Mumbai Diaries I

January 2011

Call  me a romanticizer  , an exaggerating narrator, or just an obsessed victim of the legends associated, but Mumbai has already begin casting its spell on me.

Bollywood no doubt has played the greatest role in creating this metaphor of a city called Bombay, or Mumbai in the minds of most Indians- the city of dreams, Mayanagri, the spirit of Mumbai and what not. And hence as a first timer, the mind piles up all the memories, or rather impressions that it has formed over time. Having arrived from Varanasi to Thane station, received by my Uncle in the evening, my Mumbai Diary begins on 6th Jan,  9 a.m. when I leave for the institute (BITS Pilani) office, with him on his bike.

The Mumbai Heights! Okay…this might be the small town effect on me, but the high rising buildings never cease to amaze me. And if I thought Delhi had the heights, I had to rescale my vision. The thought that somewhere among these towers must be residing the stars themselves was enthralling. An Aishwarya Rai taking a nap in her room , or a Shahrukh khan reading a script between one of these walls,  Oh Dear Lord! As if reading my mind, the signboard just ahead read ‘Filmcity’ 10 kms. FILMCITY! How  many times I must have read of this place, where so many stories take place, are brought to life! And here was the road to it. But not now…sometime later. The signboards also started displaying all the familiar names- Andheri. Bandra, Santa Cruz- the names which I am sure all of us must have read so many times, mainly at the end of our favourite t.v. shows in the 90’s , for sending our suggestions or answers. (Since it was the pre- email age)  Me it reminded of Surabhi- the Renuka Shahade show to whom I must have sent so many letters, only to my dismay.

The double decker bus!   It suddenly brought me out of my thoughts. It was one of the early images associated with Mumbai in my mind, as I remember owning a toy double decker and asking curiously when I would see I real one. 21 years, and a half, who would have known!  Though to my disappointment, it was the only sighting of it throughout the day. Wonder why!

As I was nearing my first destination, I had the opportunity of talking to a localite for asking the way. Though I was sure that most people here would know hindi, yet I wanted to eavesdrop on some roadside conversation, or to listen to some group of playing children,  to check the lingo. But the office was reached before I could do that. It was in a huge, but unimpressive building.

After my registration, along with a PS (Practice School – The internship program, my purpose of Mumbai visit) mate, took an auto and reached the Andheri station to experience another Mumbai thing- the Local. I am sure I wasn’t half as excited as this while travelling on the metro train for the first time. The Mumbai Local- its like a cultural reference point. So many movies, t.v. shows , stories of the crowd in it- are a part of the talks. Just a couple of days before coming here saw a news story called ‘Local Ke Lafangey’ (on India TV- where else!) about those who hang dangerously from the crowded trains.  It wasn’t that crowded, and even got a seat. The crowd is huge at the wee hours- of schools and offices, my friend told me.  The crowd did increase a lot later. There were people of all types, Kids to old men, from poor ones to the sufficient ones.  And ofcourse, the beggars, some with a crying kid, when they themselves were a kid.  It reminded me of the scene from Slumdog Millionaire where Saleem tells Latika- Rota hua baccha yaani triple daam. Boyle certainly wasn’t exaggerating the facts. The local also showed what I was expecting to see sooner- the Slums.  Extending alongside dirty water flow, sewage drains, the desolate people- all what slums stand for, was there to see from the local travelling magnificently over the flyovers, with the other local running below.  A thought provoking sight was that of the slums and the skyscrapers in the same line, though obviously separated by walls, visible as well as invisible. Suddenly somebody spotted a bag lying on a seat sans an owner, and started asking people about it. For a few moments tension prevailed with people planning to give it to the police at next station, and then the owner returned with a sheepish face and was welcomed with choicest of names, though  most were in hindi only.

We deported at a station called ‘masjid’ and had to walk our way to the Tata Power office, through a lane of houses which I am not sure came under the category of slums or not. Interestingly most of the dwellings had a DTH dish installed on their tops. Another interesting sight was that of a dog being constantly disturbed by three cats while having his food, where neither of them was backing up or overpowering the other. The Tata Power’s gate had this huge note- BEWARE OF DOG, hesitatingly we went inside, only to be welcomed by a small whilte cat. Mumbai Myths, anyone?

The office was as expected- big, state of the art facilities, though unexpectedly had some really pretty faces at work.  Expectedly, but sadly, we were informed that civil and mechanical guys will be posted not here, but at the power plant located in outskirts of Mumbai.   So me and my another PS (Practice School) mate from Goa Campus (Anshuman)  left for the place on a taxi. A not so flattering notice made by me was that all the gaurds and  taxi drivers I had met till now were from U.P. or Bihar. Hmmm. I asked the driver about Underworld. What did it mean to him, or an average mumbaikar. All he had to say was 26/11. Apart from that, he said, life was as normal as it could be. What? No shootouts, no encounters, no gangwars, he had seen nothing in his 9 years at Mumbai? No. well good for him, and all!  Meanwhile I collected my luggage from my Uncle’s home in Thane and then we set off for this place called Karjat, which meant covering more than 50 kms of Mumbai, Thane etc and that meant some eye widening beauty of concrete and current!  Some beauties are more addictive and appealing at night, and the city is definitely one of them. Unlimited twinkling spots of lights rising high, the flashing neon screens, the fancy hotels, malls, multiplexes, bars with names no less glamorous! Just kept on adding to my to do list while at Mumbai.  Another surprising sight was that of the mountains arising out here and there frequently in the city. I had never associated this with Mumbai in my mind. But as we neared our destination, the place started becoming more and more mountainous. Then I assumed these must be the part of western Ghats.

Finally arrived at our destination, our home, for next 6 months, after a day at the economic capital of the country.  I know, this was nothing but just a wave of a sea which is all open to explore, if only 6 months were enough for that, or any amount of time was. And literally too, it is yet to be seen, the most important metaphor of the Life in this metro- the Arabian Sea.

While having dinner, I asked the guard of the home, ‘’what time is the last local’’ ? before he could answer, Neha dhupiya and Abhay deol jumped dancing  in the t.v. screen with the footer of screen reading Movie: Ek Chalis Ki Last Local.

The diary has just begun.

Mumbai Diaries II

25th January 2011

It is inevitably disappointing a bit when you’ve been dreaming of living in Mumbai, and end up in the outskirts of Mumbai. (And so outskirt that we rarely get to see any skirts!). But then we have some luxurious accommodation and food, at negligible costs. And a petty excuse such as distance can surely not come in the way of ‘Mumbai’, what with the nearest local station being at half an hour distance.

The place is called Karjat. Though it appears like quite a forgotten place, what baffled me was reading the footnotes on a film news channel- ‘ Ajay Devgn celebrates his son’s four month anniversary at his Karjat farmhouse’, ’Imraan Khan’s sangeet ceremony held at Avantika’s karjat resort’, ‘Sanjay Dutt shooting for Double Dhamaal in Karjat’ ! I asked the local guys here, and they are as clueless as us, perhaps more. But I have to find out someday for sure. Well, the stars’ coming here for a chill out is understandable, given the seclusion of this place.  Set amidst all the forests, mountain , rivulets it provides quite a picture of the not rural and not urban living. Women, with that ring on their nose and that peculiar style of saaree, small kids bantering  indistinguishably in Marathi, calling to their ‘aai’ and amidst it, a child breaking into ‘Sheila Ki Jawani’ on a loud note! The local market is all clumsy and clattered with almost zero clearance between the shops and well…people.  Right from the local train station exit, the shops start and so does the crowd, thanks to the huge and fancy liquor shop – which is the first thing one sees when out of the station.  Then there are those must have ‘Vada Pav’ and other snacks points. Though I have had Vada Pav once before coming here, (in Pilani, regional assoc grub) but the difference was that this time I actually liked it.  There are two types of vendors- one who give you a vada and a piece of pav, and you are left wondering what to do with them, and the other who prepare it before handing over to you. The second ones are less though. One might wonder, its just the regular potato mashup between slices of bread, but is tastes good, especially when hot, and with that red powder kind of thing which they give. There is something different about it, and I would prefer it against the McDonalds burger anyday. (Admittedly I have never been much of a fan of the McD’s Burger. Mind it,  just the burger, rest I dote upon.)  Though I knew that Vada Pav is the staple snack of this state, still I expected to see the samosa somewhere, but didn’t. There was a ‘special jalebi shop’ though, about which the only special thing I guess was the timing- fresh hot jalebi in the night!  A happy surprise was the sight of a kachaudi vendor, oh wait…not one but many…and oh , Panjabi choley, dosa and others were there too. Well , I guess that’s why they call Mumbai the mosaic of all the cultures!  The kachaudi tasted quite like the one at Pilani bus stand, making me realize how much I miss that place.

Unassuming, an observation is that literate people here understand and are comfortable with hindi more than the lay or less educated men. We always have a tough time communicating with the sweeper of our quarter.

The nearest urban station is Kalyan, about quarter of an hour by local.  It is also at this station where the Central line locals divide into slow and fast, i.e. the ones which stop at every station and ones which only on a select few.  For the western line this occurs at Borivali. The harbor line locals only have the slow track. (The locals have three parallel lines, interconnected at a couple of stations like Dadar, Kurla). The local travelling through the mountains and forests feels breezy, and quite literally. Standing on the gates (yes I tried that)  and letting the wind wash away the  creases on your forehead feels so filmy yet very real. If it is not crowded to saturation, one finds a variety of vendors in the local. From books to balms and sonpapdi to bhelpuri, all are there. I tried a cheeku, though didn’t like it much.

Kalyan station was quite big, and the exit marked by number of smartly constructed skywalks, which are abundant in Mumbai.  After enquiring we took an auto to the nearby Mall.  The driver for a change was a Marathi manoos, and had that oh-so-famous tapori lingo. Kidhar jane ko mangta? Kya mast mall banayela hai! Though his claim of the mall (Metro Mall) being the largest in asia was hilarious, the mall was a decent one.  It had a really cool Bar, with the typical inverted hanging glasses, and colorful bottles decorating the walls and a dim lighting creating a surreal ambience. I wished I could see that fire on the counter thing which is so common in the movies. Looking on the menu card, I chose one from all the attractive and fancy names and was about to order as my phone displayed ‘Mom calling’. Ah…well in a sporting rage I told her that I was in a bar. Her loud Kyaaa is still ringing in my ears. Though I told her I was there just to ‘experience’ a bar and nothing else, I couldn’t later dare to order. Not that day atleast. *wink*. Next was a lounge. Completely unaware of what to expect, I entered the place and felt as if landed at a set of some gangster movie. With smoke all around, wooden carvings of the walls, very dark lighting, and people with long hairdo (guys) and couples sniffing the hookah in turn, I actually felt guilty, stupid as it may sound. Somehow the smoke emitting things whether it is the cigarette or the hookah never appear tempting to me. The drinks do, often.  There were some pretty faces in the lounge but honestly seeing them smoke the thing was a complete turn off. Though rest of the mall was a total let down in terms of pretty faces.

Kalyan has this feel of cut-out-of-a-mountain town, with steep elevated areas on the sides of road, on which dangerously the slums are built.  The other side had a stream of water flowing, which on being asked if a river, the taxi driver told was a sewer flow! Again a U.P. wala, he also shared some useful insights about the Hindi Marathi fiasco. He blamed the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena as the root of all problem, and praised the Shivsena. He even cited instances when some of the MNS guys would not even sit in a taxi if the driver was not Marathi, or uttered a word in hindi. Sigh!  Though he said, proudly, that despite being here for 13 years he never felt the need to learn Marathi, for the people here are very tolerant and it hardly matters to them.

We narrowly escaped missing the last company bus from Karjat station to our ‘forest house’,(which would have meant a heavy fare for taxi) thanks to some breath taking running by me the moment the train stopped, and a stroke of luck involving the bus getting a punctured tyre hence delayed.

Running. That is probably the pace of this city. And some luck is all that one needs to stay afloat here. So have I heard. So will I see. Till then back to my peaceful abode of the forests, while the RJ belts out – Ye Sheher hai aman ka, yahan ki fiza hai nirali, yahan pe sab Shanti Shanti hai!

Quite true, if only for me!

Mumbai Diaries III

February 10, 2011

Watching a local flee right away when you are in the ticket queue teaches the importance of time in this city.  The locals are a bit sparsely timed , as compared to the Delhi metro, and more so at relatively far-off stations like Karjat, so the next train would be about 40 minutes later. With such large distances and a mere 24 odd hours to a day, you got to be fast!

It was crowded, but not in a press-against-each-other kind of way. Didn’t get a seat, but didn’t want it either. Unlike metro, the locals have benches across their breadth and facing each other. And ofcourse, the hanging holders, which increase the capacity of the coach to infinity. As my eyes veered from a cozy couple exchanging sweet nothings to each other (in hindi)  to the approaching station of kalyan, observed a huge crowd standing at the station. And before I could brace myself, without waiting for the train to stop, (it halts only for 30 s) people just swarmed in uncontrollably like water through a crevice. I’d have been pushed off the coach if not for the hangers, on which incidentally many other hands had occupied place too. It felt like being converted from gaseous to solid state directly, and with all the wrong parts brushing against each other, it was uncomfortable to say the least. And despite having separate ladies coach(es) , one always finds enough number of women in the general coaches.  One of them just lost her balance and her phone slept out of her hands into the tracks, and the train moved. She deported, and with a teary face looked down praying for the life of her phone while the train turned ahead losing her sight for us.

Dadar station has this really worn out look and is oh God so crowded! Since it links the western and the central lines, the platforms overbridge is really long and leads the way out too. It looks almost a hundred years old and with vendors occupying almost half of the width, is very clumsy. They sold everything one could imagine, as if the first thought after leaving the train one would have is to set up a household. The first visual of Dadar is an unimpressive set of tall buildings which look badly in the need of a make over.  However the streets around and under the flyover had this colorful flowery ambience. It is a pleasant sight with flower shops all around- sides of road, center of road acting as a divider(I wondered if the PWD didn’t object to this) the riot of colors amidst this chaos is appealing to the eyes. However, the appeal is restricted only to the eyes, as despite being in abundance, one cannot feel the slightest of smell of the flowers.  Guess even the flowers need a perfume in this world of artifacts!   And again, what a crowd!  People, people, some more people, cars, rickshaws, and some more people. It reminded me of occasions in our cities when there is a major exam like the JEE or CAT, and the closing bells have just rung. Just add some more people and vehicles to it and you get this one. Well, as they say, everyday is an examination in this big bad city! And one cannot afford to fail. After walking through a series of dingy lanes, after a series of turns and less crowded areas, the roads opened to less crowded, wider and cleaner roads, with huge and elegant mansions.

And I heard it, seconds before I saw it.  If not for the waves announcing its arrival, the blue of a cloudless sky would have easily merged into the blue of the endless waters. The Arabian Sea!  Perhaps the most defining factor, the most used metaphor and the most drawing force of this metro, but due to the uninhibited extension of the city, its presence has been masked to a large extent. I am sure a majority of the city doesn’t get to see the sea often.  And those who do, are lucky chaps. Luckiest are those who live in those sea side mansions, which cost insane amounts like 200 crores or so.  The sea is a queer creation of God. It is sure to awake the softer side of you with its never ending being and motion. Just sitting on the stone fences along it (which incidentally had a ‘Couples not allowed’ notice) and letting your gaze loose is sure to evoke a thousand emotions. I remembered a certain Ms Ayesha Banerjee explaining to her first Bombay friend, in this city where everything is in perpetual motion and change, the sea is the only thing which remains unchanged. And he tells her about the magic that the sea is during monsoons. I am gonna remember that, she tells him*. So am I. Visible as a blurred outline was the recent addition to the pride of this city, a towering proof of the human excellence, the Bandra Worli Sea link. My mind went to the Ram setu, built over the sea by Lord Ram’s army. They had the power of faith, and the modern man has all but that. Much more faith was visible in 2 fishermen in a small boat swinging along the waves trying to catch some fish.  The beach had a tall black pillar with a national emblem engraved on it. Nearby stood a stall labeled ‘Kala Khatta’, which reminded me of Monisha Sarabhai who adored it, much to the disgust of Maya, from the sitcom Sarabhai v/s Sarabhai. It was a barf ka gola, which back home we call ‘chuski’, just with some different flavors and colors. Enjoyable, nevertheless.

A walk on the sea link seemed to be the next step. The taxi drove through a plethora of urban beauty, both living and inanimate. While it was eye pleasing, the unexpected was not spotting a single mall on the way. Neither did I see one while on the way to sea. I always had this impression that atleast in Mumbai, we won’t have to search for a mall (or a KFC, which I search in every mall), as they would be pretty abundant.  I mean being the financial and glamour capital of the nation, it should have one in every other street. Moving along the seaside, saw a huge board reading- Lilawati Hospital. Now who hasn’t heard of it?  It has such a celebrity connotation. Though the building is huge, but totally unattractive, and would easily pass as any other building if not for the name. The entrance to the bridge is beautiful and grand. My hands just went to my digi-cam and pressed the button.

The next hour was certainly the one which I would never ever forget and for all the wrong reasons. It turned out that photography was prohibited in that area. I, of course had no idea. Pat came two constables, snatched the camera from my hand put in their bag and asked to meet at the police station.  Okay…that was not funny, I thought  and tried to sweet talk them as much as I could, using my most polite and suave tone. Showed them all the identification from BITS id card to the company card. Even apologized of ignorance and offered to delete the image, but they wouldn’t budge. Just go to the police station and deal with this there, they said. With that not working, I offered to go the station with them. They called for a jeep, and I pictured myself in a police jeep surrounded by cops. (Well, it was hard not to feel sheepishly amused) though finally we started to walk as the station was just a km away. They showed the notice board which declared a heavy fine (much more than the price of the camera itself) for the offence. I surely wasn’t going to pay that! Now I used the innocent and sad tone and gave the excuse of just being a student, not having that amount of money, and not wanting to go to the thana. Now they came to the point. So how much can you pay? A couple of hundreds, I said. Their laughter was actually creepy. No less than 3000 bucks, they said. Well, it didn’t feel right either. I tried to make a call to my uncle, but one of the cops actually snatched my phone, switched off and put it in his pocket. Now it actually felt disturbing. With the noon time, and a few people around, it did look fishy. So I started off with a thousand, and somehow managed to bring him to a 1500, and paid that and got my cam and phone back and hurried away from the place.

Hmm. It took some time to sink in what just happened. Should have I gone to the station? Should I have not paid the money? Was I conned? God knows.  But maybe that’s why my dad said before I left for Mumbai, ‘’Always remain alert there, you could be looted or robbed anywhere anytime.’’ And that’s why I always had kept my hands in my pockets while travelling in the local. But the pocket did become light eventually, and how!

After recovery, Juhu Chowpatty was the next destination.  The drive along the sea was beautiful (No, it was not Marine drive) with some of the most beautiful and richest bunglows increasing the splendor. It surely must be one of the most coveted locations for a home in Mumbai. But wait, what are the slums doing here? Just next to an impressive lineage of mansions, were slums. I guess they’ll vanish in sometime. Till then, they’re the lucky chaps.  The cabbie told us that the major filmstars have their homes in this region, and I asked the way for one. (No prizes for guessing) And he also told us, well, I’ll just quote him and I swear it is true ‘’ Khoob ladkiyan milega sahib us taraf, 2000 se shuru hota hai, har tarah ka milega’’.

The Chowpatty was actually a bit off color at this time, since its mainly an evening attention, and was quiet at 4 in the evening, with only a few vendors and people, apart from the shops. The beach rarely disappoints.  The entire scene however was very beautiful, and suggestive. The huge Arabian Sea, and just a small distance off its shore, there are huge establishments- hotels, homes, roads and everything. I had a bhelpuri, but well, nowadays there are only few things which have remained a local flavor, (such as the vada pav) it was the same as we get everywhere. Asking the way to the Mansion, walked through the tall buildings and the noisy traffic trying hard but failing to subdue the roar of the waves and reached in about 15 minutes. Just a turn of the road, and it was there.

Jalsa- the place which she (and her husband) got from her in laws after her wedding, and where now all four of them live together. That’s just saying, as they (atleast 2 of them) must rarely get a chance to live there at all.  She with all her globe trotting activities and globe spread fame, entering and living in that building, seemed so unreal. It wasn’t unbelievingly beautiful. Though, any place on earth would seem inhabitable for that divine beauty. Not much of it was visible though. Some parts were undergoing a renovation. A small peeking window was visible.  So was a small balcony. I tried imagining her peeking out of that window, and my eyes meeting hers. Or she standing in the balcony and having a casual talk with someone. Again, seemed unreal. Her father-in-law comes out on the balcony on some Sundays to wave to the crowd, I was told. There was a guard at the gate, who looked irritated by the silly questions of some giggly girls, who were busy posing and taking snaps. Not intending to irritate him further, I asked him- You must have seen her? Yes, came the reply. How many times?  Does she come here often? Why would he be irritated at this! But he was. ‘Yeah I’ve seen them many times, all four of them. So what’s the big deal. They’re just humans. You guys just make them like Gods’. Okay! Like he didn’t enjoy his job! Getting a glimpse of her, even twice a month would be worth it. C’mon, she is Aishwarya Rai, Bacchan!

The way back was from Andheri to Karjat via Dadar. Again failing to locate a McD or KFC around, had to grub at a local food joint, which again had some hookah sniffing girls and adjacent to it was a ladies only café. Wonder what they must be doing in their. Gossip and all that page 3 sass? God knows, and the ladies. Took a BEST bus to the Andheri station, where finally spotted a McD. The local, as always was eventful, with a group of guys meeting a long lost friend who did not recognize them even despite their warm punch, and ‘oye tu abhi tak andheri mein hi hai?’, and a group of school kids going for a trip to Matheran, and cheering ‘Jai Shivaji’, ‘Jai Maharashtra’, while one of them played his Chinese speaker phones – ‘Duniya mein logon ko dhokha kabhi ho jata hai…Parda Parda…’.

To the dhokha, which i had today, And to that parda from the Jalsa which will never beparda itself, To Mumbai-Cheers!

Mumbai Diaries IV

 

February 20, 2011

‘Arey yaar , I am not gonna stand’ said the guy to the girl with him in the next seat, as the screen read – Please stand up for the national anthem.  Oh yes! The national anthem. I had heard about the mandatory national anthem before any movie show in Mumbai, and here it was. Though undoubtedly a nice gesture, but I really couldn’t see the point of it, besides reminding the lost-in-their-own-world audience about their country, where probably after school time one rarely listens to the national anthem and stands in attention for it. So in that way, it is a good practice, but that’s it – a nice gesture. Though it was a beautiful rendition by the legends such as Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhonsle, A. R. Rahman, Ustad Bismillah Khan.

He did stand, after seeing all others do so. The movie was Dhobi Ghat a.k.a. Mumbai Diaries. After being in the city for about three weeks, I was all prepared for a moving and enlightening experience of the Mumbai legend. However after 95 minutes of the Dhobi, painter, photographer and the sad U.P. girl, it just didn’t quite hit the right note. Most movies about a particular city or a culture, have this problem. Integrating a story with the flavor of a place is easy and lovable (case in point being Band Baajaa Baaraat which so commendably showcases the vivacious Delhi through the charming Bittu and spunky Shruti’s love story), but trying to make an entire motion picture deciphering the ‘’Real’’ city is mostly a futile attempt. Because, there is no real city! There are people, and they are essentially similar at the core, have same worries, problems, happiness, virtues, evils and goodness. Having a different language and food habits doesn’t change their hearts.  They are all the same. So if the movie was trying to say that husbands of other cities do not cheat, or the wife could not ask anybody for help because nobody cares here, or the dhobis of this city are nice people, or the loner of a painter having a one night stand is an outcome of the big city life, it really didn’t and shouldn’t go down well with most people. Yes, people don’t have much time here, and you certainly can’t expect them to spend evenings having fun with you, but that’s purely due to practical reasons. This is not called the city of dreams for nothing. So many people come here from all over nation. Infact if you ask a random guy on the street for the way, there are very high chances that he’ll excuse himself saying he is new in the city himself. And the distances are really huge. It takes hours to move from one place to the other. Most people do not have the luxury to choose their homes near to the workplaces again due to financial reasons. Also, most housing societies here have a system of compulsory home changing after a year or at most two. So with all these forces, how can  the life remain unaccelerated! Everybody has to reach their office on time, drop the kid to school, catch the right BEST bus, to board timely and safely on those already overloaded local in 30 s. so how can one not be fast?  That might cause a little insensitivity towards others’ comfort at times, but then it’s not like people at other places are all saints. Again, people are basically same. The very same day, after standing in the ticket queue for 20 minutes the ticket guy asked me to get a one rupee change (That problem has gripped the entire nation I think, from Pilani stores to Delhi Metro to Mumbai Local – everybody expects others to have the ‘change’ – pun intended), that baffled me and I looked around for some vendor in vain, while my local was about to leave. Came a stranger and gave me a rupee coin, just like that, and before I could return it he was in his train!

After the movie at Fame cinemas Kalyan, I headed for Thane.  The station footbridge opens to an impressive view, with the skywalk continuing long way to the market. It’s an intelligent idea, with the pillar bases occupying minimum space on the road (that of a divider) and the entire pedestrian crowd shifted to it. The exit of the station also has a beautifully paved and clean area, which, it takes a moment to realize, is above the entire ticket booking area from which one has just emerged out.  Infact here its tough to decipher what is a flyover and what is a level road, underground or on the ground! The crowd on the road draws attention, but then I realize that they are actually queues! Not just one, but numerous, and they’re actually the bus stops of the BEST buses. (it stands for Bombay Electricity Supply and Transport; the BEST is also in the former)  They’re exactly as seen in the movies, where the girl usually waits for the bus until the hero arrives with his car, or when the bus is leaving and the guy is running while the girl gives him her hand to step up! The most beautiful visual though is that of the huge mountains, which appear quite close to this urban jungle.(Infact, the train passes through quite a few tunnels enroute Thane) The mountains just add to the charm of the place, and adding to the grace are the giant white letters on the mountain, which at a first glance one would obviously think of ‘Bollywood’ (a la Hollywood in the Los Angeles), and it would have been quite appropriate, in a cheesy way though, but its something else- ‘Dhan Nirankar Ji’ in the Devnagari script.  Some religious entity I suppose. Enquiry of course fed no results, as who has time to mull over such mundane things! Thane has abundance of the nature’s gifts it seems. A lake in the middle of the city, and that too free of any obvious pollution seems impressive. The auto driver himself showed me a pedestrian way to the mall, depriving himself of 6 rupees.  The Eternity mall was decent, except that most of the shops were either renovating or re establishing. The roads ahead are just so… big city!  Roads so wide, and buildings so tall! And in one such building, sat a little girl in a window, staring at the mountains, and the settling sun in them, which told me, it’s time to start the journey back home!

Panvel and Vashi are commonly known to be a part of the ‘Navi Mumbai’, though Panvel falls under Raigad district. It is also the site of the proposed Navi Mumbai International Airport, the 1st phase of which is to be completed in 2014. They lie on the harbor line of the local. Going via the local would imply a redundant travel to Kurla and the change of line there for the train to Panvel. While the bus takes just about 40 minutes from Karjat to Panvel. It’s a beautiful morning, and it’s a beautiful way. The kind of, where one would love go on long drive with his/her spouse. Preferably on a two wheeler, to savior the beauty of the plateaus and hill, which with their dry and stagnant aura still manage to look attractive, in a postcard-ish sort of way. There is almost no inclination on the road. It just goes on, surrounded on sides by dry mountains, rocky lands, dry trees, and a few drying streams of water. Panvel looks like an upcoming up-market place, and has some important industrial settlements like L&T, ONGC. On asking the way to station, a guy and a girl (who appear to be siblings) not just accompany me to there, but also save me from standing in the long queue by giving me their excess travel-coupons*.(of course I paid them)  Talk of the big bad city! The rail route to Vashi is again beautiful, mostly due to the frequent rivulets and small streams, which majorly form the Gaadhi river. The most interesting aspect is that one can actually see how and why this region is being developed- the planned city of New Panvel, the developing Panvel, Vashi, and ofcourse the Airport.  At one moment you see endless stretches of lush green fields, bushes infact, and then next sight is that of the land being cleared, and roads, buildings being built. A large number of them have already been completed, and adjacent to them one can see the unexploited area all prepared to get assaulted. Infact most of the stations on this route, have a vast unpopulated greenery on one side, and an urban settlement on other. It makes one think though, today this, tomorrow the next green belt, where is this exactly going to end. The answer, nobody has!

The railway stations on this route, Panvel and Vashi appear to be better than those on the other lines , with their almost theatrical looks – very high ceilings, designed pillars, attractive outer appearance. Vashi station suspiciously reminds of the New Delhi station, though the latter is much bigger. Attached to it is a Technology park, and just across the road is the whole ensemble of the urban attractions. Some cool malls ( Raghuleela, Inorbit) , leading multiplexes, food chains and everything, including the prettiest of faces.(Read skimpily dressed) Though, the fancy rides in front of the malls look downright silly. (And I thought this was a small town thing!) Malls are, needless to say, equipped with all the modern world amenities, one of which includes a ‘Play Zone’ for kids and teenagers. Well, I might sound like an old man, but this entire thing really is no good. Watching the small and not-so-small kids going berserk over some dancing balls, blowing punches in air like maniacs,  pushing themselves almost inside the screen to kill some blood thirsty digital enemies, pushing inside coins after coins in bid to win a candy, is just so… well, Sad! The joys of playing Oonch-Neech, Aais-Paais, (yeah that’s not the right word I know) Poshampa, can they be replaced by these lifeless things? I have a gut feeling, it’s not going to be easy being a parent in coming times. (Though my parents would say the same, I am sure)

The coupons given by the good siblings still come in handy, for the train back to Panvel. The bus to Karjat is frequent there. The moon spurns its silver glow through the dark forests and mountains, while the stars try hard to contribute. The black outlines of the leafless trees resonate the stillness, until the roar of an airplane just taken off scares away the silence. A flying plane still manages to tilt my head upwards.  And in the Mumbai sky, it’s a frequent sight, yet it never ceases to steal a gaze. Very soon, I’ll be in one of them, headed to home for a week of celebrations. I can already hear the Band Baajaa and, what else- Baaraat.

‘ Mumbai se aaya  mera dost, Dost ko salaam karo…’

I’ll be back!

Mumbai Diaries V

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….’

Mumbai Diaries VI

 

March 30, 2011

You don’t have to remind your feet to stop when you spot a certain Ms. Kareena Kapoor sitting in the front seat of a jeep in front of you. They just freeze voluntarily.

It was one of the rare moments when the boundaries between the two different but virtually co existing cities seem to dissolve. Terribly clichéd, but a couple of months into the city, and you realize it is true- the schizophrenic nature of Mumbai. There are two faces of this city. The one which we all have images of in our minds- the most happening place of the country, with loads of filmy action, celebrities, upper class life style and all the glamour and glitz of a cosmopolitan life, and it does exist, but all behind the high and closed walls.  Just a look at the newspaper every morning, and all you find are the tit bits about numerous filmy parties, exhibitions, fashion events, derby races, celebrities catching up for a movie at a multiplex or a brunch at a food joint and what not.  Why could I not have been at the same multiplex where a certain Mr Khan and Ms Kapoor were watching a movie. Afterall, there are no special multiplexes for celebrities!  Or why could not a certain Mr Kapoor and Ms. Kaif have been spotted at the airport at the same time as me!  But no, this does not happen usually. The star studded life does exist, but it lies beyond the eyes of the people other than those who are either one of them, or filthy rich. Case in point being the recent Fashion week, wherein the media painted such a picture of the town, with all the national and international celebrities flocking up in Mumbai, visiting malls, beaches and places, but on stepping out in the city, one could rarely spot anything unusual, as all the action takes place in certain places like the big J.W. Mariott kind of hotels. With all the starry images of Mumbai in the mind, one is actually quite gullible to be disappointed to bits with the first impression of Mumbai, since it does not offer you its starriness in-your-face.

But it sure does, in some time, say a couple of months. The other day while visiting the Oberoi mall in Goregaon for the third time, spotted the yesteryear star Jackie Shroff coming out of a restaurant. And he did not earn anything more than a handful of glances from the surrounding people. (That’s okay, given the old and jaded star, that he is!) Similarly, on a Sunday afternoon, while munching on the Chinese platter in the High Street Phoenix Mall, I saw a dude who felt so familiar, that I guessed he must be an actor. And was proved right by a girl sitting next to me as she whispered to her friend, hey see that’s Dr. Armaan – Dill Mill Gaye wala! Sure. But the first one for me was Omkar Das, better known as Nattha of Peepli Live, who was my fellow traveler on a Mumbai-Delhi flight.  My Uncle and Aunt, who live in a locality near Borivali, recite several instances of star-spotting, and that it is a norm for those who live there.  With time, I suppose one seeps in more and more into the city and gets to see both the faces to some extent. My Aunt told me funny stories about her neighbor, a middle aged lady, who is a junior artist and had got to ‘stand’ in so many scenes which required a crowd, like death, wedding, rallies or any party sequence. The most notable being the funeral sequence of John Abraham in the movie Babul, where she proudly got to stand just next to Amitabh bachchan. Uncle also had once got an invite to attend the premier of a Bhojpuri movie, which they didn’t, but they did become a part of the studio audience in grand finale of the comedy show ‘Hans Baliye’ , which had Karisma kapoor as the guest.

But of course, Kareena, on the Aksa beach remains my luckiest sight till now. The Aksa beach is about half an hour by bus from Malad. In the early morning hours, Malad reminded me of my very own Subah-e-Banaras, with a hanuman temple at the cross road , a peepal tree and the snack joints ready with their yummy junks, labours, vendors all gearing up with their street shops, except that you won’t find a truck full of dead and bloody sea animals there in banaras. Being a KFC addict, this might be a tad hypocritical of me, but the sight (and the smell!) of crabs, prawns, fish, with some even showing some last fleeting signs of life was very unpleasant.  The people were not, as I had no problem in finding the bus stand and the correct bus. True to its fame, Aksa beach is beautiful, with all the rocks and mountains and trees and crevices and holes filling and de-filling with sea water, way from the all the urban distractions situated in an almost village kind of ambience, (though a number of resorts and hotels have grown up here now) it is very unlike its counterparts in Juhu, Dadar etc, and ofcourse much cleaner.  There is a navy base nearby and hence choppers are seen and heard frequently in the sky. I saw some kind of shoot going on the beach, with a long-legged beautiful girl in tiny-winy pink skirt striking poses, side, back.  They’re shooting for an ad of Boro Plus, I am told. So the girl is the lead model? Naah, that would be Kareena Kapoor. Whoa! My spirits brightened up at the thought of seeing her up close, as there wasn’t a major crowd on the beach either. So I stayed there overtime, waiting. But it was 2 hours and seeing no sign of her, I decided to leave. And as I stepped on the road, I saw her. And for next hour, saw her, quite a clear view and with her smiling and swinging her hair, with a boro plus tube in her hands. Seeing as there were very few people, and to my surprise, a lot of them appeared to be not affected at all, but she didn’t stop for autograph or pic. A wave and a smile was all we got.  Interestingly, a unit guy told that the back and side profiles, i.e all those which did not cover her face, that were done by an extra model wearing the same clothes and having the same body structure (the pretty lass in pink), and Ms. Kapoor just gave her face shots! Did she look as beautiful as on screen? You bet she did! I am not much of a Kareena fan, but undoubtedly, that was definitely one of the most beautiful faces I had ever seen in real!

Beauty was also what I could see all around, while sailing on the Arabian Sea, in a ship to the Elephanta caves. For 135 Rupees, it was quite a beautiful ship, and more over filled with beautiful women from all around the world. Most beautiful were the French, with their  elegance and so feminine air!  Sitting on the upper deck of the ship, it was a very picturesque scene, the Gateway of India, the Taj and a fleet of ships all in line with each other. the kind of scene which you would try to capture in your camera umpteen number of times but only to your dissatisfaction. The buildings began to get smaller and after about half an hour all one could see was a small line of color on the shores.  And after fifteen minutes more, there was nothing all around but water. And it came to my mind, water,water all around, but not a drop to drink, which funnily was true here in more than one way!

The island was preceded by a number of settlements in the sea of an oil refinery. The huge structures, pipelines, bridges in the mighty depth of sea were astonishing to say the least, and challenging my knowledge of civil engineering! The elephanta caves were decent, with most eye catching sculptures being the live ones only! The caves were albeit at a height, which was reached by stairs, and that had sprouted a full grown market there. There was also the facility of a  ‘palki’ kind of a thing, to which the foreigners were being attracted to by the likes of ‘ Go like a Maharaani madam’!  Among the caves at a place of shade, many people were taking rest and meals, and dogs were hovering around. This sight of Indians and dogs together apparently appeared quite interesting to the foreigners, as many were taking pictures around them. The caves had the usual stories of Indian mythology. A case of selling ice to Eskimos, perhaps, for us!

Like the local, the BEST buses also play a pivotal role in sustaining the motion of this never stopping city. The discipline at display with them is really commendable. The bus stops fashion a perfect queue always, and if you by any chance stand interrupting the queue, be prepared to receive more than just dirty looks. At the arrival of bus, if the seats get full, unless someone has a real urgency, they actually wait for the next bus instead of clogging inside. And obviously, there is no stoppage other than the marked stops. An aberration from the previous buses I observed was a t.v. installed in the bus this time, showing songs. Though with all the traffic noise, it would actually be suitable for showing the old silent movies, but since when did sound become necessary to enjoy a bollywood number! Salman Khan was trying to woo Priyanka Chopra, with Sohail Khan interrupting at every point.

‘Tujhe Aksa beach ghuma doon, Aa chalti kya? ‘

After my experience, I think nobody should say no to that!

Mumbai Diaries VII

 

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!