Mumbai Diaries IX

May 18, 2011

What can one say about the ‘spirit of Mumbai’ that has not been already said! You do not understand what exactly is it, yet you sense it. There is something about this city which holds your attention, arrests your thoughts. Maybe it is the overwhelming magnitude of everything here, or maybe it is that hint of bollywood all around, or it could just be the pace and range of people and lifestyles. Overwhelming it is, the magnitude of life buzzing through this city which never sleeps. And quite literally, for, where else could you find a train compartment full of people at 0330 hrs ; or a beach full of food joints, rides and people at 003o hrs . Come what may on it, it never stops for a breather, or maybe it just can’t afford to!  Even after that gruesome 26/11 they say, it hardly took time for the city to return to its normal routine. The show must go on, as they say!

And quite a show it is, at places like Marine drive, with all the cozy and uninhibited couples. Not to say that it is restricted only to this place. In fact, a curious (and maybe frustrating if you are not one of them!) observation here is the abundance of couples everywhere you go! Yeah, sure everyplace has love birds but here it is as if everybody and anybody has an arm candy! Infact you see so many couples hanging out around that it seems to be the most natural thing (okay,  it actually is!) ,and not having one seems an aberration.  But really, when any Tom, Dick or Harry walks in with a PYT, it is hard, not to feel sulky if you are alone. On a thoughtful note though, it seems an obvious repercussion of the whole bollywood and fashion extravaganza engulfing this city, which homes both the worlds. Even with all its problems and complexities, it does take it hue from its own world of silver screen! Also, as much as it has the spirit, it also flows through a lot. Almost every other food joint you spot on a roadside is named as XYZ family restaurant and bar!  That makes one wonder if the word family is suffixed only the restaurant or bar too.

The Bandstand park and fort at Bandra is another favourite destination for those wanting to pucker up, or more.  A soothing place it is, after the noisy dynamics of an ever busy Bandra, yet very much a part of it. Mostly famous for the mansion of a certain SRK, Mannat, it is a beautiful sea side park, jogging track, beach, reminiscent of a fort all at once. Apart from the King Khan, several other filmstars reside here too, but none have a sprawling mansion like him. It is a dream location to have a home, one might think, coming out on the balcony to the sun setting in an enigmatic Arabian Sea across the street. But then they might not have the pleasure of playing in the waves, getting wet and sporty in sea, despite it being in front of their home. Contrast that with the slum kids living on the beach front! Well, nobody is perfect or happy, as they say. Just a look around, and the surroundings scream of richness. The road ends with a luxury hotel, Taj Land’s End, followed by the Bandra fort, which at the very first view brings back the pleasant memories of the 2008 rom-com Jaane tu…ya Jane na. This is the place where Meow , Rats and their gang used to hang out so very often, and Imran dressed up as sweeper woman cheers up a teary Genelia. And why not, for this place is a delight for all things with a lens and screen, eyes included! The sea, the rocks, the constant anguish between the two, the plunging skyline of the Worli front, which starts to lighten up as the sunrays deceive, and towering structure of the Bandra Worli Sea link, which bridges the two most populous areas of the city. A postcard image indeed, for all things Mumbai!

Across the link, lie the two most pious symbol of faith in this land of non-belief, The Haji Ali Dargah, and the Siddhivinayak temple. Both symbolize the highest degree of devotion in respective religions, and as every other famed place in Mumbai, have a very bollywood-connotation. With the dargah featuring often in movies, most notable being the A R Rahman’s Piya Haji Ali qawwali in the Hrithik-Karishma starrer Fiza; and the temple constantly being in the media for one or the other star offering their prayers, increasingly so at the time of their movies, both are the names very common, and not just in Mumbai. Yet they are not free from the vices which such places at other lesser blessed parts of the country suffer. While the dargah is a far cry from its image of a beautiful architecture surrounded by the roaring sea, with the glaringly dirty and polluted surroundings, and a receding sea, the temple has its usual disappointing system of pay and peek-a-boo at the Lord, and to add, a system of monthly, annual and more passes for darshan, for those loaded with money! One big show business it is!

South Mumbai, or SoBo, is definitely the coolest (and hottest in some respects!) part of Mumbai, and arguably, of the country! And that means the most urbane, and catering to the fantasies of people who have a certain image of this city as THE big city of our country. Wide, clean, roads with ordered trees; big shot shops and outlets; multi starred hotels and restaurants; various nationalities of people; really pretty girls with really small clothing; Dogs on a walk with their owners ( even the dogs were of multi national breeds, with one exactly resembling the Vodafone dog!) ; really cool hangout places – bars, clubs, food  courts; separate ordered lanes for pedestrians; and of course, the characteristic tall skyscrapers (Though appreciably quite a few of these things are common to most of the Mumbai, except maybe the clean bit) are just some of them.  The Marine Drive ends at the Nariman Point, which again is a very familiar sight, the recent sightings being Munnabhai M.B.B.S. and Ghajini. On the other side, Marine Drive leads to the Malabar Hills area, which is one of the most coveted addresses in country, and for good reasons obvious at the first sight. It is a piece of land, or originally a hill, surrounded on 3 sides by the sea. And it comes quite as a surprise, amidst all the urbane landscapes, when you suddenly feel as if arrived at a hill station, with its elevating roads and the smell of the sea mixed with a cool hilly air. Interestingly, if you have ever observed a Mumbai map, the projection shown at an end is very easily identifiable. Infact, the Hanging gardens, (there are two of them, situated in the elevated area which was once just a hill) present a beautiful bird’s eye view of the entire Marine Drive, the Queen’s necklace structure, till the Nariman point. The view is so very like observed on the map, with its peculiar curve. And like the bandstand, this area too had richness written all over it, with huge mansions, luxury apartments, all sea facing. The people, surroundings, amenities all bearing the most posh and chic look you could ever see. Though its irritating when you don’t find an ATM in a kilometer long walk. Perhaps the people here are too rich to use an ATM card! The hill is also home to the Walkeshwar temple and the banganga tank. Now , if anyone actually remembers a Rani Mukerjee starrer movie called , Laga Chunari Mein Daag, this place had an important scene in it, hence my interest . Vibha, the character of Rani, who comes from Banaras to Bombay, comes to this place whenever she misses her banaras, the ghats of Ganga. As the mythology goes, Ram asked Lakshman to bring some water while passing through here, and he shot an arrow in the ground and the waters of Holy Ganga sprang through, hence the name Banganga. Though, sadly the place looked in dire need of care. Too bad the movie didn’t work, or this place could have found a few takers!

The surrounding areas, Vidhan Sabha, Churchgate, Fort, Hutatma Chowk, Colaba, Cuffe parade all are the picture perfect ‘big city’ areas, with high rising and beautiful buildings all around, and ofcourse amidst all this, the sea, sometimes at bay, usually at its usual cheery self, adds to the beauty. As the night grows, so does the charm. The region around Churchgate, with the beautiful Rajabai tower shining along its dials, in the venetian gothic Mumbai University campus looks surreal, and in a very desirable way! A number of bunglows of ministers and bureaucrats are lined up in the area. Parel and Lower Parel, bordering the SoBo areas, are also known for their high rises. Interestingly, looking at these sky kissing towers, you never get a hint of life inside, say an open window and a set of peeking eyes, or even some drying clothes in the balcony, no nothing. It also homes a lot of commercial hubs i.e. offices of multi national companies, media houses and others. A lot of economic activities though have now shifted to the Bandra Kurla Complex, a planned commercial space in the suburbs of Bandra and Kurla.

One can say it so many times, yet it cannot be over emphasized. This city is big. It is not just a city, but a symbol, a metaphor, a denotation for a lot of dreams, hopes, and aspirations, sometimes crushed, often achieved, but never ignored. If nothing else, the sheer magnitude of everything is enough to either amaze you, awe you or may be simply too lost to realize them. It encompasses so many areas in itself, Andheri, Bandra, Dadar, Ghatkopar, Kurla, Chembur, Borivali, Malad, Goregaon, Santa Cruz, Dombivali, Vashi, Panvel and more, all of which are in themselves a complete city, yet all part of this whole. All these areas are divided into east and west, mainly lying on either side of the local station. The fact that ours is a developing country is very much visible here! It is forever in the process of growth. And growth proceeds demolition.  It is a never ending tale. All around one observes here are the buildings rising up to touch the skies, flyovers being built to clear the roads, and the remaining spaces being occupied by the metro or the mono rail bridges. (Most prominently in  Wadala, which also houses the world’s biggest dome theatre-  IMAX Big Cinemas.)

Yet life manifests itself in the smallest of things only.  Like a couple hiding behind the rocks ; a little kid outside the multi starred hotels arguing to his parents for having the road side vada pav; a man sitting on the ladies seat in the bus only to be reprimanded by the conductor, and a lady; a labor family having their lunch sitting under the metro flyover surrounded by a zooming traffic, oblivious  of it;  two men in a verbal duel in the local when one apparently pushed the other, involving the choicest expletives about the human genitalia, while the crowd laughs and to put a stop, shouts slogans of Ganpatti Bappa Morya and Jai Shivaji, Jai Maharashtra!

And amidst all this chaos and maze, you strive for your path and your space, bewildered by the seemingly disordered ways, till you are one of them, and echo!

Ye hai Mumbai Nagariya tu dekh babua!

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