Saturday, June 14, 2008

Lessons from the chutney stone: Mastic-ization of Mumbai Roads...रस्त्याला टाकी लावा......

Takes me back to the days when chutneys were still ground on stones. My mother must have been the last of those loyalists who looked down their noses at folks trying to make lassi in mixers, pretending that dahi became buttermilk solely due to blender brilliance, and of course those who thought that metal blades making a mess of coriander and chilles was something to be thrilled about.

There is something about fresh moist coriander, chopped finger burning chillies, fragrant fresh coconut, refreshing sprigs of mint , some lashings of kairi, all this oozing aroma as it lies on a dark flat stone, being crushed and dragged under another smaller cylindrical stone, getting enriched with jeera,salt, and other things.

So much so, that, about 30 years ago, I once lugged a biggish chutney stone from Pune to Mumbai , in a tough shoulder bag , in a crowded second class ladies compartment in the first train of the day, and won the everlasting admiration and encouragement of those hardworking women (who commute to work in Mumbai daily), who were so impressed that they even helped me carry it towards the compartment exit, as I battled entering passengers, trying my best not to injure them , and also myself, as I jumped out in a gravity defying manner , all this in the standard 30 second stop at the station.

It instilled in me a healthy respect for weight bearing exercises , as well as my clavicles. and subscapularises, and my subclavicles.

One of the things one needs to do as maintenance from time to time , on these stones, is to ensure a roughened surface. As you grind more and more chutneys, and various lipsmacking fluids kind of overpower the surface, gradually smoothening it with spicy wear and tear, a time comes, when you need to do what is called , "taki lavne" in vernacular, but simply means that you call someone to hammer the surface with a special nail in a special manner, so as to create the correct rough surface once again.

Unfortunately, the folks at the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai(MCGM), almost all of who grew up , undoubtedly in traditional chutney households, have been so wonderstruck with mastic and asphalt, that they have forgotten this simple friction principle.

So we have 136 accidents on the Eastern Express Highway in the first 5 days, of a monsoon, that has started this year, in a fury reminiscent of the 2005 deluge. Roads were treated with mastic and asphalt, to avoid fast creations of potholes, which is the norm for our roads. This time the roads became too smooth, and vehicles skidded, many people were injured, and vehicles damaged. A van returning with a marriage party skidded , killing an entire family , with the exception of the father.

I wonder if the MCGM knows that Ireland resurfaced its mastic-ed roads into a non-mastic-ed state , and restricted the mastic-asphalt stuff to roads where the speed limit was 30 mph. Police did trials on these roads before foisting it on the public, and were aghast at , what is called skid resistance.
Tests initiated by the National Roads Authorities (NRA) in the Irish Republic raised questions about the materials' ability to provide enough friction for tyres at higher speeds.

Turns out that the
Highways Agency of the UK , doesnt agree. Even though BBC reports mentioned police in Debyshire doing a test and agreeing with the Irish. Germany also has reservations about the use of this, and they actually were the pioneers of this mastic asphalt stuff.

Then there is this high cost of what is known as filler and binder material while laying the asphalt-mastic stuff. Science says that Stone Mastic Asphalt(
SMA ) mix must be cooled to 40°C to prevent flushing of the binder to the surface, and it is this binder stuff on the surface which needs to be worn off so prevent skidding.

It may be even necessary initially to do to the road, what we did to the chutney stone. In road parlance it is called applying a small clean grit.

In many ways, thats what it takes. Grit . Determination.

To do excellent scientific supervision. To ensure that the epidemic of easy money, consequent to contractors using cheaper fillers etc, is handled strictly. To ensure, that when an adverse experience is indicated in Indian conditions, technology be adapted to our situation. Maybe the roads should have been masti-asphalted at the end of the last monsoon. So the binder on the surface would have nicely worn off by this monsoon, given our huge traffic density and vehicle variety.

Our corporators gift themselves laptops. They go on junkets to Europe , ostensibly to study governance. Presumably with eyes and ears closed. Pockets open. I wish they would surf and see this .

What is interesting is that the country(UK) whose governance model we apparently follow, had apparently banned the use of this mastic-asphalt, only to overturn that some time later.

BBC did a campaign. No change. Rings a bell ?

A police seargent in Debyshire testing the surface said "
It was a sunny day in August. I jumped on the brakes and the car just kept going and going.Instead of the scream of tyre on road and a cloud of smoke there was just a gentle hiss as I passed over the road, and I skidded far further than I ever expected to."

Back to Mumbai

Those 136 accident cases in 5 days.

The marriage party where a skidding vehicle killed all but one family member.

Maybe, like the sergeant said, there was a gentle hiss.

But is the MCGM listening to the screams of those that are no more?


  1. Very informative blog. I love it. I see the roads here need lots of improvement and whatever resurfacing that is done, after the monsoon gets washed away and the pot holes surfaces.I see that there is a lack of proper drainage or a central drainage system to cater for the surface run-off after a heavy downpour. What you get is sub-base and base getting eroded and the compaction turns in a sludge for it to be undermined and thus the failure of the road itself. This is a never ending cycle as the same contractor is virtually guaranteed life long contract on repair works from the poor tax payers money. Correct me if I am wrong.

  2. Thanks for giving us such a good blog.keep up the good work
    Mastics for stone