Tuesday 20 March 2012

Big City Life : The Walk Home

Kakamuchee , Galajunkja , Maha Amba , Mumba Devi, Mumba ,Mombayn , Bombain , Bombaym, Monbaym, Mombaim, Mombaym, Bambaye, Bombaiim, Bombeye, Boon Bay, Bombay and finally Mumbai. The city of many names and many more facets.

Archaeological evidence shows this city to have been inhabited since the Stone Age and to this day the rowdy crowds of Bombay display strong resemblance to their primate antecedents. One cannot blame them really. Bombay is the most populous city in India and the 6th most populous urban area in the world. If any other city tried squeezing 20.5 million people into two narrow strips of land totalling about 600sqkm, those people would be pretty mad from trying not to fall into the sea too.

Even at the Gaza Strip, despite the Molotov Cocktails and Tear Gas Shells and Civil War, the 1.6 million refugees are confined to a relatively spacious 360sqkm of land as compared to Bombay. Yet we make do the best with what we have and like the Palestinians try to find oases of peace and tranquillity in the noisy scramble for survival around us.

My first Oasis was the dead-end lane that classes were located in. An unusually leafy cobbled lane ending in an old bungalow surrounded by gulmohar and guava trees. There was also a Muslim slum, the kids of which became quite friendly. What you see below is the ‘campus’ - a ledge. It was legendary Open-mouthed smile, primarily for the endless lunches, pyro maniacal incidents, vociferous debates and camera sessions we had all on that one ledge that accommodated 3.

In different seasons the lane took on different aspects, like the presence of a LARGE goat during the month of Ramzan which disappeared on ID. The Indian flag over the slums during I- Day or swinging into the building on the gate when the lane flooded in the monsoons.

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The Walk from work was the second of the Oases. Nobody likes Bombay commute and I mean NOBODY. There was nothing I disliked more than being in a stationary rickshaw in the heavy humid evenings knowing Id be home faster walking. So I walked. The 45min walk from college to home was split into sections to add variety. In the first section were familiar people, our usual tapri, a miniscule 7ft passage called Bharat Cafe run by an old uncle, his wife and son, all migrated from Rajasthan. Further along the street was the Sandwich stall run on rotation by brothers from Bihar and a Sodalemonwater walla who once described to us how difficult it was to get ice and store it everyday.

At the end of the road I took a right and the dinginess gave way to a huge vista of the western express skyline with piles of purple and orange clouds framing the flyover and huge crossroad. Id pass the police chowky a questionable bar and a fisherwoman displaying fish by gaslight everyday. This was the second section stretching from the Cigarette factory till the Andheri flyover/station.

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I loved walking that flyover which was the third section. It was slightly cooler with the slight increase in altitude above sea level Smile with tongue out and it was fun looking below at the thundering trains, level crossings and slum patches where people played volleyball in the evenings.

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Also once the Andheri skywalk was built it added another dimension to the walk on the bridge.

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The last section was from the end of the flyover to home. There was a late night vegetable vendor and a dairy. These were saviours at 9pm when I had yet again forgotten the fresh veggies and milk for my roommate Monica Geller.

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