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!

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