Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Yeh hai Mumbai meri Jaan !

“What can you possibly see of Mumbai in a day and a half ?”
     “I can spare just that much of my time ,” says I ,as I land at the Santa Cruz airport from Goa at around 7.30 in the evening and am being whisked away by my sister’s husband to their house in Kandivili . He gives me a rundown of the city while we  get stuck in some heavy traffic. Mumbai is all longitudinal , unlike Delhi which is expansive in all directions ,someone had once told me a few years ago. Yes travelling in Mumbai does not give one a big city feel . The roads aren’t really wide,the houses all look dumped together  and yet its vibrancy and modernity is visible, palpable. There are just three major roads all north- south ,he tells me, the Western Express highway,the Central express Highway and the Harbour line and we are on the Western  as we speed past the  Oracle office ,metro overbridge and  Oberoi Mall, Goregaon .The cab is a rundown Padmini and shudders when the driver applies the brakes ,but he takes us to our destination safely .
    But cabs are an expensive means of travel  and  if you haven’t travelled in its notorious yet superbly efficient  local trains ,you haven’t seen Mumbai .And so the next day I boarded the 9.25 am local from Borivili ,much safer to catch it from a terminal station rather than the closer Kandivili because by that time ,there would be no  space left to even stand comfortably . And my sister who was accompanying me had taken care of the sensibilities and ineptitude of a non Mumbaikar and had wisely decided to go to Borivili ,despite it being a second Saturday and most offices closed.  On normal days she tells me she does not wait for the passengers to disembark and the train reverse for its return trip. She has learnt the agile art of getting on to the slowing train if she wants a seat to sit down for her one and a half hour journey to Churchgate everyday. The local train is a whole world of its own , and travelling in Mumbai would have been near impossible without it. Efficient,timely and so much time saving, it chugs on.Crowds flow in  and out  at Borivili,Kandivili,Jogeshwari,Goregaon,Andheri and others and finally Vile Parle.  That’s where I have to  go  and I stand close to  a number of ladies standing at the gate , asking everyone where they want to get off,to ensure that I am in the crowd with the same destination . I get smoothly pushed along to the platform , no effort required except to ensure that the incoming travellers don’t push me back inside ! 
   Now I meet my brother who stays at Vile Parle . And then the Mumbai Darshan . Since we are near Juhu ,I choose  the most iconic of experiences for this day's visit .Those that define Mumbai . The Juhu beach in the evening and the street foods of Mumbai. On the way,   a motley crowd of onlookers catches my attention and I am told it is Jalsa, home of the one and only  Amitabh Bachchan and his equally illustrious family members . Its dusk when we reach the beach . Joggers, cosying couples,children , the monkey man ,the chaiwaala ,and so much more  all give the beach a life and colour .But we find our own space there and play  with the waves of the Arabian Sea ,almost tamed by urbanisation yet forbidding . Its pleasant and the children get busy  racing each other to the sea and then building sand castles. The sea is dirty ,occasionally a polythene packet gets washed up to the shore ,but there are also waste collectors with their gunny sack collecting rubbish thrown by uncaring revellers. Fun,frolic makes us tired and we head back to the stalls of pav bhaji , chat,vada paav,ragda patis ,sandwiches . But we decide to give these ones a miss ,and have chaat at Sharma chaat near Kala Niketan on SV Road . I love paani puri and this  pani was spicy and makes my mouth water as I still savour the tanginess even as I write. I save the golgappe ,(another name for pani puri which goes by several names for the last always) having delicious chatpati aloo tikkis before that . But there is more street food in Mumbai and I reluctantly  control my gastronomic impulses and very bravely forgo the temptation to have more of the chaat ,leaving place in my hungry stomach for other tastes.
    We move towards Vile Parle station , and stop at a corner under the flyover ,a stone’s throw from McDonalds." Lucky sandwich and Pizza Corner" has a recommendation  hanging on his corner shop from the Times of India for a best street food award and we queue up too .There is everyone there from an Aston Martin to a young couple on a bike,from 10 year olds to grandparents . And there is a sandwich for everyone there too . You want grilled with veggies inside, cheese inside, a Frankie or just a plain one with only boiled potato pieces and yummy sour green chutney  .This is the one my niece raves about. We have the grilled vegetable one, delicious and so filling . It is a small meal in itself and I agree the recommendation by TOI is not unwarranted. Next to him stands a kulfi chap ,no crowd here .Is it because the weather is slightly cool today ? We have one kulfi with paan flavour and we know why there is no crowd. But a dosa walla nearby does brisk business . 
       It’s about 10 at night ,but Mumbai comes into its own .We get an auto to take us back the 2 km distance.Autos are easy to get , though earlier  it hadn’t been  so easy getting an auto to this place  from Juhu beach where we asked almost 8 fellows before one of them agreed and not before we had also walked some 500 metres away from the beach by then. The long distance travellers lure the auto drivers and makes them refuse a short haul passenger. Delhi at night is only cars and road traffic. Mumbai at night, is about girls, women, boys,everyone on the streets ,animated ,happy ,enjoying, comfortable ,brisk ,laughing and joyousness. There is a comfort in the air, of being able  to stand outside street shops and eat, of no pretentions , of shops open till late evening , of being able to catch a bus or an auto easily ,of just enjoying life.
    Our plan to see the beach on a Sunday morning ,in its peaceful avatar were thwarted by the laterisers  and the working couples need to finish their pending weekly jobs . So we started the   day late and were out of the house only by noon . In the spirit of seeing things defining Mumbai we planned to got to Gateway of India and the places thereabouts .This time another local and being Sunday it was a comfortable ride ,getting off at Churchgate and then a cab .The Kandivili folks also decided to join us later and so instead of a family get together at somebodys’ house we had one later at the museum. The Gateway ,was seen by yours truly some 30 years earlier , more crowded now and with another landmark the Taj being pointed to all visitors. Too many Sunday visitors each one of them being followed by photographers with promises of instant photographs ,the most popular demand apparently of the one where you hold the Taj or the Gateway between your forefinger and thumb. The Gateway itself appears to stand immune to everyone crowding around below it,straddling the entrance to Bombay ,welcoming and yet unfeeling. You are welcome here but find your own way , it seems to say .
    On the way we had seen billboards of the Hindustan Times Kala Ghodha Visual Aarts festival and so we walked back to the erstwhile Prince of Wales museum,now renamed  Chhatrapti Shivaji museum .  And so we saw an exhibition of the paintings of the Flemish masters ! Landscapes, still life, black and white  and from the most famous of them all ,Rubens. There is nothing so frustrating than to see a masterpiece and realise your own inadequacies of not having the eye or the knowledge to really appreciate the finer points of a masterpiece. Must join an Art appreciation course ASAP ! But time was short and we criminally skipped the other parts of the museum to go to the festival next door . The museum was there to see anytime ,the Kala Ghodha comes once a year.  The crowd there was enormous and most of the visual delights were lost in the pushing ,jostling mass. The artists who had created some pieces were shunted to the background by people more keen on posing for photographs rather than enjoying the beauty of a horse made of gears ,a monumental structure of empty water bottles,some triangular mirror structure, and many such creative ad absolutely stunning works of art . A childrens workshop warmed our hearts .
And then the pride of Mumbai ,the Marine drive ,the Queens necklace ,the Fort Area. Walking by this very crème de la crème of Mumbai city , with its imposing buildings,its cobbled pavements ,its very historical antecedents . The Gaylord restaurant where Raj Kapoor would drop by for a meal . Areas familiar to us by movie scenes, where across the road we spotted a film shooting was going on . The evening at Marine drive where we sat on the embankments like so many others watching the sea below ,waves breaking on the rocks and the promenade with its breeze  and history ,Nariman point a short distance away ,Shanti Kuteer,Oceana and other residences of the rich ,wealthy, royals etc etc.   But the Marine Drive is egalitarian ,the sea is for all to see,the sea breeze fans every face and in each Mumbaikar’s heart is a piece of this beautiful view of the setting sun a ,reddish blush in the sky and then sinking in the sea far on  the horizon .
   Time  to go back . We missed the 7.05 ,which started moving just as we reached the platform on Churchgate station ,but the 7.11 was ready on another . The ladies compartment was empty when we sat down and I felt a little apprehensive .We thought of moving to the general but another passenger boarded just when the train was about to move and slowly at other stations ,it started to fill .  A group of three hawkers selling cheap jewellery boarded, trustingly handed there baskets in willing customers laps for them to go through and take them back a couple of stations later .A group of chattering Gujarati women livened up the compartment and got down at Dadar . 
   In a day and a half window Mumbai had been well covered ,I thought.


  1. A good read, Poonam. You do have a knack for expressing what you see and feel.

  2. Thank you Aditya and welcome to my blogs !

  3. I felt as if i ws having a trip -i always have a fobia of metro cities may b in future this may help me -u have a very gd expressing power -

  4. Thank ou Chetana .Coming from a writer herself it is much appreciated .

  5. I totally agree with Chetna, i felt was travelling in mumbai again... you write with so much of simplicity...


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