I had some friends visiting me from Delhi last weekend, actually the friends of the family. It was their first visit to Mumbai and as a true Mumbaikar, I was proud to show the city I grew up in. (The Shiv Sena should be proud of me). So I hired a Toyota Qualis and off we went to see Mumbai.
“Mumbai main dekhne layak kya hai?” (What’s there to see in Mumbai?) My guest asked me
The question me and the Qualis driver who lived in Mumbai for last 28 years could not answer. Every Mumbaikar is proud of Mumbai, be it the unique culture, the fast life, Bollywood or the never say die spirit of Mumbai, we are always proud of Mumbai but we never go sightseeing in Mumbai. The only time, I went sight seeing was when I was in school for the annual picnic. Then too, it was the usual Goregon Picnic spot and Chota Kashmir.
Come to think of Chota Kashmir, it was once the hot spot for Hindi and Marathi movies song picturization. The hero heroine dancing between rows and rows of flower and surprisingly the only occupant of the park. The park had everything that the songs wanted, beautiful and surprisingly cheap.
Coming back to my guest, what does one show a first timer in Mumbai? The Mumbadevi temple, after all the goddess gave the city its name. The Siddhivinayak temple, the The Jijamata Udhyan or what we call the zoo, or Walkeshwar. No these people are not interested in the temples. They want something unique to Mumbai. One of them wanted to see the bollywood stars. Yes! Bollywood and the fascination of Indians with them.
The Actors and actresses and the cricketers are the only one who matter in India. So when people come to Mumbai, they want to see the actors. Are these actors/actresses exactly the way seen on the big screen, glamorous and beautiful. I guess they are. After all its their job. I actually did not disappoint him that much. I showed him Amitabh Bachchan’s and Shahrukh Khan’s bungalow. Its a different matter that I showed the bungalows from outside through the window of a car that was traveling at 30-40Kms/hour. But in my defense, Mumbai does not have time, its running and you squeeze in happiness in the time you have. So if you are in Mumbai, do as the Mumbaikars do, you run.
So coming back to my guest again what is there to see in Mumbai. A couple of months back, I visited Delhi and it has these big ancient buildings built from long time back. They can always show the Red Fort and the Qutub Minar but I do not have much to show in Mumbai or do I?
I always have the reliable “Gateway of India” So after visiting the Juhu Chowpathy and Bandra bandstand, I finally made to the “Gateway of India” in the evening. To tell the truth, I myself saw Gateway of India when I was quite old. My parents did take me to see the Gateway many years back but I do not remember it. The best thing about Gateway is that it represents Mumbai. No other monument even comes close to represent Mumbai although it was built by the British and even though the “Mee Mumbaikar” brigade haven’t objected about it, there is nothing remotely to do with the Maharahstrian culture or history.
But then the Gateway of India stands tall and survived many years and even a blast. It represents Mumbai standing tall braving the strong winds and the waves of the Arabian sea. Its a perfect icon for the city but then I don’t remember it much, at least not as much as the Marine drive.
The promenade, a perfect semi circle that lights up the night and is correctly called the Queens necklace. Queen’s necklace, the street lights like the diamonds of a queen’s necklace. But that is not why I remember Marine Drive for.
I visited this place and walked along the concrete path with friends from college. That was the first memory of the drive. We were young, had lots of dreams but all related to being rich and no idea to achieve them. We had walked from Nariman point to Marine Lines walking past “Not just Jazz by the bay”. I don’t know if the restaurant still exists.
The frustration I felt while walking along the drive during my first job. I just wanted out of the job but was awed by the size of the big buildings and bigger offices. How would I survive? I had asked myself. I did survive because 2 years later I was back having an introduction to the corporate headquarter of my current company. The sea and the drive looked quite beautiful from the huge skyscraper at Nariman Point.
I remember the place where the marine drive flyover meets Marine drive. I remember sitting there hand-in-hand with her and watching the sun set over the horizon. I remember her telling me how she hated the sea. That day we had walked all the way to Nariman Point along Marine drive. As Mumbai was slowing down we walked oblivious of people around us.
Nothing has changed since then. I remember the old movies which showed the waves crashing on the promenade during the rainy season. It was my childhood dream to soak in that water one day. But then they put those big concrete tetrapods or whatever they call them and waves don’t hit the walls anymore but still Marine Lines is Marine lines, a piece of history.
As we drive through the heavy evening traffic, the sun is going down in the sea. Its bright red. A few hours earlier en route to Gateway of India, the whole stretch of footpath was almost empty. Now its bustling with activity.
Lovers whispering sweet nothing, Evening joggers trying to keep up that little bit of exercise, Pensioners comparing today’s India with the era that went by, housewives, students after college/school, friends catching up, loners who don’t have anyone to talk to in a city filled with people. Everyone trying to find a place to sit as the sun sets in the sea and with rush hour traffic behind them.
The traffic is heavy. We arrive at Girgaon chowpatty quite late in the evening. Its a quite a carnival out there. People with children, road side stalls doing brisk business. Everything from massage to mattress to sit on the sand, everything sells here. I remember what I told my guest
“Mumbai bhooka rehne nahi deti kisiko” (Mumbai will never leave you hungry)
As we walk on the sand enjoying the somewhat cool breeze. traffic moves at a slow pace. Standing on the beach, I look at Marine drive again.
The street lights are on now and I smile at my guest and point to the road we just came from;
“Its the queen’s necklace!”