Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Myriad Mumbai

Cuffe Parade, downtown of Mumbai

Call it Mumbai, call it Bombay, or Bombaim (for the Portuguese), whatever you call it, the name does not matter.

Mumbai which was basically named after the Hindu goddess ‘Mumba devi’ and ‘Aai’ meaning mother in Marathi was earlier famous as Bombay- meaning ‘good bay’, a name which a lot of people outside India still know it by. A group of seven islands was merged into one to have what today is Mumbai. Appropriated by the Portuguese, ceded to Charles II of England, and in turn leased to the East India Company, Mumbai has imbibed from a lot of influences and as it stands today it’s an amalgamation- a cocktail, a concoction. You can clearly find the mark of the Portuguese and English mainly on some of the monuments and structures still present.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (Victoria terminus), H.Q of Central Railway and UNESCO World Heritage site
I have been here for 16 months and it has been an enriching experience to say the least. It is the ‘Mumbai’ I had always heard of in television, read in the papers and heard in conversations. Even now, suddenly once in a while I seem to remind myself that I am in THE Mumbai because once you are at any place for a certain amount of time, you do get used to it and start taking it for granted. This is the place where you are very likely to spot a celebrity- an actor or a cricketer; or anybody famous for that matter because they all seem to reside here. This is the place where by the time you realize it’s raining and you take out your brolly (umbrella) or your raincoat, you would have been already drenched by the downpour and by the time you put it on, it would have already stopped raining.

Called as the’ Maximum City’ or ‘The city that never sleeps’, one of the world's top ten centers of commerce, home to important financial institutions as the Reserve Bank of India, the Stock Exchanges and the corporate headquarters of many Indian companies and numerous multinational corporations, the city that houses India's Hindi film and television industry, known as Bollywood, featuring in the Top ten in the world in Financial hubs, expensive streets, office rents, world’s largest billionaire cities and even in filthiest cities. Mumbai is a city of dreams, despair, drama and dazzle; heartbreaking poverty amongst staggering grandness. It is the bubblegum glamour of Bollywood cinema, shopping malls full of designer labels, cricket on the Oval Maidan, promenading families eating bhelpuri on the beach at Chowpatty, red double-decker buses queuing in grinding traffic. This pungent drama is played out against a Victorian townscape more reminiscent of a prosperous 19th-century English industrial city than anything you'd expect to find on the edge of the Arabian Sea. It's a city with vibrant street life, India's best nightlife, and a wealth of bazaars. Millions travel everyday by trains and buses. Nearly eighteen million people live here - wealthy industrialists, flashy film stars, internationally acclaimed artists, workers, teachers and clerks - all existing cheek by jowl in soaring skyscrapers and sprawling slums. They come from diverse ethnic backgrounds and speak over a dozen tongues adding colour, flavour and texture to the Great Mumbai Melting Pot...........

'Queen's Necklace' - Marine Drive
This is the place where the buses are called BEST buses. Well it is not a word but an acronym but a good one to go with it. I have lived in another state- Gujarat all the time before this and I did notice some differences. Firstly I found that the bus conductor or the fare collector does not get a seat of his own! This I found to be very strange because in the most crowded city of India, at least he is entitled to a seat. This makes his job so much tougher. Someone needs to give this suggestion to the concerned authorities. This way they might be able to save some money as the job would not be as distressing as it is now, so they might easily find candidates at a lower pay for the post of Bus conductor. It would also help him remain cool in the midst of the sweltering heat and more crucially the humidity. Another thing I noticed in the buses is that there is no facility for the people to keep their luggage unlike what I saw in Gujarat. I don’t know the reason behind this but if it is provided, it would provide a lot of relief and comfort to many. As I have seen people clumsily hanging on the bus bars with their bags taking up too much of the precious space and if someone has to get down, God save everyone! And I often laugh within on reading the sign in the bus- "19 standees only". I swear I have seen double the number at most times. BMC Headquarters
A strange experience that I had in one of the BEST buses was that I was sitting in the last seat and there was no one around me; either beside me or in the seat in front of me; by chance. A man and a woman presumably husband and wife were sitting in the second seat ahead of me. Now the woman was looking back a few times and I realized that there was a plastic bag hanging in the window above the seat ahead of me. She asked if it belonged to me. I shook my head in negation and said no. And mind you this was just after the days of the blasts in two big cities of India- Bangalore and Ahmedabad. And we decided to bring it to the notice of the conductor. Now suddenly the whole bus realized that something was wrong and all the eyeballs were pointed in this direction. People even asked a woman who was getting down from the bus just in case it belonged to her and she forgot to take it with her. But it wasn’t and I was sitting there wondering what to do. It was also green coloured as those that were used in the blasts. I was sure though it wasn’t a bomb. Twice I thought about moving away from it and my place but eventually I didn’t. The conductor came, took it down and peered down the bag to find a shirt or a piece of cloth. Phew! It was harmless after all and the conductor threw it out of the bus!
The overcrowded local trains
Another experience that I had was on the railway station. It was really crowded, to state the obvious, especially with the time of festivals being around. I was moving around tugging three big bags and I found a small place where I could park myself. There was this man who just started talking to me. We did not know each other. He started on that he was sick, that he had been travelling a lot recently and he was in a lot of distress. For some time I was just there wondering about the possibility that the man was either mad or drunk or a thief who wanted to draw my attention elsewhere while someone would steal my things. So I wasn’t paying too much attention to what he was saying as I was preoccupied with these thoughts. He looked normal enough. He started telling me the whole story and he had seen and met me just seconds ago! He went on that he had three daughters (which is considered somewhat of a liability and this has led to the want of a male child and which I think is a major factor which has contributed to over population) and that they were good at studies and though they got over 80 percentage, they were still unable to secure a seat in the college. Now I was also tormented by an eyelash that had found its way in my eye so it was watering and I was there with a handkerchief over it, unable to get it out or find water to splash it in and this man then kept apologizing to me for bothering me and ‘making me sad’ as he thought and I was there like –‘It’s ok, no problem.’ Now I am the kind of person who would listen to people and I also somewhere wanted him to share his grievances so he could feel better and lighter so I did not stop him from talking either. He went on about the reservation systems in education and how everything is for the rich and the poor have just no hope or means to do anything. And in the end he departed with the wise words that - always take care of your parents. The position of parents is even above that of God. And he left and I was sitting there a bit sorry for him that such a normal looking from the outside could be under such tremendous stress from within and I also do wonder why he selected me? There were many people around him, in fact too many all over the station and he immediately started talking to me on seeing me. Maybe it is just the way I am that he was able to see it or just my presence there brought it out of him. I don’t know but I was amazed that even such things could happen!
That’s Mumbai for you!!!

* A few of the references are from web sites like Wikipedia.
Interesting fact - Mumbai's suburban rail systems carry a total of 2.2 billion passengers every year. Incidentally, the world's population is 6 billion
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