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!

Mumbai Diaries VIII

May 5, 2011

It is rather surprising (or maybe its not) how a single incident makes you see the same old things in a different light.  Maybe it’s the fickle nature of mind, or maybe it’s just me. I just hope that it is a temporary phase, some dreary side effect of an unfortunate incident which happened with me, and has ruined much of the charm.  Maybe the cynics and the criticizers of this place have had too many such incidents!

Nothing nasty, just the theft of my phone, On that fateful day, after that interesting piece of cinema called ‘Shor in the City’. Bollywood certainly is quite charmed by its native city, so that large lengths of reel have been marked with the tit bits and musings about it. So the city in the said movie had to be it only. Anyways if it talks about Shor(Noise), it has to be Mumbai!  And what a picture that was! Real, Gritty, un-polished, not glamorized, just the way it is. The whole angle of the pirated books selling has been so innately shown. It is really  shocking to avid readers , the extent to which the stolen, or pirated copies of the book are on sale all over the most ‘elite’ areas of the posh town of SoBo (a common for South Bombay) , including areas around CST, Churchgate, Flora Fountain, and even Police headquarters! Apart from this, the movie also provides a visual treat in form of the narrow lanes and the cramped chawls and apartments amidst the wide roads and sprawling mansions. And ofcourse, that feeling of familiarity! A few months here, and the whole movie watching process has got a new dimension – that of spotting the familiar places. Only after being here you realize the extent to which most of us have already seen Mumbai, thanks to the movies. A lot, and really a lot of the scenes are shot in the city itself, and not including those inside the Filmcity premises. Infact, the High Street Phoenix mall, where the movie was playing, itself made a few appearances in the movie, much to the delight of the audience and even arousing a little clap, which was pleasantly surprising, considering the supposedly high profile crowd of this area, Lower Parel. The Marine Drive, ofcourse has been used endlessly in our films, the most recent and memorable being Wake Up Sid. Churchgate, Townhall, Jogeshwari being some other commonly used places, but the queerest being the roads. Yes,the Mumbai roads. At many places, especially the crossroads or relatively narrow roads, they’re made up not like the others, but of peculiar shaped stones. Irrelevant detail, one might say, but then after observing at so many places, and when you find the same thing in various scenes in movies, and even ad films, you know its Mumbai!

Dadar station, as mentioned earlier, is always the most crowded of all. So much so that even while waiting for the train at platform you’re almost touching and being touched by other people. As I updated my status about a certain Karma being a bitch, probably some of my own karma came back to haunt me as with the arrival of train there is a mini stampede kind of situation, and I, despite being rather expecting this, am pushed here and there, and while keeping a vigil for my wallet somehow get in the train and it is a moment before we all settle at our positions, if there is any such thing, and that’s when I realize that my phone is missing.  Panic seizes me instantly, for though it was a horribly slow and irritating piece of technology, yet it had drew quite a hole in wallet, and had not even completed as many months as its price, in thousands. Funnily, the first thing occurred to me was to chant All is well with a hand on my heart, and it actually helped to calm down the nerves. Then the good fellow travelers offered me their phones to try my number, which expectedly was switched off. They even helped in some little searching here and there, of course with no results. The next station, Kurla arrived in about 5 minutes, and I boarded a train back to Dadar, to look around at the platform, though knowing in my heart that nothing could be done now. Even the railway policemen come to no use with their  ‘’ab to kuch nahi ho sakta , idar sambhal ke rehne ka na’’! Gone it was, forever, and with it so many memories, about 5500 messages, my song collection. Sob, sob.

After some moments of grief, I head towards my Uncle’s home to make arrangements, and as I book an auto and it moves, a middle aged woman, clad in a jeans and tee comes running, ‘’Do you mind, I am in a hurry?’’ Why would I! But I did mind her constant attempts of striking a conversation with me, when I was not yet over the grief. About my religion, my work, location everything under the sun, though I just answered as monosyllabically as possible so as not be rude. Then very suggestively the lady asked me to note down a number in case I need any help in this city, where people are ‘’really bad’’. This did not come as much of a surprise, as on a certain level I was probably expecting it all along. Then she stopped the auto, and with a smile and a ‘see you later’, signaled the auto to leave. And then it occurred to me, how she cleverly used me to save the fare, as the driver must have thought she was with me judging by the volume of words spoken, which, being in English, he would mostly not have understood, and of course the ‘see you later’ thing. Though it did not cause me any further monetary loss, (as if could bear any more!) but I definitely felt ‘used’, and not in the way I would like it!

Really, would one need more reasons to feel at odds with this place? And since then, as if my eyes have lost all the romanticism and charm that they saw earlier in places. The choking with crowd city, packed places, cramped compartments, long lines for local tickets, the stinking slums ,the  random roads, the bizarre  beggars, the menacing mob, the terrifying traffic, the …oh so many things! So much so that the only option to avoid turning into one of those cynics mentioned is to divert the mind towards some of the pleasant memories of the days gone by, in the Magic that this city was, to me.

Essel World and Water Kingdom are two names, which definitely most of us, of the grown up in 90s would identify the most, with famous ‘Ghar nahi jaunga main, Essel world me rahunga main’ ad etched in the memory, and just for that sake, you ought to visit it, you owe it to that kid!  The fact that they are indeed super fun places to be, just fits the bill perfectly. Quite heavy on the pockets maybe, but it proved to be totally worth it, as amidst all the water fun, there was the fashion babe Mugdha Godse to perform for us, as it was the 13th anniversary of water kingdom. Totally paisa vasool! The Goraai beach also lies on the way to these parks, and is akin to other beaches, but that doesn’t make it less fun, especially when you have someone to play with!

It is not very often that you dine in a restaurant of a seven star hotel, and that too Trident Oberoi. And no matter how much you try to stay casual, act normal, you do end up wide mouthed a couple of times, with its rich décor, lighting and architecture. Funnily enough, it justifies all the clichés that one tends to associate with such multi starred restaurants, like bizarre and unrecognizable names on the menu, the over enthusiastic, sometimes to the extent of being creepy waiters (wait, are we allowed calling them that!)  , and most of all, the not-the-most-delicious-ever food, ofcourse being low on those spices and mirchi! And as we discussed the chances of some little celebrity dining there, my hands stopped at a distance from my mouth, as a certain Mr. Arbaaz khan walked in, followed by Sohail Khan, and a bunch of kids, apparently their own, all clad in a Mumbai Indians tee. Just stopped myself from saying ‘ Oye Makkhi! aloud, while my female companion went all gaga over how swanky and cool the Khan brothers looked! We all missed Munni, but obviously, her wide spread Badnaami, wouldn’t allow her to walk in a restaurant so casually, even if its Oberoi. Our dinner got extended by half an hour, and a few hundred bucks, thanks to the stars, and we left all more than just satisfied with the autographs and some exquisite chocolates!

Walked out to what else but The Marine Drive! Arguably one of the most romantic places of the country, at least as our movies would make one believe. And without any pretence, the first thing which draws attention here is the couples involved in some pretty intense PDA, which could either result in your being visibly uncomfortable, or a little too comfortable, depending on present company. Once you move your eyes beyond that, God! Its beautiful!  Its one of those beauties which are man made. Not the sea, but the main beauty is due to the lights, forming an intense, suggestive, and poetic skyline of the metropolis against the sea. Combine that with the cool breeze with splashes of cool water, the melody of waves striking against the stones, the high rising sky scrapers shining in the skies and you have a perfect scene worth remembering for life! Its about 3 kms long, and also known as Queen’s necklace, owing to its shape. The walk is quite wide, and even at times such as 2330 hours, you find kids skating, families chatting and couples snuggling. The now historic venue of our World cup victory- Wankhede stadium, just lies behind the buildings along the road, and the flood lights can be seen, so can be some pillars and supports. Walking past the Tarapore wala aquarium, road to Churchgate station, the Marine lines station, the Charney Road station, you arrive at a beach, and at midnight, it is actually so buzzing with activity, as if it was 6 in the evening.  Children enjoying rides, Bhel puri, Sev puri, Vada pav, Ragda patties, Pani puri, Kala Khatta, there isn’t a thing which you won’t get here, And after initial few moments of apprehension, you end up sitting on the dirty carpets on the ground, like everyone else. After all, where else in the country, would you get to enjoy a pav bhaji on the sea side at 12 in the night, and with hundreds of people!

We rush towards station, and though had the Ek Chalees ki last local phrase in my mind, but the gaurds were shouting, at 1, last local to Borivali, Chad jao sare! And also, after 10 pm, all the locals become slow, I am informed. The engines rumble, the tracks warm up, and the cool night breeze flows in. The crowd, most of them sporting the Mumbai Indians tee, coming from a victorious game, is all cheery! The train tears through the silence of the night…..

And my eyes open, to an evening sun, at my station Karjat, having slept through the journey back to my place, after buying a new phone and sim, and one of the rare times when you get a seat comfortable enough to fall asleep and dream about that beautiful weekend in the Maximum City. By the way, was I by any chance feeling negatively for it? Oh Come on, it was just a phone, and waise bhi some very wise person had once said ,

Bade Bade Shehron me aisi Choti moti Baatein to hoti rehti hain ! ♥ ♥ ♥

Mumbai Diaries IX

May 18, 2011

What can one say about the ‘spirit of Mumbai’ that has not been already said! You do not understand what exactly is it, yet you sense it. There is something about this city which holds your attention, arrests your thoughts. Maybe it is the overwhelming magnitude of everything here, or maybe it is that hint of bollywood all around, or it could just be the pace and range of people and lifestyles. Overwhelming it is, the magnitude of life buzzing through this city which never sleeps. And quite literally, for, where else could you find a train compartment full of people at 0330 hrs ; or a beach full of food joints, rides and people at 003o hrs . Come what may on it, it never stops for a breather, or maybe it just can’t afford to!  Even after that gruesome 26/11 they say, it hardly took time for the city to return to its normal routine. The show must go on, as they say!

And quite a show it is, at places like Marine drive, with all the cozy and uninhibited couples. Not to say that it is restricted only to this place. In fact, a curious (and maybe frustrating if you are not one of them!) observation here is the abundance of couples everywhere you go! Yeah, sure everyplace has love birds but here it is as if everybody and anybody has an arm candy! Infact you see so many couples hanging out around that it seems to be the most natural thing (okay,  it actually is!) ,and not having one seems an aberration.  But really, when any Tom, Dick or Harry walks in with a PYT, it is hard, not to feel sulky if you are alone. On a thoughtful note though, it seems an obvious repercussion of the whole bollywood and fashion extravaganza engulfing this city, which homes both the worlds. Even with all its problems and complexities, it does take it hue from its own world of silver screen! Also, as much as it has the spirit, it also flows through a lot. Almost every other food joint you spot on a roadside is named as XYZ family restaurant and bar!  That makes one wonder if the word family is suffixed only the restaurant or bar too.

The Bandstand park and fort at Bandra is another favourite destination for those wanting to pucker up, or more.  A soothing place it is, after the noisy dynamics of an ever busy Bandra, yet very much a part of it. Mostly famous for the mansion of a certain SRK, Mannat, it is a beautiful sea side park, jogging track, beach, reminiscent of a fort all at once. Apart from the King Khan, several other filmstars reside here too, but none have a sprawling mansion like him. It is a dream location to have a home, one might think, coming out on the balcony to the sun setting in an enigmatic Arabian Sea across the street. But then they might not have the pleasure of playing in the waves, getting wet and sporty in sea, despite it being in front of their home. Contrast that with the slum kids living on the beach front! Well, nobody is perfect or happy, as they say. Just a look around, and the surroundings scream of richness. The road ends with a luxury hotel, Taj Land’s End, followed by the Bandra fort, which at the very first view brings back the pleasant memories of the 2008 rom-com Jaane tu…ya Jane na. This is the place where Meow , Rats and their gang used to hang out so very often, and Imran dressed up as sweeper woman cheers up a teary Genelia. And why not, for this place is a delight for all things with a lens and screen, eyes included! The sea, the rocks, the constant anguish between the two, the plunging skyline of the Worli front, which starts to lighten up as the sunrays deceive, and towering structure of the Bandra Worli Sea link, which bridges the two most populous areas of the city. A postcard image indeed, for all things Mumbai!

Across the link, lie the two most pious symbol of faith in this land of non-belief, The Haji Ali Dargah, and the Siddhivinayak temple. Both symbolize the highest degree of devotion in respective religions, and as every other famed place in Mumbai, have a very bollywood-connotation. With the dargah featuring often in movies, most notable being the A R Rahman’s Piya Haji Ali qawwali in the Hrithik-Karishma starrer Fiza; and the temple constantly being in the media for one or the other star offering their prayers, increasingly so at the time of their movies, both are the names very common, and not just in Mumbai. Yet they are not free from the vices which such places at other lesser blessed parts of the country suffer. While the dargah is a far cry from its image of a beautiful architecture surrounded by the roaring sea, with the glaringly dirty and polluted surroundings, and a receding sea, the temple has its usual disappointing system of pay and peek-a-boo at the Lord, and to add, a system of monthly, annual and more passes for darshan, for those loaded with money! One big show business it is!

South Mumbai, or SoBo, is definitely the coolest (and hottest in some respects!) part of Mumbai, and arguably, of the country! And that means the most urbane, and catering to the fantasies of people who have a certain image of this city as THE big city of our country. Wide, clean, roads with ordered trees; big shot shops and outlets; multi starred hotels and restaurants; various nationalities of people; really pretty girls with really small clothing; Dogs on a walk with their owners ( even the dogs were of multi national breeds, with one exactly resembling the Vodafone dog!) ; really cool hangout places – bars, clubs, food  courts; separate ordered lanes for pedestrians; and of course, the characteristic tall skyscrapers (Though appreciably quite a few of these things are common to most of the Mumbai, except maybe the clean bit) are just some of them.  The Marine Drive ends at the Nariman Point, which again is a very familiar sight, the recent sightings being Munnabhai M.B.B.S. and Ghajini. On the other side, Marine Drive leads to the Malabar Hills area, which is one of the most coveted addresses in country, and for good reasons obvious at the first sight. It is a piece of land, or originally a hill, surrounded on 3 sides by the sea. And it comes quite as a surprise, amidst all the urbane landscapes, when you suddenly feel as if arrived at a hill station, with its elevating roads and the smell of the sea mixed with a cool hilly air. Interestingly, if you have ever observed a Mumbai map, the projection shown at an end is very easily identifiable. Infact, the Hanging gardens, (there are two of them, situated in the elevated area which was once just a hill) present a beautiful bird’s eye view of the entire Marine Drive, the Queen’s necklace structure, till the Nariman point. The view is so very like observed on the map, with its peculiar curve. And like the bandstand, this area too had richness written all over it, with huge mansions, luxury apartments, all sea facing. The people, surroundings, amenities all bearing the most posh and chic look you could ever see. Though its irritating when you don’t find an ATM in a kilometer long walk. Perhaps the people here are too rich to use an ATM card! The hill is also home to the Walkeshwar temple and the banganga tank. Now , if anyone actually remembers a Rani Mukerjee starrer movie called , Laga Chunari Mein Daag, this place had an important scene in it, hence my interest . Vibha, the character of Rani, who comes from Banaras to Bombay, comes to this place whenever she misses her banaras, the ghats of Ganga. As the mythology goes, Ram asked Lakshman to bring some water while passing through here, and he shot an arrow in the ground and the waters of Holy Ganga sprang through, hence the name Banganga. Though, sadly the place looked in dire need of care. Too bad the movie didn’t work, or this place could have found a few takers!

The surrounding areas, Vidhan Sabha, Churchgate, Fort, Hutatma Chowk, Colaba, Cuffe parade all are the picture perfect ‘big city’ areas, with high rising and beautiful buildings all around, and ofcourse amidst all this, the sea, sometimes at bay, usually at its usual cheery self, adds to the beauty. As the night grows, so does the charm. The region around Churchgate, with the beautiful Rajabai tower shining along its dials, in the venetian gothic Mumbai University campus looks surreal, and in a very desirable way! A number of bunglows of ministers and bureaucrats are lined up in the area. Parel and Lower Parel, bordering the SoBo areas, are also known for their high rises. Interestingly, looking at these sky kissing towers, you never get a hint of life inside, say an open window and a set of peeking eyes, or even some drying clothes in the balcony, no nothing. It also homes a lot of commercial hubs i.e. offices of multi national companies, media houses and others. A lot of economic activities though have now shifted to the Bandra Kurla Complex, a planned commercial space in the suburbs of Bandra and Kurla.

One can say it so many times, yet it cannot be over emphasized. This city is big. It is not just a city, but a symbol, a metaphor, a denotation for a lot of dreams, hopes, and aspirations, sometimes crushed, often achieved, but never ignored. If nothing else, the sheer magnitude of everything is enough to either amaze you, awe you or may be simply too lost to realize them. It encompasses so many areas in itself, Andheri, Bandra, Dadar, Ghatkopar, Kurla, Chembur, Borivali, Malad, Goregaon, Santa Cruz, Dombivali, Vashi, Panvel and more, all of which are in themselves a complete city, yet all part of this whole. All these areas are divided into east and west, mainly lying on either side of the local station. The fact that ours is a developing country is very much visible here! It is forever in the process of growth. And growth proceeds demolition.  It is a never ending tale. All around one observes here are the buildings rising up to touch the skies, flyovers being built to clear the roads, and the remaining spaces being occupied by the metro or the mono rail bridges. (Most prominently in  Wadala, which also houses the world’s biggest dome theatre-  IMAX Big Cinemas.)

Yet life manifests itself in the smallest of things only.  Like a couple hiding behind the rocks ; a little kid outside the multi starred hotels arguing to his parents for having the road side vada pav; a man sitting on the ladies seat in the bus only to be reprimanded by the conductor, and a lady; a labor family having their lunch sitting under the metro flyover surrounded by a zooming traffic, oblivious  of it;  two men in a verbal duel in the local when one apparently pushed the other, involving the choicest expletives about the human genitalia, while the crowd laughs and to put a stop, shouts slogans of Ganpatti Bappa Morya and Jai Shivaji, Jai Maharashtra!

And amidst all this chaos and maze, you strive for your path and your space, bewildered by the seemingly disordered ways, till you are one of them, and echo!

Ye hai Mumbai Nagariya tu dekh babua!

Mumbai Diaries X

June 14, 2011

Predictabilities and clichés may not make a good copy, but they are certainly inevitable in life.  As my affair with the magical city nears its climax, all of them occur to me. Even being constantly aware of the limited time could not help avoid the feeling of belongingness. And at the end, so many things are found which should have been done, so many places which should have been visited, so many experiences, just felt. But no amount of time would do that, as at any end, the ‘should have’s ‘remain. Even the residents of this city cannot claim to not have any; such is the infiniteness of its dimensions, both real and the virtual. In fact, in many cases, the residents are far less curious and aware of the city. Moreover, somehow most of the people you ever happen to have conversation with, actually are either new in the city or are here for a limited time. Hence as long as it is, be it merry!

What else it could be, once the clouds descend in this city so famous for its rains, some reasons being poetic and romantic, while some not so pleasing. So after a hot and humid May, the first few drops and all the romanticism surrounding the Mumbai rains (thanks to the movies) veers for expression. So many love stories have found a culmination in these waters. So I take the first local, to the Marine Drive. But playing the trick, the waters soon deceive the land as I am barely midway. So I change tracks and reach a suburban mall to serve my hunger, with some of the choicest and costliest foods. Yeah, sometimes one does move towards the belief involving the whole metro lifestyle being fake, flimsy and fragile; with money being an excuse for each and everything, but sometimes it just seems natural. One can’t be, or maybe shouldn’t be judgmental about it. Interesting observation though is the increasing number of fat and obese people you see in places, especially in the food courts. Not just kids, but even young people, guys and girls, which reminds of the reports about people being so in the developed nations like the USA. Maybe these are the signs of development (Certainly not good ones). Not that these are the only ones. The shops themselves present a whole range of the society. From the oh so talked about spas (so many kinds!) to a ‘theme party’ shop to a dog products shop to a shop for the new born babies; all spell comfort no doubt, but also over-indulgence! A Colgate advertisement being shot at a coffee shop attracts the attention of people, but lack of any attractive face restricts the crowd. A leading daily organized online gaming event occupies half of the ground floor, with kids and youngsters, mostly guys, throbbing to occupy a computer. A new dance based reality show being promoted, with most of the production house people present and inviting people to dance impromptu to their music, and giving presents, gathers a lot of attention, and performers. The absence of the main celebrity judge, a dancing superstar is made up by his 3D projection dancing along with the people. Quite eye catching actually, well, anything involving a certain Hrithik Roshan is!

It is about a week later, and I am changing the local from western line to central line at Dadar for CST, when the clouds descend. As the platform 8 local moves, in a few seconds, the rains gain all their passion, and by the time it passes through Parel, the surroundings already appear wet and watery. As it starts after a brief halt at the Byculla station, a stream of water from somewhere on the ceiling rushes into the coach from the gates, much to the trouble of passengers, and the gates are closed. I step out of the CST station, and the view is all that for which Mumbai rains stand for- beautiful, picturesque, unreal and straight out of a bollywood flick. The grand and gothic CST structure basks in its full and wet glory in the rains, and the statue at the top points towards the source of all the waters. The roads are all wet, though thankfully there is not much water logging except a bit on the sides, and you see people everywhere running around, with and without their umbrellas. The wide roads have even got cleaner, so have the buildings around, and even the vehicles bask in the new found shine. Yet nothing has stopped. The rickshaws, cabbies, buses everything goes on uninterrupted. The vada pav, bhajiya, sugarcane juice and the cutting ‘chahaa’ (tea) stalls attract even more people, while some naughty souls just play getting wild in the waters. Its 20 minutes past 12 noon, and I am already late for the movie at Sterling Cinemas, where my friend is already inside the multiplex. Searching for the cinema, I run across a number of people, stumbling at times on the wet pavements, and enter the cinema premises, only later to realize that it was not Sterling but Empire cinema. Mumbai has number of such cinema halls which are quite old. A part of the lore and culture of this city, and though now most of them have been converted into a multiplex, the old world charm, the look remains. Sterling, Empire, Eros, Gaity being some of them.

After the first class performance of certain mutants of Professor Xavier, we walk our way to a beautiful Churchgate station, the rain pouring all the time. The newly opened huge Planet M store there draws a lot of crowd, more so since it regularly plays hosts to some star performances.  A hot chicken barbeque roll at the Monginis Bakery later, we walk towards the Azaad maidan. The Fashion Street is arrived. My friend tells me, it’s the coolest (read cheapest) place in Bombay to get the most stylish clothes, footwears and accessories. Basically, it consists of about a hundred street side shops, where the vendors sell stuff, quote an astronomical price, but you quote just half of it, and eventually you get it! Somewhat reminds me of the Palika Bazar of Delhi, but the stuff here is all actually branded, and export rejects! So they might have minor unsuspecting flaw, but are branded. The heavy rains! The tall sky scrapers, the wide and clean roads, the trees all look mesmerizing in the waters. The cars, cabs and people peeking out of them to get a drop or two is oh just so bollywood, the latest in my memory being Life in a Metro, which has beautiful rainy visuals of this city. And even as the waters flow, a sweeper in raincoat is cleaning the roads along! That’s South Bombay for you. If only they would do that every where! I also feel the need of buying some foot wear as the idiot I am, had been wearing a sports shoe, which was now completely soaked with water and the wet socks and shoes wee quite an irritant for my feet. I buy a fancy pair of sandals at 150 (quoted 450) and then carry the shoes and socks in a bag. This becomes quite irksome, and I decide to just drop them somewhere, as they had already served there purpose for long. So I just leave the packet at a shop, and walk ahead. Only to find a man running after us after about 5 minutes- Sir, apne joote bhool gaye aap!   The honesty is definitely impressing, though stupid on our part, told him to keep it!

The Marine drive and the Nariman point had never looked more beautiful. Better than one could imagine. Better than Sid describes to Aisha. Better than beautiful. There is something about a mad sea, coupled with mad rains and ofcourse mad couples. The rain ignited passions were on a new high here, with so many couples ‘into’ each other without a care of the world, doing it behind the rocks, doing it behind the raincoats, doing it behind the umbrella, you actually feel like shouting, Go  get a room guys! But never mind, there is an unparalleled thrill, when the rains from above, mix with the high tides, and strong waves which jump above the boundary and wet you all over. The umbrellas are of least use with the strong winds tearing it upside down. The water of the rains mixes with the sea, and the outlines get blurred. The Malabar hills stretch looks hazy in the rain. The tall skyline of the city comes across as if watching with dreamy eyes. Kids, families, friends all play with the waters. Pizza at the Bay- the sea side pizzeria and bar is a hotspot, now and generally, with hot food, beer and people! After a little of all of these, as I come out picking up my umbrella from the stands, I realize it is broken! Hence after a little thought and encouragement from my friend, I quietly go in, and on the pretext of searching mine, I keep my broken one, and bring away somebody else’s not-broken umbrella! And walk for a minute before looking back again. Did I just steal an umbrella in SoBo? I think not.

And that’s the magic that Mumbai rains are. They just go on and on, for days. You may complain about the water logging. Yeah it is there. But, not to defend it, where is it not? We are all so used to it. The water causes problems mainly in the suburbs, SoBo is generally well managed. But whatever, as they say, beauty is all in the eyes. And it would really take a cynic to not see that here. Why just rains, but in everything about this city, you need an eye. Otherwise it is very easy to dismiss it as a dust bowl and all things wrong. But seriously, and not so proudly, these are some things which we are quite used to, so they can’t be that hard to bear. But look beyond that, and this is the city of dreams!

So what if I had to stand at the Borivali station for an hour and watch 6 locals pass so full of people that I couldn’t board them, and I had to take a cab ultimately. But then that being very pocket friendly and offering the great view of the wet and watery city, can’t be cribbed about. So what if as I reach the Dadar platform the local is already moving and I run as I never had, and catch the extended hand of a guy (sadly) to jump in, while a few coins from my back pocket fall down. But then the feeling that it gave, of accomplishment, of joy, is priceless. So what if as you watch a crippled beggar sliding himself on the road, and as another guy picks up a coin from his bowl, he stands and runs behind him. But then you remember the beggars back home, which keep nagging you irritatingly until you give them something. So what if in the people full local, as I carry my luggage, I forget to pick my umbrella from the stands. But then the people shout for you and throw it away for you from a moving train.

You might be alone, but could never be alone here. You might have a lot of people, but you could be very alone here. Such is the magnitude of everything here. It looks like the rains are never going to end. But my journey sure is. The Fashion street sandals succumbed to the waters in a couple of days. The I Luv Mumbai tee bought from the Elephanta caves is missing.

As I step in the airport, the image of the sky kissing towers in the pool of water on roadside blurs into oblivion as the water disrupts. The plane rises high; the city becomes smaller; and gradually vanishes from sight. But the dream has just got bigger. The screen plays-

Alvida, Alvida , Meri raahein kehti hain alvida…!

For the time being, I take that.  It can’t be the end!

लव आज कल

आज इतने वर्षों बाद तुम्हें देखा | बारिश की बूंदों के बीच सतरंगी इन्द्रधनुष के समान तुमने अचानक से ही मेरे दिल के रंगहीन पटल पर कितने सारे रंग बिखेर दिए थे |पर न जाने क्यूँ ..ये रंग आज कुछ अलग से लग रहे थे | जैसे घाव से बहते हुए रक्त का रंग, जैसे घर को जलाने वाली अग्नि का रंग, जैसे किसी प्यासे के लिए समुद्री पानी का रंग .. जैसे तुम्हारे और मेरे बीच के इन फासलों का रंग | ये कैसा एहसास था ? वैसा तो निश्चित रूप से नहीं था , जैसा मैंने इन 5 सालों में हर पल तुम्हारे बारे में सोचते हुए महसूस किया था| आज जब तुम अनायास ही, बिना किसी पूर्वाभास के इस भीगी सुबह में मुझे दिखी, तो मेरी सारी कल्पनाएँ , इन 5 सालों में इस लम्हे के बनाये हुए सारे चित्र धुंधले होते हुए मालूम पड़े ..उनके सारे रंग झूठे जान पड़े..आखिर ऐसा क्यों हो रहा था ? तुम्हें देख कर मुझे यह कैसा एहसास हो रहा था ? यह प्यार तो नहीं था …

सामने सागर की एक लहर तेज़ी से आगे आकर फिर पीछे की ओर जाने लगी| साथ ही मेरा मन भी पीछे की ओर उड़ने लगा| 5 साल पीछे | जब सब कुछ अलग था| सब कुछ शांत था| ठीक उसी शांत समुद्र की तरह, जिसके किनारे हम दोनों अकसर घंटों बैठे बातें किया करते थे| पर तब कहाँ पता था,कि वह शान्ति तो तूफ़ान की पहले की शांति थी| तूफ़ान तो आया था, पर तब वह विध्वंसक नहीं था, वह तो जूनून था, प्यार का जूनून| मुझे आज भी वह दृश्य आईने में अपने साये के समान स्पष्ट है, जब मैंने तुम्हे पहली बार देखा था| तब भी तुम बारिश में भीग रही थी , ऑटो से बाहर निकलने के बाद अपने बालों से पानी निचोड़ रही थी| हालांकि उस वक्त तुम्हारे बाल अधिक भीगे नहीं थे , परन्तु तुम और तुम्हारी आदतें, इन्हीं पर तो मर मिटा था मैं|

मुझे नहीं पता था कि प्यार क्या होता है , हालाँकि फिल्मों में बहुत देखा था, किताबों में पढ़ा था , और तब तो आस पास भी सभी के लिए एक गर्लफ्रेंड होना फैशन सा बन गया था| पर मैं हमेशा यह सब देखकर संशय में पड़ जाता था| ऐसा नहीं था कि मेरा मन नहीं करता था इन सब का, परन्तु पुनः, मुझे नहीं पता था कि प्यार क्या होता है| क्या मात्र किसी का देखने में अच्छा लगना प्यार है ? क्या किसी से बातें करने में अच्छा लगना प्यार है ? और खुद ही आश्वस्त हुए बिना मैं किसी दूसरे को भला कैसे कुछ वादा कर सकता था| उसकी भी तो कुछ आशाएं , कुछ अपेक्षाएं होती होंगी| भला किसी को झूठी उम्मीदें दिलाना सही होगा क्या? बस यही सब सोच सोच कर मैं हमेशा रह जाता था|

पर तुमसे मिलने के बाद तो ये सब बातें मन में कभी आई ही नहीं| अब सोचता हूँ तो अजीब लगता है, पर यह सच है ,ये सारे सवाल, सारी शंकाएं, उस वक्त, न जाने कहाँ गुम हो गयीं थी| कुछ यदि रहता था तो बस तुम्हारा ख्याल, तुम्हारी बातें| तुम्हारे साथ एक एक पल बिताने के लिए मन कितना आतुर रहता था| तुम्हारी आवाज़ सुनने को हर वक्त कान तरसते थे| रास्ते में चलते हुए यूँ महसूस होता मानो तुम सामने से आ रही हो, पर अगले ही पल सच्चाई का एहसास होते ही मन बुझ सा जाता , और जब तक फिर तुम्हें देख न लेता वैसा ही रहता| और जब हम साथ होते, तो बातों में कैसे वक्त बीत जाता पता ही नहीं चलता| तुम्हारे हाथों को थामे हुए सागर किनारे चलना मानो दुनिया का सबसे खूबसूरत एहसास लगता था| जहाँ मैं पहले प्यार, रिश्ता इन सब शब्दों को सुन कर कुछ समझ नहीं पाता था, वही अब मन हर वक्त तुम्हारे साथ भविष्य के सुनहरे सपने सजाता रहता था| एक निश्चितता सी महसूस होती थी दिल को, जिसमें किसी चिंता या परेशानी की जगह ही नहीं बचती थी| उस दिन जब सागर की लहरों ने जब हम दोनों के बदनों को भिगो दिया था, और ठण्ड से ठिठुरते हुए हम दोनों बाँहों में बाहें डाले हुए वापस लौटे थे, तब मुझे तुम्हारी ओर से भी इस रिश्ते की सहमति सुनाई दी थी| बस फिर क्या था, जिंदगी तो जैसे एक खूबसूरत ख्वाब बन गयी | तुम्हारी बाँहों में तो हर एक पल जैसे जन्नत लगता था| एक सुन्दर भविष्य आगे साफ़ नज़र आ रहा था| घरवालों को भी कोई ऐतराज़ न होना था| होता भी क्यों? पिताजी के बड़े व्यापार का मैं एकलौता वारिस जो था| सो करीब 1 साल के इस सफर के बाद हमारे रिश्ते की परिणति शादी के रूप में तय हो गयी थी| और क्या चाहिए था हमें!

मैंने सुना था कि हर सच्ची प्रेम कहानी का दुखद अंत ही होता है| इससे कम से कम यह तो आश्वासन हुआ कि हमारा प्यार सच्चा था! शादी के एक महीने पूर्व ही हमारे कारोबार में बहुत बड़ा नुकसान हुआ, किसी ने धोखा किया, और एक झटके में ही हम अर्श से फर्श पर आ गए थे| हमारी आर्थिक स्थिति अत्यंत शोचनीय हो गयी थी| इस नयी मुसीबत का सामना करना सीखा नहीं था कि तभी एक दूसरा वज्रपात भी हो गया था| तुम्हारे माता पिता आये थे, और यह रिश्ता तोड़ दिया था| हालाँकि उन्हें हमसे सहानुभूति थी, पर उससे ज्यादा तुम्हारी फ़िक्र थी, और उन्हें मैं इसके लिए दोषी भी नहीं ठहरा सका था| तुमसे मिला था मैं, तुम परेशान थी| हालाँकि तुम्हारी आँखों में मैं अपने लिए प्यार साफ़ देख सकता था| पर तुममे अपने माता पिता का विरोध करने का साहस नहीं था| और सच बताऊँ तो मैं इतना स्वार्थी नहीं बनना चाहता था कि अपनी खुशी के लिए तुम्हे एक अनिश्चित भविष्य के लिए कहता| तुम जहाँ भी रहो खुश रहो, बस यही इच्छा थी मेरी| सो यह सोचकर कि तुम सुख से रहोगी, और मैं मन ही मन तुम्हे सदा के लिए प्रेम करता रहूँगा, हम अलग हो गए थे|

पर आज 5 साल बाद तुम्हें जब वहीँ सागर किनारे देखा, तुम अपनी आलीशान कार से निकल रही थी, अपने बालों से वैसे ही पानी निचोडते हुए, तुम्हारी खुशहाली तुम्हारी वेशभूषा से साफ़ नज़र आ रही थी| शादीशुदा होने के बावजूद तुममे बहुत ज्यादा अंतर नहीं आया था, पर फिर भी काफी अंतर था| तुम्हारे बड़े बड़े आभूषण, महंगे कपड़े,आलीशान गाड़ी, इन सब से अधिक मुखर थी तुम्हारी खुशी| तुम निश्चित रूप से जिंदगी से अत्यंत प्रसन्न थी| कोई गिला शिकवा नहीं था तुम्हें| एक खुशहाल जिंदगी की चमक तुम्हारे चेहरे पर साफ़ नज़र आ रही थी| पर यह सब देख कर मुझे क्यों बुरा लग रहा था? ऐसा क्यों महसूस हो रहा था कि मैं पिछले कितने वर्षों से एक छलावे में जी रहा था| जिस कल्पना में मैं जी रहा था, वो सब क्या एक भ्रम थी? जिस प्रकार मैं तुम्हे पल पल याद करता था, क्या मैं तुमसे भी वही उम्मीद करता था? यदि नहीं तो फिर आज इस क्रोध, इस द्वेष. इस मलिन भाव का क्या अर्थ था?आज कुछ टूटा हुआ सा महसूस हो रहा था मन में| क्या मेरा प्रेम सच्चा नहीं था ? क्यों तुम्हें खुश देखकर मैं खुश नहीं हुआ? आखिर ये क्या एहसास था? क्या मुझे तुम्हारी खुशहाल जिंदगी से ईर्ष्या हो रही थी? आखिर यह कैसा प्यार था? क्या यही अंतर होता है वास्तविक और काल्पनिक प्यार में? क्या तुम्हारे पास मेरे इन सवालों का कोई जवाब है ?

The Flame

It was a very peaceful process, to say the least.
Every human at some time in his/her life, imagines about death, how it must feel, what must be there beyond the life? But before the actual death, there is as much knowledge about it as is about the plan of aliens invading earth.
He felt very numb. That is, if he could still feel. A sort of stillness and calmness embraced him all around, sort of which he had always wished for in his life, but attained it only now, after his death.
He was dead.
A few moments of the ultimate silence followed. His whole existence or rather the impression of existence, was just an imprint of a lifetime he had just completed and was slowly leaving all of it behind.
He was at a different place, in a different world.
All around him was emptiness, an infinite existence of nothingness. To his front he could see (or rather understand) an abundance of golden light obscuring the glowing space behind it. The other side was submerged in dark clouds, which were there to hide the blackness that lay behind it.
Heaven and Hell. As if he always knew they were like this. He understood. Then he also did understand that the choice was not going to be his.
Still, out of his own accord, he moved towards the golden light. Next moment a voice beckons him.
‘’ Is this the path for you?’’
He felt as if the voice was coming from inside him though he knew it was coming from the menacing darkness beneath the clouds.
‘’ I have always been a noble man during my stay on earth’’, he thought.
‘’Sure you have’’, now the voice seemed to be coming from the golden mass of light.
‘’Nothing is hidden here. No secrets prevail after life. Your soul lays naked here ‘’, the darkness said.
‘’Heaven is for the one with a pure heart. A clean heart’’, the light said.
‘’I never harmed a living soul. Not on purpose’.’
‘’But your heart had darkness’’, said the darkness
‘’It was never free from evils’’ added the light.
‘’Did you not feel jealous of success of your friends over you?’’
‘’I can’t deny that,’’ he thought.
‘’Did you not feel proud and vain for being superior to some people?’’
‘’Sometimes…or often, I did’’.
‘’Did you never get angry and wished ill for your people?’’
‘’Nothing is hidden here, that’s true, I did.’’
‘’Did you never want to take revenge and cause pain to other living souls’’?
‘’The desire is inevitable!’’
‘’So when your heart had such negative energies, why shall you be given a place in heaven?’’ the darkness and light said in unison.
He had no answer. As he started drifting towards the darkness, he felt another voice, much stronger, and having a divine air to it, and coming from above him, above the Heaven and Hell.
‘’ Stay there, Son! Hell is not the place for you. Heavens shall be bestowed onto you.’’
‘’ My heart is not pure, it is dark.’’ He thought.
‘’The flame of light, always rises above the darkness. The darkness lies beneath the flame, but once it rises above, it is light, and not darkness.’’
‘’All of you, the mortals, have some darkness in you. The devil does not touch nobody. Great are those, who rise against the darkness, the evils and make the correct choices.’’
‘’ What matters is what you do, what you choose to be. Rather than being what you are, you can be what you choose to be. It’s your choices that matter rather than your qualities. You can choose to be good, you can choose to be bad. Those who are Good shall be blessed with Heaven and the rest shall lay in Hell.’’
‘’Yes, despite all the negative feelings in my heart, I never chose to work on them. I suppressed them, neglected them, and moved ahead. I chose to be Good.’’ He thought.
‘’Nothing is hidden from me’’, said God.
And he went ahead to be a part of the golden lights

Shifting Shapes…

Air and sand

Sand and air

What else is life

But a palette to display thy flair

To pull some strings, to form new layers

To give a new shape, to bring new players

Like the shifting shapes in sand

Thou mould our lives, sometimes pleasing

sometimes bland.

 

The roads of rose or thorns’ paving

The whims and fantasies and the cravings

Which of these is forever?

Is there a writing sans an eraser?

Little do we know less can we say

Listen to the sand if you may

A blow of sand, a stroke of hand

Is all it takes to mar the planned

Every moment lives on its own

The very next could be when the wind is blown

What are winds…but the hands of thou

A moment of fire, a moment of thirst

The winds strike and the clouds burst

Such is life…such is the lord

Teachings of the sand, if strike a chord

What is anxiety what is fear?

Trust thy master trust his hands

When all is momentary 

Then why be sad and why shed a tear?

 

Shifting Shapes..Changing Lives

Uncertainty is all it implies

Distrust or doubt you never must

As God is fair and He is just

In times of heat and paths too narrow

He broadens the way and blesses with shadow

For all his arts and playful zests

He alone knows what is the best

The real rules lie behind the drapes

And all we see are Shifting shapes!