Just over a hundred kilometers from where the periphery of Mumbai city ends, a stretch of road takes us to the eastward side, where basalt rock formations dot the landscape. The landscape is dry and dotted with thorny trees, quite a contrast from the lush lonavala road.
“This falls in the rain shadow area” explains my colleague.
We look at wonder at the miraculous formations springing up as we go further.
If you are familiar with Indian Mythology, you would have heard of Lord Ram and the story of Ramayana. According to the story, an exiled King Ram stayed with his wife, Sita and brother Laxman in a hut in the Dandaka forest. That place is said to be in Nasik from where the Demon King Ravana had kidnapped the Queen Sita. Looking for his wife, the Lord Ram then travelled on foot for a day until he reached the edge of the land where the sea starts. He was thirsty, so his brother Laxman shot an arrow into the ground from where sprang fresh sweet water. This place is today called “Banganga” and lies hidden and forgotten in the plush locality of Malabar hill in Bombay.
Every year starting winters, tens of thousands of flamingos make their way to a little known jetty point in Mumbai. They travel from the Rann of Kutch, which is their breeding ground and make way to two areas in Mumbai, one is a less known jetty point for their morning feeding and the other is their evening spot near New Bombay. when they arrive here in early winter, their wings are a shade of white, but during thier departure they become a pink.
How does this happen? Our guide from BNHS explained that these muddy flats near Mumbai are filled with blue green algae from which the birds’ digestive tract extract the pigment from the carotenoid and an algae rich diet ensures the pink colour to the flamingos. those better the diet, the pinker will be the color to the flamingos.
Rann of Kutch is a good breeding spot for these flamingos but is not rich in blue green algae. The birds travel hundreds of miles till Mumbai to get their adequate dose of nutrition.
However, the story could be short-lived as there are plans to create a trans harbour link over this area and the effects of that on the ecosystem, diversity and habitat is not known.
If I were to tell you that I’ve spotted kingfishers, two pairs of hornbills, a family of coppersmith barbets along with several crows, sparrows and pigeons, parrots during the time it takes to have a morning tea, you may wonder which green belt I am on.
If I were to tell you that I see these birds from a window while having my morning tea, you may further assume that perhaps its a forest or a nature reserve.
If I were to tell you that these birds were viewed today morning in a busy part of the Mumbai city, I wouldn’t expect you to believe me because I couldn’t believe it myself.
“Have you spotted him yet?” asked mama Hornbill, sporting a worried expression on her face.
“Not yet! But let me call out” said Papa Hornbill and sent out a high pitched call to his missing teenage son.
“Perched atop this Neem tree out in the jungle (read City) is not the safest place for us” said mama Hornbill. “Look at that swinging branch. Is that our son?” Said mama, looking towards the overhead wire crisscrossing the road from one tree to another.
“Naaa…” Said Papa, ” He was swinging there with Crows yesterday, but not today! Bad company, I tell you, exposing himself in the middle of the jungle with noisy animals (traffic) all around!”
“You look this side and I’ll try the next tree.” said Mama Hornbill worried about her missing son and wondering if he had breakfast .
She gave one last desperate call before flying off to the next tree.
There is this place where the land ends and the tip bifurcates the Arabian Sea from the backbay. Some early morning joggers end their walk with a Surya namaskar , while others pause, turnabout at half point and go back to finish theirs.
A scrawny pavement dweller goes down the steps and exercises her legs in swift left right stamping movement. A tourist, very much like me, but with scanty white and unruly hair and an ipod playing some other music in his ears, stays still on the parapet taking in the view.
I take out the notebook, for today is the day when the scene should be recorded. This stretch of coastal land from one end to the other at the south of Mumbai, more than four kms of it.
I try to sit at the edge of the steps, but the overwhelming stink makes me reconsider and I move back towards the center of the paved jetty, sitting cross legged on the ground. I take out the sketchbook. The same one that contains memories of Goa and promise myself a few pages of Mumbai today.
As I compose the faint lines of the perspective, something happens. The centre of the buildings right ahead seem to be faint. I try to take another view. Left to right. Right to left. The fishermen colony? Or the edge on the west end?
Suddenly the buildings start disappearing. First one. Then another. Then a few more. The screen of mist gets thicker and thicker enveloping more buildings. Dark clouds line on the sky and on the sea, a bright sparkling line seems to form. The sea appears still as if green and awaiting. We wait to watch this amazing phenomena which grows with every minute. As the mist envelops more buildings across the shore, so does the line of white on the sea seem to approach our end.
Soon the first drop falls on my notebook and I shut it. The pavement dweller covers herself with a makeshift raincoat made out of used garbage bags. We rush to take shelter under the nearest tree. Monsoons are still not over.
I missed visiting the flamingos again.
How ironic! They flew from miles, maybe thousands of them to be here near the Indian coastline, just fifteen minutes away from where i’m typing this post. And me… foolishly ignoring thier arrival and postponing it to the next weekend, one after another…missed them totally. It’s too hot now and i’m sure they are back on thier way home flapping thier wings in unison with thier curved beaks, in a straight line. But I do still hear the Golden Oriels and the family of Copper-Smith Barbets each morning, probably looking for a termite laden snack off our almost century old building.
They say the smells remind us of places because that area in our brain is close to the memory areas in our brain.The smell I’ll associate forever with Mumbai is that of the Jasmine Gajra. Jasmine is an unassuming white flower with a heady perfume.Women in southern states of India use a flower garland called “gajra” to adorn their hair. Going southwards towards the peninsula, the tied hair becomes a bun and the flowers change to a reddish pink. My earliest introduction to a jasmine gajra was in mumbai almost three decades back. A short stroll at the Gateway of India had then brought us kids to the sights of vendors selling bangles and ladies selling jasmine gajras. To an average urban Delhi kid both were exotic novelties.The smell of the jasmine along with the intoxication of the rain is a faint but special childhood memory.
Today Gateway of India is hardly minutes away, but it closes at 10 pm behind a row of barricades, reminding me of the past that firmly tucked away. Went there just once after my first visit, but no jasmine in sight. Maybe they sell in the mornings?