It was with a heavy dose of cynicism I went to see Lavasa, one of India’s few attempts at building a brand new city, which has ambitions of being an IT and learning hub, as well as a tourist destination.
For a while, media outlets gushed with praise that bore a suspicious resemblance to Lavasa’s own marketing material. Then came stories which questioned Lavasa’s land acquisition and ecological proclamations. So when I drove through the hills outside of Mumbai to check out the place myself, as the quoted travel time of three hours turned to five, I was girded for disappointment.
Yet, I confess, I liked Lavasa.
Not because its lake was beautiful (it was an uninviting shade of orangey-brown), or its hotels were charming (common corporate fare) or because its views were breathtaking (they were nice, but only one trail exists from which to see them) but I liked Lavasa because of its work-in-progress ambition to get all that right and offer affluent, but not filthy rich, India something very fine: modern amenities and working infrastructure, brightly-coloured buildings of style and flare, attempts at being eco-friendly and above all, the one thing that is missing in too many dog-eat-dog/developer-eat-developer urban areas of India — planning.
A fellow foreign journalist complained that Lavasa was too “Stepford-wives, too cookie-cutter perfect”. Yeah, bring it on, I say. In a country where chaos reigns, a little planned perfection wouldn’t go amiss.
“Yeah, but it probably won’t last,” the foreigner and locals have snidely said. Perhaps. But while one hotel bathroom I visited was already dingy, and some restaurant chairs already tired and worn, I was more than impressed to see the windows and doors of the new conference centre being cleaned, not only with modern tools but — most crucially — five days ahead of any scheduled event. Why, I asked, surprised the usual leave it till the last minute ethos wasn’t being applied? “Because it’s that person’s job to clean the windows and floors every day”. Well, yes, of course it is.