March 8, 2011
It has not been long, when I first set foot on this land, wide eyed and bewildered by the seemingly chaotic ways of the metro. In seven mere weeks, it is only possible to get a whiff of a city as big as this, if at all. But yes, a sense of familiarity now exudes the places which I revisit, again and again. The feeling of anticipation has vanished while visiting the major parts of it. Reaching most locations in the city does not require a map now, and most importantly, an order is now visible amidst the chaos!
The crowd on the bus stands now comes across as a disciplined queue; the ticket lines for the locals feel small, the local crowd is just another crowd like the ones in college before a concert, which while departing becomes a queue; the random locals seem meticulously planned; the high and low crowd hours are evident; boarding the correct train is not a worry now; the order of the stations has seeped in; the local accent and shopkeeper’s lingo does not seem weird; and in so many ways, I live in this city. Even with all it’s over speedy pace and rush, some things always and everywhere denote a thehrav. A dog at the Thane station that always sleeps between the ticket queues and on being kicked waves it tail, which is half cut; an old woman on the skywalk of kalyan station who rubs her stomach and asks for food, and on being given some, keeps it in her sachet, probably for her kids; the poor kids outside the Andheri McDonalds who never let me finish my McSwirl; the 7:39 local from Ambarnath station, which is always late and arrives at 7 : 51, and makes one wonder if the station clocks are at fault; the kala-khatta vendor at the Dadar Chowpatty beach who always gives me the sharbat instead of gola by mistake, being some of them.
As the train slowed down, the much anticipated Chatrapati Shivaji Terminas Station (CST), formerly (and still to a large number of people) known as Victoria Terminus (VT) came in picture. The first thing to strike my mind was the ‘Jai Ho’ number, which I am not sure if was picturised here or not, but it certainly created the same picture. The station is, to sum up, elegant and grand at the same time. Sky high ceilings, articulate designs and numerous trains standing parallel to each other in the big hall (since all the routes terminate here). Parallel to it is the other hall, which was for express trains, while this was for the sub urban. Out of the station, there was an underground sub-way to cross the road and expectedly a full fledged market existed there. Out of the sub-way, turned back to see that famous visual of the CST in its full glory. Certain images, like that of the Taj Mahal and this Mumbai station, has been so much popularized in the Indian psyche, by movies and other media that on seeing them in real it doesn’t seem like first time. The CST has been the first face of Mumbai is almost all the movies having anything to do with the city. Just a look at it is sufficient for an apparently snide remark that they should have let it remained VT. Made in the English times, it is so very Victorian in design that one gets the feel of a church. Infact not just the CST, but the surrounding buildings all have got this quality, what with the numerous symbols and statues related to Jesus and Mother Mary on the walls. There are numerous administrative buildings in the surroundings, such as the municipality, criminal court and others. One of them I am sure was the place where Bipasha Basu dressed as a bride is waiting for Ranbir Kapoor, who never turns up- in Bachna Ae Haseeno.
And Haseenas were there, quite a few. Gaping, I saw the board- St Xaviers College. Well obviously! It too had a very antique and Christian look. Spotting a lone walking beauty, i dared to open a conversation as trivial as asking the way for nearest multiplex, then later proceeded to her college and study, and as the conversation steered towards me, came her girl gang and she left, crushing my hopes. Damn the gang! Again, in the BIG Cinemas, while Priyanka was busy killing her husbands and our time, I noticed that that the girl next to me was without any guy (or a parent) and in the interval again asked the way to the Gateway of India, (okay, I don’t know any other way!) which she politely told, but before I could go past the gateway, she excused and left to get some popcorn. Sigh!
The Churchgate area is near to the CST, and also alike in design and looks. Clean pavements, with almost theatrical sign posts, gardens and English architecture really make the area seem like that of the Europeans, as seen virtually. The Gateway is at a walking distance from the Church Gate station. And what a walk! The first attention seeker is that huge, really huge, bigger than a stadium (not circular either) playground. It is really astonishing amidst all this urban development, this huge public playground, and that too well maintained and clean. The Oval, Grade 1, Heritage Maidan- the board read. It was developed in the time of British too, and is open for public use, and had a large number of people in the sunny afternoon, playing cricket. Across the road was the High court. Next to it was a building, which had a really tall clock tower, which reminded of our very own BITS clock tower, though ours doesn’t seem like that of a church. It was Mumbai Vidyapeeth, which I am sure again must not have been its original name. Even the firms’ name here had an English feel to them – David Sasoon book library, Lund and Blockely associates etc. An interesting sight was the use of huge circle of the cross roads as car parking, which reminded me, are a display of the statues of neta log in our places. There was the Elephinstone college, and in front of it – Jehangir art gallery!
Whoa! Now call it superficial and fake desire, but I had always wanted to visit an art gallery. It is one of the things which are associated with the urban living, as they show in the movies, and a part of the whole page 3 lifestyle. So for that, more than for enjoying art, I entered the gallery. There were exhibitions by different artists. Sudha karkatkar, Vinayak jagdale – theirs were mostly simple like festive girls, boat man, monks, Buddha, Mother Teresa and were not art extra ordinaire! I had seen better in our own BITS. Then there was this artist – Sadhna raddi whose work, justified for once the cliché – the abstractness. Most of her pallets had nothing but random colors spread in whatever manner. Even after minutes of staring intensely, all I could deduce were some female forms, but that could have been my dirty mind at work too. Blah! The final gallery was that of some Lalita Sonawane, titled – Love Sublime. Now that was the killer. If there is anything called art in this world, this was it. Unbelievably beautiful, as if they were just staring at you, Radha Krishna in different phases of their love, mesmerizing, and sensual and well, divine! The love and passion of Radha Krishna had never seemed so alive to me. One could just let the eyes savior the beauty forever, since no photography was allowed. A pretty girl/woman was explaining the concept to the visitors, though the painting themselves were speaking volumes. I asked her if she was the artist, but she wasn’t. The prices started from 96000/-. Totally worth it, they made me feel. I promised myself to someday get one of those, and for now sufficed with the small paintings at sale outside the gallery priced 100/-.
I don’t know if that’s the aftereffect of 26/11 or it has always been the same, but the security arrangements at the Gateway were quite too much, and the attempt to form a gateway of the Gateway itself is very cumbersome, for the visitors. But yeah, security comes first. I guess I chose the wrong day for the visit. A large part of the space was blocked by a huge concert setup, for some cultural event for Maharashtra police. And another large portion was blocked due to public hounding up to see NDTV guys interviewing a person- who as found out, was Vinod punmuya, a cyclist who drove from Delhi to Mumbai in 30 hours, and now would probably give the same hours of interview. Only after getting through all of this was a point which provided the so famous view of the Gateway and the Taj Hotel. Again, it is one of those sights which you feel as seen so many times already, courtesy bollywood. Though the first memory it bought was of the sad 26/11, with the helicopters hovering over the Taj , and a part of the hotel on fire. Actually seeing the CST and the Taj makes one realize better the horror that day would have been. Both these places are so crowded, always buzzing with action sans any break, and gunned terrorists on loose amok this is just unimaginable. And yet so true, it was. Really, daring on the part of attackers; and loose on part of those responsible of security.
I couldn’t really enter the gate that Gateway is, as it was blocked. The sea was full of ships, big and small, and as far as one could see there were ships and outlines of ships, all probably headed for the elephanta caves. By constructing stone boundary along the sea, and depriving of a beach, it kind of lacked the sea-feeling. There were stairs down to the sea, and the desperate waves were in full swing, as if offering a lead, and climbing one step each at a time, cumulatively, yet never succeeding. Such a poetic visual! I looked out for the name, but didn’t find anything as much as a board saying this is the Taj Hotel. Guess they don’t need that. The road in front of the Taj is not very wide, and it really strikes that the Taj is actually very very close to the sea. Just cross the road, and there it is. Expectedly, the whole area has a mela feel to it, with such silly attractions, the silliest being the ride on a chariot drawn by horses decorated like those from the mythological serials. The road leads to a series of huge mansions. Good Lord! A home near the Taj, facing the sea, that must cost a fortune, but again, totally worth it. a small distance ahead, the place loses its urban flavor and gets the rustic small town charm. I ask for a KFC around, only to get naïve looks, which tells it all. Buses are easily found from a stop for the CST or Churchgate station.
The Churchgate station is much like the CST, just smaller. The area is quite windy, being near the sea. I relax, close my eyes and let the wind ruffle my hair. The local moves ahead, and shows the beautiful visual of a beach, with waves rising higher and higher, and families enjoying happily, kids drenching themselves, couples cozying in the wet sands, and even the poor kids happily playing among themselves, making the most of all given by life, and this city.
‘…Is sheher se dil laga ke phans jate hain…shola hai ya hai bijuriya…dil ki nagariya a a….’