performances are held each night and last for about 2 hours. The Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe, established in 1951 is one of the best in China. It frequently tours internationally and perform routinely at Shanghai and other cities in China. An acrobatic show has become one of the most popular evening entertainments for tourists in Shanghai. You can enjoy gravity-defying contortionism, juggling, unicycling, chair-stacking, and plate-spinning acts. It is simply breath-taking and with clockwork precision; two hours without a break and you never know how the time flies.

The trees and the buildings are beautifully lit at night

Entrance to the Acrobatics Theatre

It is simply breath-taking

In addition to acrobatics skills, items are presented very imaginatively

With this, lets now turn to Aamchi Mumbai. There are some heritage buildings in Mumabi like the World Heritage Victoria Terminus, belatedly having changed its name to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus or the Gateway of India, which was built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Bombay in Dec 1911.

Victoria Terminus, now called Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus

Apollo Bunder showing the Taj Mahal Hotel and the Gateway of India
However, what hits you hard about Mumbai is the filth everywhere, the open defecation and urination, the lack of any beautiful or well maintained buildings, pot holed roads, slums, squalor and lakhs of people giving you no space at all.

All water bodies in Mumbai, without exception, are filthy

Slums right next to the airport
Let alone a foreigner driving in Mumbai, the city's overcrowded and rickety trains are not at all safe for anyone at all:

Mumbai roads and railways are notorious for their breakdowns; anything more than the smallest rains brings the city to a stand-still.

Mithi river cleaning is going on for quite sometime but in Mumbai, the politics gets into everything and the authorities just don't have the determination to finish any project:

The last census showed that in Dharavi, there is a toilet to about 750 people and hence open defecation is a norm. Similarly, people living in extreme filthy conditions is a common sight.

The buildings perpetually look black and ugly and people crossing the railway lines is a common sight. Indeed, the authorities shy away from bringing any sort of discipline in civic life.

During the rains, people are virtually by themselves battling against the ravages of nature. (Read Mumbai Rains in the same blog)

Traffic in Mumbai is totally chaotic and one feels grateful to God if one reaches the destination without injury or death (Read 'Why Must We Love Indian Roads?'). In addition, Mumbai is amongst the noisiest cities in the world. The general noise is increased manifold during the religious festivals (Read 'A Quieter Mumbai - Is It A Pipe Dream?)

What Needs to be Done? I can go on and on. However, here is a quick list of things to accomplish the make-over of Mumbai into Shanghai:
  • The first thing to do is to get rid of the misplaced notion that Mumbai is livable and a great city. It is really at the bottom of the world's big cities. With this realisation should come the sobering thought that something needs to be done urgently before people die of plague and other epidemics and of unsafe transportation conditions.
  • The second thing to do is to bring some discipline in Mumbai's civic life. At the present juncture all political parties revel in promoting indiscipline, pandering to such "pro poor policies" as those that do nothing to make the lives of poor better but use them as vote banks.
  • BMC or Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporations is the richest municipal corporation in Asia; there is, therefore, no shortage of funds. However, large scale corruption and inefficiency are endemic. Surprisingly, even after the repeated criticism of the people against failure of BMC to maintain even a modicum of civic life, it was recently voted back into power. This shows the hold of the politicians on the vote banks (mostly in slums; after independence, the areas under slums have almost doubled in percentage) and the apathy of the well-meaning people in participating in elections that can change their lot. After 26/11 Terror Attacks in Colaba, when the people vented their anger at the authorities for not doing anything to make their lives safer, Colaba recorded the lowest percentage of voters in the elections.
  • Roads in the city are in pathetic state due to rampant corruption in which both the authorities and the contractors participate. This has to be put a stop to and people at large must demand this of the authorities. One method is to display the pictures and names of the concerned contractor and the councillor on every road maintained by them.
  • We need to ensure that infrastructural projects don't keep pace with the past demand but with the future projections. These are to be made corruption free, with transparent implementation.
  • There has to be more coordination between various givernment departments so that telephones department, for example, doesn't routinely dig those roads that have just been re-surfaced.
  • The city urgently needs an efficient garbage disposal system.
  • Monitoring of traffic and booking of defaulters has to be more efficient rather than based on ad-hoc fining, bribes etc.
  • Decongestion of some parts of the city can only be done by providing alternatives. For example, the reason why Mumbai trains are overcrowded is because millions of people commute to South Mumabi everyday where majority of business and government offices are situated. Strong political and corporate will is required to move out some of these to the suburbs and Navi Mumbai.
  • Harvesting of rainwater is one of the means to get over Mumbai's perennial water shortages. Once again, it has to be done with greater sense of urgency.
  • Meausres like air-conditioned trains will greatly reduce the car traffic in the city.
  • Housing laws need to made more stringent. At the present juncture taking liberities with the laws is more of a rule than exception. The politician-builder link also needs to be breached.
A new dawn for Mumbai to realise its dream of becoming another Shanghai awaits us only if we have the will to bring about changes that may be in conflict with our habitual way of doing things. It is better to do these things now rather than after a number of disasters.


  1. A wonderful photo-essay and comparision. Loved the Shanghai pics. Although i have never been to Mumbai, the points you have put forth bring out a lot about the city.
    Found this a very informative article. Thanks :)

    1. Thank you Antarik. Glad that you liked it. It takes days to put together a blogpost like this; but, I guess it is worth the trouble

  2. Loved the tour of Shanghai through your pictures. Seems like a lovely city. Now about Mumbai, I cannot say much as I have never lived in the city. But in general, in India, we don't have any world class cities. We have many problems in our country which has negative influence on development. But on the positive side, we are already at the bottom. So hopefully, the future will have us going up. As they say, if you aim for the stars, you will at least reach the top of the tree. If we aim to make Mumtbai the next Shanghai, hopefully we will end up in a city somewhat more liveable than the current.

    1. Thank you. And to think we had the two civilizations in India that taught the world town planning!

  3. Sir, With Due Respect I disagree with you in parts.
    Firstly, even comparing Mumbai and Shanghai is presently Impractical but still if comparison has to be done it has to be done with an Unbiased Mind.
    Just displaying all Attractive,charming pictures of Shanghai gives a wrong impression to the reader who has actually not visited Shanghai.But there is a Dark Side to Shanghai too just like any other Major City in the East. You should post those pictures too! Just like Mumbai Shanghai has got a major Slum problem. Talking about corruption, its at a Whole New Level in China!
    Now it comes to Mumbai. Just because you want to prove your point that Mumbai is pathetic you've like selected the worst images of Mumbai and posted them here!!.Unfair! Its not the financial capital of India and one of the leading cities in Asia for no reason!
    So my point is if you want to compare two things they should be compared without a Bias.
    I apologize if I was rude but I think it is my job to put the REALITY in front of the readers.

    1. I drew the comparison only because a few years back the civik authorities of Mumbai, followed by the media, wanted Mumbai to become another Shanghai!

      Mumbai is a dying city. At one time, Mumbai had a great maritime heritage. Now, all the maritime assets like ports and shipyards are shifting to Gujarat. You must read the last census figures about how many people in Mumbai defecate in the open. In Dharavi, for example, they have 900 people to one toilet!

      We have seen many reports in the last decade, the most famous being McKinsey report to inject fresh blood into Mumbai's crumbling infrastructure. However, when are we going to start doing it?

      It is a financial capital because of the Stock Exchanges: both BSE and NSE. However, it is not a leading city in Asia. The last indices published in newspapers, was that Mumbai ranked amongst the worst in several indices in Asia itself. Whilst Bangalore scored the best in the country, it was ranked 141st in a list of 221 big cities. The link of this report is:

  4. Well we all know that but as an Indian you should even post the development happening(even if it is negligible). Displaying only the Dirty,Filthy Mumbai is not done especially as you're an Indian!!Criticise the Bad things but have the courtesy to Appreciate the Good things too(even if they are negligible in front of the Negative things).

    1. Thank you. Will keep that in mind.


I welcome all your comments as long as these are not vituperative, use obscene language and are communal