Shanghai ~ her undercurrents
June 13, 2012

Shanghai – we’re talking about the Bollywood movie not the glitzy city on China’s Eastern sea front this time. Just a name representing what an imaginary semi-urban city in modern India aspires to be like, but the nomenclature isn’t too far from modern day Shanghai either.

While the dusty, small-laned, goon infested, politically dominated IBP city or India Business Park aka India Banega Pardes (India will become Westernized) in the movie doesn’t look or feel anything like the modern glass building, tree-lined, modern city that Shanghai is, their underbelly reeks of many similarities.

Whatever said and done, the financial apex of China, like the fictional city IBP in the movie, is also similarly managed by politicians who are looking for material gains – securing a large business deal, positions in multi-nationals and fancy cars which are all bought by the politibureau or people with connections. In the past few years, quite a few of Shanghai’s leaders have been prosecuted for corruption, while yet many more misdemeanors have been wiped beneath the rug. Nonetheless, Shanghai the city hasn’t seen this change without its fair share of upright citizens that have stood to defend the very ground beneath their feet from slipping away. The rising resulting social maelstrom between the haves & have-nots, those who have gained and not gained from capitalism is also creating deep factions within Shanghai’s social fabric. Like in the city, as in the recently released movie, the power favours the rich while the poor continue to struggle and  protest.

About a decade back, when widespread construction was ruling Shanghai, when one-third of the worlds construction material was in China, the city also saw a lot of protests. Like the upright left-wing activist Prosenjit Chatterjee that lands in IBP to protect the city from total political annihilation, so did many ordinary citizens and prominent people in Shanghai stand up, take to the streets, literally clinging to their houses as bull dozers scrapped away homes, at the states behest


Further, also like IBP wanted to transform the city, from an aspirational shanty-town to a global megapolis, so has the Shanghai government converted, small, low cost housing, farmland and peasant quarters into modern day Luijiazui, now the financial nerve center of Shanghai. Anybody who visits Luijiazui on the Pudong side of the Huang Pu river that run across the city, will tell you that never in their wildest dreams could they ever imagine, the ground beneath their feet was rice fields just 20 years ago.

Transformations is what the city of Shanghai epitomizes, citizens don’t blink anymore when a favourite restaurant gets razed to the ground, and is quickly replaced by another glass skycraper and why should they? The Shanghainese in their 20’s-30’s have seen more change in their lives today than anybody on planet earth. The social, emotional, physical and psychological ramifications this mega change has had have been generation altering, but that then thats the price Shanghai paid for her glory, for her status in the world today, is any Indian citizen, politician or city willing to make the same sacrifice?

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