If you wanna see the ‘real’ side of Mumbai – get lost!
No, I’m not kidding. I DO mean get lost and meander aimlessly and really see Mumbai for what it is.
Let me quickly give you a background scenario of my take on Mumbai. I hate it. I hate the crowds. No silence anywhere. I stay up nights on end watching the stars (and Sanjay Dutt’s balcony) soaking in the silence around me.
I hate the traffic. Start. Stop. People. No one makes eye contact. No one smiles. Every one looks at the ground. Rushing with their lives. Trying to survive. Cars. Big. Fat. Road Hogs. Rickshas. Swerving around at breakneck speed. I hate the weather. Either humid as hell. Or “balti baarish” like my friend describes it. Where it’s hot and muggy one instant. And then suddenly it pours like someone upturned a bucket of water on your head. So you struggle and dig out your umbrella from your bag. And almost rip the strap off trying to open it up. But lo and behold. It’s hot and muggy again! Yes, there will be a note at the end of this month bidding farewell to all the people who loved and looked after me, but just coz today was crazy, this is necessary!
Today I was taking a poster campaign to some colleges in Churchgate area. And that’s really far from where I live. So step one – locate all destinations on all-knowing Google Maps. Check. Step two – plan my route. Check. Step three - cadge a ride off Suraj. Check. Step four - Reach Marine Drive and grab a rick to H.R College. Uh oh! I had no idea that rickshas didn’t exist in that part of Mumbai! Damn! Grab a cab. I found HR College pretty easy – but that’s where my day really started to go haywire.
The peons at HR College looked at me like I had suddenly grown a few extra heads. However, I have a really awesome smile (I’m hoping that is what worked)... I flashed a few smiles, said a few ‘please bhaiyya’ and I was in! The super sweet student council leader did the rest of my work for me, and I was off….off to the famed Elphinstone College. Or so I thought. I cabbed around for over half an hour. Walked another half an hour. And remained hopelessly lost. While I was mentally scrabbling for the best route suggested by Google Maps, I suddenly was hit around the knees quite hard, and lost my balance, and was saved from a sore bottom by a parked cab behind me…dazed and confused, I was helped up by a goth-punk with several things shining on his face. He turned out to be really nice, and really pierced, and my assailant(s) turned out to be some overfriendly dogs who decided I was most definitely the dog loving variety of human. Once they were patted and fed, and Mr. Pierced gave me directions, I was on the (right) way again.
Elphinstone College. Beautiful huge old building. From the outside. Moldy and damp from the inside. The stone stairs didn’t do much to help my pathetic stamina. And honestly I was too out of breath to appreciate the place. Reached the office only to realize that the Victorian-ish building housed true-blue Maharashtrian staff. Lots of ‘ikre-tikre’s later I figured I had to return an hour later. I’m glad the contact person was late. My meanderings took me up to Kala Ghoda. Not inside, as I got distracted by a tiny sandwich place which had yummy omlette sandwiches. And the restaurant next door had Bengali staff. Guess how I know?! Coz in true blue Bong style they were shouting to each other at the top of their voices despite working in a 6x4 kitchen! Then I walked over to Jehangir and duly admired the work of a Rajastani artist. Nice stuff. Pretty sexist though. All the women in the paintings were either cooking, or naked in the river or fawning over some guy. (Damn! The WSC Dept and it’s ‘feminist lens’!) Elphinstone guy hadn’t landed up yet. Left in frustration. Saw a board advertising “Art Land India” art gallery. Felt like soaking in more ‘culture’. Spent fifteen minutes trying to find it. It was on the top floor of a dilapidated building I’d assumed had been shut down. Obviously it wasn’t. The lift creaked. I thought I would fall to my death. Made it safely to the top. Vowed to take the stairs down. Went into the art gallery. And gasped. There, in front of me, was the most beautiful canvas of The Buddha. I cannot even begin to describe how gorgeous each of those canvasses were, so I’m gonna try and link up some of the pictures of the canvas, but obviously it wont be same as actually seeingthem.
I then headed to Wilson College. On the way I asked directions from the hottest cop I’ve ever seen. Girls, he hangs out near the LIC building on M.G. Road. I didn’t quite get to read his name as I was too busy checking him out. I even failed to hear the directions he gave me. (I think hearing is affected if your jaw has dropped to the ground and you’re drooling). I had to ask another cop directions later!
Wilson College houses some of the ‘yo’-est dudes in Mumbai. Like really. I never knew clothes could be put together so randomly to look so great! Nice place, super efficient, polite kids, work got done in ten minutes flat! Kudos to them for efficiency, coz they were the best college I came across, and trust me, coz I’ve been to many over the last one week.
Then I decided to hit Chowpatty. You should go there if you wanna see the dirtiest beach in Mumbai. Oh, also if you wanna see aunties splashing in the waves. But I appreciate them. I’m pretty sure they’d bunked office! Left Chowpatty, walked along Marine Drive. If you’re female and walking down Marine Drive please wear nice undies. You wouldn’t want the many many romeos who are mentally undressing you to see you have holes in your panties right?! Or, you could also walk really fast too! But then you’d miss the place selling watermelon juice. Or what I thought was watermelon juice. It was rose flavored. Gross. Apparently that’s normal on Marine Drive. Or that guy just realized I was tired and gullible and would drink anything cold. And that’s when I realized that I was broke. Decided to walk to the station. Stopped and asked another cop. He said it was too far to walk. Take a cab. I’m broke. Ok. He turned and asked his friend to give me a ride. I gladly accepted. Reached the station safe and unharmed Mom, so don’t give me mental glares. Six bucks later, was in office. Met a motherly aunty on the train who gave me “how-to-use-Mumbai-locals” instructions all the way to Bandra.
So here’s what I have to say at the end of my adventures. Thank you to all the awesome people (and dogs) I met during my meanderings.
The cabbies who didn’t cheat me. Mr. Pierced. The Hot Cop. The Nice Cop. The Helpful Cop. All the cops. The security guard at Jehangir who lent me his umbrella to Elphinstone and back. The many paan tapriwalas who patiently gave me directions. And smiled when I said thank you. All the college kids who answered all my silly questions. All the romeos dotting Marine Drive. It’s nice that you guys whistled at me even though I was filthy and sweaty and I’m pretty sure smelly too. The rain – for being a gentle shower. Sunil Chauhan – Art Land India owner – for water, letting me sit, and generally being nice. Suraj, for giving me a ride. Aunty on the train. Eunuchs on the train. They werent mean to me when I said I had no money left to give them (they terrorized another girl hence the mention). Random guy who was friend of a cop.. Watermelon juice guy – he gave me his chair to sit on. Old man manning the tiny sandwich place – he was toothless and very smiley. The security guard at HR College gate – for generally cracking jokes and making me laugh. The little girls playing on the pavement. The homeless boy singing “dheenka cheeka” and dancing Salman Khan style simply coz he knew I was watching. All the couples on Marine Drive – for allowing me pure voyeurism. All the people I met, saw and looked at today. And of course, ALL the dogs who let me pet them
You see, the people of a city are actually who make or break it… Every day I understand and sense more and more of the magic that enchanted Shantaram and the thousands of other people who are completely entwined and at one with this beautiful city. I’ve forgotten how many km I walked. I’ve forgotten when exactly I finished all my money. I’ve forgotten the slums, the poverty, the smells, the squalor. I only remember the faces I saw, the people I met, and the way each of these people came together to be a part of the entangled mess of memories I call my life.
Thank You Mumbai.