Mumbai: Urbs prima Indiae

Taken from my old blog, dated February 2, 2012
After agonising for 10 minutes on the title, I have settled on a simple [Orhan Pamuk-esque] title. During a recent trip to Mumbai, I had the opportunity to explore the ins and outs of Fort and CST on foot and via BEST. I had tons of fun and some nice moments. Lets see what.
So, It was the wedding of a school friend of mine. We hadnt met in 7-8 years since 10th, but such is the school-friend phenomenon, that you pick up the threads as you left them, even with such humongous gaps in between. Quick description:
Left for Pune on saturday, attended his Ring Ceremony, at Mahape [near Koparkhairane, New Bombay]. Came back on Sunday morning [more like afternoon] to attend the wedding of The Devika. Had fun there too, a nice little sojourn to Chocolate Room with a bunch of friends, and loads of juicy IISER gossip. 🙂
Saturday evening back to Mahape, to attend the reception [the wedding had taken place in the day]. As the groom left for the venue, we took it upon ourselves to decorate the bridal chamber. It was fun, trying to think of innovative ways of arranging flowers to make it look elegant 🙂 . We wanted to seal the deal with candles, but the hotel literally snuffed out our idea by saying no fire in the room as it triggers the fire alarms. So we had to make do with flowers and a nice little cherry cheese-cake.I went to CST the next morning, to meet a friend, who promptly stood me up. Waiting for another friend, a fellow wedding-attendee, I started roaming about the nice old buildings of CST. This friend was at Borivali, and 2 hours turned to 8 and I had 23 tons of time on my hands. It was fun though, I was in no particular hurry, and I had a whale of a time, roaming around aimlessly, soaking it in.

There are plenty of buses that do the CST-Nariman Point-CST circuit. All I had to do was hop onto a double decker, and sit myself down on the first seat on the top and have a nice sight-seeing tour. Turned out, a couple had hogged the front row, both sitting one each on the 2 front benches. As the bus was virtually empty, out of courtesy, I had to sit on the second row. Best 10 minutes of my day! As you can imagine, I sat behind the girl. There is a window on these seats, where the windshield would be. As I sat behind her, the wind wafted through these windows and through her, hair all flowing and nice, into me. A sweet, fragrant time… Take a second to imagine this situation and realize how awesome it was 🙂

[was thinking of putting this photo here, but it doesn’t cover it, and such things are best left to imagination.]

As I look back, I see that the entire day could be typified by this one moment. I could soak in the beauty of the surroundings, virtually as an outsider. But in the end, she got down with her boyfriend, oblivious to my presence. I didnt mind it though! The moment was good enough. As I roamed about the streets of Fort, I could see and observe many things. Mostly the intersection of the very old and the hip and young. The city itself, or the people, were oblivious to this soaking in of mine though. They were engrossed in their own loves.

If I try to describe the city in one overarching theme, I would fail. By city I mean just Fort, but still. It is like the neo-colonial architecture in the area. A hodge podge of many different styles. Gothic pillars, English decorations, Islamic onion domes, Parsi symbolism, Indian materials, Brit-Raj architecture etc etc etc. A hodge podge, true, but not a mess. What emerged was neither of its components. They didnt just merge seamlessly, they melted together to forge a new style. Thats the flavour of that area. Yet, it is not too. Do not try to reconcile this paradox, coz it is there, like a living, breathing thing and you cant explain it away. Metres away from the Taj, we have a poor kid selling fruit slices for 2 rupees a slice. Just below the financial nerve centre of the country, the RBI HQ, are two guys selling Vada Pav and Chai. Just outside some of the oldest buildings in the country, you see some of the most forward thinking kids to ever set foot inside a college. All this created even more hodge podginess. But again, there was the total absence of incompatibility. Every niche was occupied, every opportunity utilized, to present a seamless facade.  Every element was just that, in its element. Everywhere, again and again, there was this feeling, that my being there or not being there was not making one iota of a difference. Some places engulf you, some entertain you, some demand entrance qualifications. Mumbai did nothing of the sort. It just didnt care, you come and you go, we have enough of our own cares to worry about…

There was a road, so small that only one car could pass through at once. It was small because there were cars parked parallel on both sides of the road. In such a small space, I found the longest sedan I have ever seen.

This Chrysler Fleetwood is LONG. If it doesnt seem so long in the pic, here is a telling observation. There was a Honda Accord parked beside it. To my [admittedly excited] eyes, it seemed to be atleast 1.5 times the length of the Accord! It was a maroon car, lovingly preserved, spotlessly shiny. The interiors were a nice suede leather, plush seats. Not enough room inside it seemed, for such a huge boot, but there it was. Almost exactly as new, except for the stolen chrysler symbol on the front.

Jostling for eye and leg space, were a multitude of shops. All those old building bearing this attack on their frontage with a stiff upper lip. Most of the windows above level 1 were closed or broken. As the light declined into twilight, most of the windows were dark too. I was insanely curious to go up and see what is inside. Were there actual rooms, or was the facade of the building just painted on? It was that lifeless. But not in a bad way, you know. It wasnt forbidding, not abandoned, just out of reach… There were a few beacons of lights dotting the windows here and there, to show that yes, there was life in them. Not like the the forbidding gates of Mordor, but equally inaccessible.

These buildings were decades old. All those years of the sea breeze coupled with a fierce monsoon had failed to make a significant dent, but the softening around the edges gave them character. Worn out, but still quite unused. everything smacked of paradoxes.

On a previous visit to this area, with Santosh, Yatindra and Yoga, we had chanced upon a nice little burger place, Fidos. It has since closed down, but every time I come here, I try to find another place like this. A previous hunt with Swetha in tow brought us the amazing Mad Over Donuts. This time though, I had no such luck. After a while, after much searching, I gave up. I decided to get lost. It was slightly difficult, as the roads are quite intuitively laid out and signboards are a-plenty. I did manage to lose myself, and one of favourite Beatles songs came to mind….

Magic feeling indeed.

After a while, I got tired [and however comfortable clothes you wear, chafing is unavoidable after walking for 4-5 hours with a bag on your back…] and decided to go back to the bus trips. As dusk fell, I could see many kid-parent jodis wend their way back to bus stands and into buses to CST to go back home. The faces of an excited kid after a day at the Gateway, quietly enjoying their icecreams as worried dads held the the other hand to make sure the kid doesnt get lost way told the entire story.

I made two more bus trips before my friend finally turned up and we made our merry way back to Pune. All my euphoria and exertions coalesced into a nice feel-good feeling, on the way back [quite like the icecream-kids]… on the back of which I am writing this whole thing. Many more things to write, many more thoughts, but right now, this is what springs to mind…


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