April 12, 2011
If you are one of those people who have a prejudice that Mumbai is actually a big dirty, polluted, over crowded city with all it’s eye widening features confined to specific zones, then you are not totally wrong.
A few months, and as much as this place amazes you with its urban air, it often disgusts you with its ugliness, and not some intellectual soul curry kind of ugliness, but the in your face – the physical one, with all the garbage, dirt and pollution. Sadly, as Indians we are used to our roads and lands not being clean and make not a big deal of it, but here it actually makes you sad. The wide and stinking nallahs of black waters loaded and blocked with all kinds o crap are not a rare sight. Infact at times, you find one just next to a very chic place, like a mall in Andheri. The lifelines of this city, the local trains, are also provide an exhibit to the dirty picture of it. For a large part of their length, specially on the Harbor line, the tracks and space between them acts as a dumping yard for all kinds of garbage, with the slums located along them. Children, and sometimes adults defecating in open, and worse, in front of their homes, then walking around and playing in those pools of black waters is such a depressing sight that you can’t help but feel for them. Sometimes it feels that the slums dominate this city, atleast geographically, and that’s when I’ve not visited Dharavi, reported as Asia’s largest slum settlement. Even when viewed from the skies (in an airplane), the most prominent features visible are the slums, with uncontrolled growth in almost every direction.
But loathe the city for this reason, you can’t. For, where there are dreams, there are nightmares; where there are heights, there are depths, and where there is a millionaire, there are many slumdogs! You get everything here, and that actually means everything.
The other day, after a heartful of food at Dilli Darbar restaurant in Grant Road area, as I moved out, a girl- decent looks, about 25-30 years, standing on the doors of a room, smiled at me. Now Grant Road area, though is very close to the Marine lines and Churchgate area, yet has a little small town effect, with the most striking feature being a number of single screen cinemahalls one after the other. Most of them were screening some B or C grade films, or some old ones, and had a shabby dirty look. I dared to enter the premises of one, and was startled to see the posters of some sleazy and almost pornographic movies. Well, that pretty much explained the little crowd outside the hall.
Coming back to the girl, I presumed the smile must be for someone else, so looked around, then again at her, and she did it again. Feeling sheepish, I couldn’t help but smile and move ahead, and then she made a chh chh noise and this time there was no mistaking for whom was it meant! I looked back and she signaled me to come inside! I barely controlled breaking into a laugh. Man! Like everything, it seems sex is also a commodity here, easily available. The classifieds in newspapers, even as reputed as Mumbai Mirror contain a lot of ads for massage parlors, friendship clubs- which could be nothing more than that, you may say, but when the massage parlors provide home service, 24 hours, negotiable prices and friendship clubs offer urgent services round the clock, what else could they be? More of a shock was to find the ads for ‘High class escort’ , which as people told are sort of eye candies required by the high profile men, or sometimes women. Such ads are also very common in the local train compartments.
Yes, it is an over crowded city, so very evident from the packed and over packed with people – trains. But to be fair, the people are generally well behaved and try to make the best of what they have. They always help each other put their bags and stuff on the holders, make extra space for seating, and even make an orderly queue at stations for alighting. Though I had this ghastly experience where a man tried to ‘feel’ me, taking advantage of the crowd (how embarrassing is that!), the people in general are decent and cooperating. The ticketing system of locals is another example of it. To be precise, there is no system of a compulsory ticket check here. You could just go and board a train and alight at a station, there is a fairly high probability that no one will bother you. There are frequent surprise checks they say, at platforms or in trains, though I have faced it only twice, and sadly was fined in one of them (200/-) for travelling in the Mumbai-Hyderabad express (which also stops at Dadar) on the local ticket. Yet most people buy tickets, or so it seems, and are aware, as once when mistakenly I entered the first class coach for which one requires seasons ticket ( generally for regular travelers , like office goers or so) , the man next to me constantly kept me nagging if I had one or not, and all I could do was to ignore him. Apart from the usual tickets, there is also a system of a smart card- used to print tickets using a touch screen machine, and a coupon system wherein one gets the coupons worth the ticket’s price and get them stamped by an automatic machine.
Yes there are areas which are the hub of urban activities, South Mumbai containing the most of them. Kala Ghoda, an area around the Gateway and CST, owing its name to a black stone statue of Prince of Wales, has been declared as the premier art district of Mumbai, as it houses various art galleries and museums like Jehangir art gallery, Prince of Wales museum (now renamed what else but Chatrapati Shivaji Sangrahalaya) , National Gallery of modern art, Bajaj art gallery etc. The art works at display in all these are actually awe inspiring, and even the most inartistic persons would find it hard not to like them, except the modern art works, which true to the cliché, are all an over head transmission. The museum is especially remarkable, with a rich collection of ancient and modern artworks, coins, scriptures, fossils and even some original excavations of Hadappa and other ancient civilizations. It somehow reminded me of the museum a certain Ross Gellar works in, though all I could see around were the Raechals. It’s a shame the museum isn’t much publicized, it has the potential to attract crowd.
Good, bad; Beautiful, ugly; Awesome, disgusting – you get it all here. Without any hyperbole, living here actually teaches you a lot. To constantly have your guards on- you could be fined anytime for taking a picture, for crossing a railway bridge without a proper ticket; you could be cheated into buying a fake product ; you could get lost in the crowd, and even of you do all things right, fate might betray you, like when a cow came under my local, causing it to halt for 2 hours, making me miss my company bus and paying the cab 350 bucks!
And as I enter the company campus, the hourly alarm rings loud in the premises, to a very familiar tune.
‘ Ae dil, hai mushkil, hai jeena yahan…’
Yes, afterall, Ye hai Mumbai meri jaan!