Elections were on in Kolkata. The city branded itself in Blue and White. The railings were blue and white, the LED covering itself on its quaint old world lamps was also the same colour. Some random thoughts follow.
Too much traffic. Its like Bombay , but moving in slow motion.
Too many traffic rules. Too many one way restrictions.
Fresher air than Mumbai. More trees. More birds.
Too hot and humid. Again combine Bombay and Delhi weather at its worst…or maybe its the dry spell.
Beautiful old world buildings. Same issue as Mumbai, neglected and covered with telephone wires.
Parks. Schools. A city that studies.
Stark Rich Poor Divide.
Poverty. Saw a beggar woman licking an empty bowl of curd.
Better lighting than Mumbai/Delhi for historic monuments.
Sleeps at ten.
If you were to roam around Bull Temple Road area early morning in Bangalore, you would perhaps see more flower and fruit sellers than other places. Women in swishing silk saris and the smell of filter coffee and freshly made Mangalore bun in the cafe across jostle for space with McDonald’s. An electric car which still looks in beta stage is parked outside the idli joint facing the temple.
Cubbon park on a Sunday morning appears no different from central park, till of course you get into the interiors. It is there another world exists which is non-tech-ed, non-gizmo-ed and unrelated, strangely though part of the same whole.
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.
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.
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?
When you are new to Mumbai and cross into the town (south Mumbai island) from Worli, you would notice a mausoleum in middle of the bay on the left side of the road. This is Haji Ali. There would also be many pictures of Haji Ali in the guide books, a solitary building in the middle of the sea connected by a thin strip of land. The beauty of Mumbai is that the culture changes with every sub community and Haji Ali is no different. The entry to the Mausolem is next to a petrol pump, just after a picturesque police station which is built like a hut. You move forward on the kachha road (paved road) with shops on one side exhibiting and selling cloth and other offerings for the religious place. You notice the sequined chaadar (offering cloth) among the aroma of the halwa. Souvenirs dot the entire way till you reach the thin strip of walkway built in centre of the rocks. At high tide and monsoons this place would have water on both sides. Birds like the egrets and gulls would be flying around or foraging.
After 200 meters or so you will see the entrance and steps leading up the structure. After depositing the shoes with a safe keeper, you are allowed inside to pay respects to the saint. Some people buy a shiny cloth called the chaadar or a string to tie at the gate. Most crowded days are Fridays and during festivals.
Next January may be my last in Bombay. After having shocked my senses by the sharp contrast between spirited Goa, sleepy town in Himalayas to the constant humming of mechanical Mumbai, I realized than it would soon be time to pack bags. There will be no more hum from the streets of the traffic, no more distant cheer of kids playing in Xavier’s during breaktime and no more view of Azad Maidan with the Victoria terminus beyond, lit up, sometimes garishly…but lit up. And..no more getting caught in traffic snarls on the Esplanade.
I have crossed Prince of Wales museum many times while traveling to Colaba. It is situated near Gateway of India and Taj hotel. Winters are a time when you would see huge colorful butterflies which may have escaped over its stone walls to the green patch between the road dividers. Never did I feel like visiting across the walls… until today. I have had a rather high overdose of museum visits in India to every city or town I’ve been. The museum manages to fit into ever itinerary planned to the point, I started avoiding it altogether. My impression of a museum is a dusty, lonely and empty place with bored people strolling through with a sleepy guard for company. Today that changed. The guard at the counter was the sweetest employee I’ve come across in a public place. He asked whether I wanted to take the audio tour as well, which I refused for today, but decided to note that for future.
My first stop was the sculpture galley. After having seen the sculpture gallery in National museum in Delhi countless times, I wasn’t so impressed by the collection, nor were the sculptures as ornate as the ones in Madras. The “Saraswati” was the one that caught my attention. Limestone, basalt, sandstone and marble, explained a note about the collection. I moved next to the prints gallery, where “Carla Caves” drawn in meticulous perfection in perspective left me gaping for a while. Mentally I decided to give up teaching how to draw! How does one reach this perfection, ever? J Forbes. 1700s something. Just ahead a table and a placard announced a print making session. Some of us caught an artist etching on a piece of sun board with a triangular tool. Another person was applying print ink onto a mould, making a mess of the table and his hands.
“Today’s the first day.” said the boy at the counter.
I followed the crowd into the next gallery which was an assortment of a personal collection. Many family photographs were placed above the pieces. The strong silent gaze of a strikingly stunning man seemed to follow me around. Below the photograph was written “around 1940”. Before stepping out of the gallery I read the name: Karl Khandalavala.
I breezed through the coin exhibit and that of Baluchari saris. My next stop was the exhibition of Alice Boner, a Swiss sculptor who had once lived in India . Her marble sculpture of a visage of a man she admired, resembled very much herself. I felt she gave her own forehead and chin to that form. Her connection to India was evident through a series of photographs of Uday Shankar dance troupe, among them a still young Ravi Shankar. Most interesting was her journal of work on display along with her camera and notebook. In an interesting painting, she had managed to breakdown a complex Indian sculpture into its basic geometric form, a pentagon in this one and a hexagon in another.
The next floor was dedicated to china and fine porcelain. Most of the collection seemed to be donated by Dorab Tata. I drifted through admiring the pieces, a relief of a king and his soldiers in fine ivory; fine Wedgewood; the cameos and then reached the jade. One could but visualize an opulent setting amongst which these pieces would have once rested. Could it have been the Esplanade house; that forgotten carved beauty across the gym? Would visitors coming from various parts of the world have also admired these pieces? Maybe brought some? I looked at the jade collection contributed by Sir Ratan Tata. I tried to imagine why a man would want to share such objects of beauty with rest of the world, when it could give eternal pleasure in solitude. I looked at the asymmetrical intricately carved green jade at the end of the display. And then my eyes followed the amethyst still in the rough, the malachite pieces and the rock crystals…
I was lost in the reverie when I suddenly noticed the clock. This impromptu visit had to be cut short. I quickly made way out of the gates fast in steps with another tourist; he turned towards Colaba, perhaps to explore rest of the city, while I turned in the opposite direction back home.
Mumbai is a chatter-city. You hear noises everywhere. Many times in languages you don’t understand or accents you can’t follow. You travel in bus, you hear.On the train, yes of course.Incessant horns. On the street. Even walking admiring the so called wonderful queen’s necklace from a drive on the marine, you hear the hum when you walk. As if they are talking into your ear. The busy bee of Bombay humming in a ceaseless drone. Festivals are but an opportunity for escalating the crescendo amplified everywhere you move.
Look at the picture above. The building is white marble. It overlooks the sea. Some butterflies flit on the flowers in the hedges outside. There is no noise here. Only the peace and quiet of culture, beauty and thought. A white space.