As the day turns to night,
Glows an amber light,
Not of the warm sun,
But something magically fun.
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.
I never knew her name. Not in the two years we have maintained eye contact. Sometimes in the early morning of the sun, she wouldn’t still be awake as I’d pass her makeshift bed on the pavement. But sometimes she would lift her head and wave to me. Some passersby thought that she was insane were ready to help me out and to “shoo” her away. But my smile and the wave back would puzzle them.
Today was different. I started in the same usual way. Stepped out from the wicket. Waited for my cab.
Then I saw her approaching my direction. With tarpaulin slung over her shoulder, I expected her to give me the same sweet smile that she had been giving for months and I was eager to smile back to her.
She soon came within an arms distance and recognized me. Instead of a smile she burst into tears.
“He stole everything” she cried, pointing at a group of men on the other side of the street.
Amazed, I looked at them in shock and they reciprocated the same. The building security guard waiting to wave her away from me. Time seemed to stand still.
“That one!”, she said pointing at the group hidden by the bushes on the other side. ” I had left everything under a tree and he stole it and put it under his. Even the ( couldn’t understand this word) that my mother had given me. Report him to the police. He is a thief! ”
A cab arrived and I stepped in while consoling her that I would. I saw her move forward with her only belonging, the tarpaulin, slung from one shoulder, brushing the ground against her petite frame. The cab sped off.
“She lost her husband a couple of years ago,” I told the cab driver. ” Stays on the street.”
He gave me sympathetic nod and asked me “Where to?”.
I told him the way to the design insights class and we proceeded on a quiet journey ahead. Discussing about technology, for people, who already have everything, was the last thing on my mind today.
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.
While each day I hope this will not be my last monsoon here and pray somehow that changes, it may be inevitable in the near future. Mumbai, is not a place you can comfortably afford to rent a house, leave aside buy one. The ones where you really may love to stay would have been already occupied by some crumbling construction, unyielding tenants or forbidding prices, unheard of sometimes. Recently at a seminar, one prominent chairman of a real estate company remarked that inequality is rising. I wondered what part of the balance I am on, maybe the one that is tilting down. Definitely not the one where the subzee ( veggies) are bought by the army of the the cook, maid and the driver of the least preferred car (generally a sedan) of the family.
Talking of grocery, south Mumbai is having a crisis of a type. The daily needs shops are disappearing. My favourite icecream shop shut and was soon after replaced with baskn robbns (Intentional typo). Then one monsoon, Akbarallys, one of the oldest shops in fort had an umbrella sale. I picked two but didn’t pick the other one I really liked. Next time thought I. That next time was not to come. Today they have metamorphosed the once crowded departmental store into a men’s store. This for one thing completely restricts even my entry into the shop. Gloomily, I made my way to the next nearest departmental store for groceries today. Disappointed at not even finding basics stocked, I hastily retreated along with another couple going through the door.
“It looks like it is about to shut down.” remarked the gentleman. We exited into the street, they towards the interior of the colony and me crossing Indian Merchant’s Chambers gate to complete my walk on marine drive.
Years ago, Marine drive was known as “queen’s necklace”. The warm glow of yellow light would hazily gleam as though beads strung together. Till around 6 months back. Then some D@#$ decided to save on the power bill, changing the look to some cheap white plastic beads.
“The look of Kala Ghoda is changing” I mentioned to a designer who said that she had been involved in the project.
She gleamed. I expressed my unhappiness as if my playground had been tampered with.
“The new plan for that area, I know the people who are working on it. They will take care of the look” She reassured.
Somehow I am still not convinced. But movement is inevitable. When cities die, you need to move on too.
Nostalgia is when you think and remember about something which has happened in the past. But what do you call the feeling of ownership over which you never experienced before and live in it.
Let me explain. I live in this building which very soon will be a hundred years old. It’s not the only one in the locality. This is the old part of Mumbai. Most buildings here are the same age. Some shops proudly display the made-in-last-century tag on their facades. There are not many people who live here now. And perhaps lesser who love the old world charm.
Recently one of the oldest departmental stores rebranded itself. Into a men’s store, trying to keep up with the changing face of the environment. I’m glad that I picked a great ice-cream scoop and umbrella before it shut shop to renovate and its shelves replaced with men’s attire instead of exotic lemon pickle. While this financial district of the past is now gradually transforming into a fashion promenade, with likes of Feragammo and other luxury shops opening up, there is a bit of pain at seeing the old shops disappear giving way to the new.
You then drive over the newly built flyovers and glance at countless facades of intricate detail given to neglect, waiting for them to crumble, so the land may be reused. You look at this beautiful entrance hidden under wires near Parsi Dairy and wonder what it must have been newly built.
Then it strikes you what is really missing in this part of the town. It’s not the lack of space; it’s the beauty and of not using it well.
Adjacent to the Central Line Railway station is the municipal building. If you remember my post where I saw this building, I was amazed at the architecture from afar. Go closer and you tend to rub shoulders with others on this busy intersection at evening time while cabbies line up to hurry commuters home.
Only one wish. Wish it was lit better to enhance the architectural detail.
Who knew that a visit to the corner bakery would be an event in itself. On display today nearby was a fleet of cars lit by overhead lights. With my bakery package in one hand and the camera in another, I managed to get some pictures just before the show was wrapped up. There were a dozen of them. A 1947 Singer Roadster, all shining and gleaming. A 1951 Jaguar which looked as if it was born to rule the road. A 1969 Alpha Romeo. A 1967 Pontiac Firebird. And many more.It was a 1960’s-1970’s nostalgia journey. Event? A Classic Racing Auto Display. Thank God for good coincidences like this, I got much more than cream buns back tonight.