I am staying for a few days with my cousin in Bhandup West. I have been to Mumbai many times while my dad was stationed here before his retirement. Coming to Mumbai after nearly ten years is a sort of homecoming for me. I love the eclectic mix of cultures, the fast paced life and the unique scenes of this vast city. The ear cleaner at C.S.T, the dabbawallah at Dadar, the fisherman at Dockyard Road, the laughter club of the neighbourhood, the smiles from the slums next door – these are the scenes of Mumbai.
Yesterday I took a train to C.S.T. I asked someone for directions. He ignored me completely. He didn’t even look at me. His eyes were glued to the floor as he walked almost absent-mindedly. Either he was too preoccupied or must have thought I am a beggar. This is life in Mumbai, so different from the many towns and villages I have travelled through in my journeys.
After a wonderful breakfast of pongal and chutney at my cousin’s place, I arrive by train at Parel. My map marks a spot on the Western coastline with two words – Worli Fort. I walk out of Parel train station and wait at a bus stop. I make some enquiries. I am in luck. There is a bus – route 168 – that goes to Worli. After ten minutes of waiting, I get the bus. It is not crowded. It is 11 am and past the peak hours.
‘Ticket to Worli Fort,’ I tell the bus conductor.
‘Kila vila malum nehi (I don’t know any fort),’ he shouts back. He issues me a three-rupee ticket to Worli. Where exactly in Worli, I have no idea.
I get off somewhere in Worli. A short walk takes me to the shoreline. There is no beach at Worli. The shoreline is rocky. Concrete blocks and a wall keep the sea at bay. It is a long walk. The city has changed a lot these ten years. There are more apartments and high-rise offices. Some of them are beautiful and add to the diverse architecture of Mumbai. There are a few trees along this quay. Couples take to these shades, kiss and cuddle. Behind me, one of the many skylines of the city glimmers in a haze blinded by the mid-day sun. Ahead of me, the new Bandra-Worli Sea Link spans in the distance.
I arrive at a busy junction. A path leading left narrows and winds between shops and houses. I am in surroundings that’s almost a slum. It is Worli Village. I pass a small temple of Sai Baba facing the sea. I look around in a vain hope of spotting Worli paintings. A silly thought. The buildings are all new. Any trace of old Worli is perhaps lost. Perhaps, Worli paintings never existed in this particular village.
All I can see of the old fort is a single bastion. The village has captured it on all sides. The day’s laundry is spread out on its ramparts to dry in the sun. Inside, some students read in chorus. A little church stands below and the slum is spread out before it. Fishing boats rock in the bay while in the distance skyscrapers stand tall. In this single scene is history past and present, society rich and poor. Mumbai is a place of striking contrasts.
I walk on the rocks and soon I am right below the Sea Link and looking up. I am not particularly impressed with the finishing touches on this link. Cranes still hover alongside the bridge. Lampposts are ordinary. There is nothing poetic about this Sea Link. It appears to be built from fifty-year old technologies.