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!

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