Enduring The Maximum City – ALLOVERIST

[Before traveling to Mumbai, try reading Maximum City written by Suketu Mehta. People living there also should read this.]

I took a KSRTC at Bangalore at 5 PM and reached Navi Mumbai’s CBD Belapur at 9.30 the next morning. My cousin had lived alone there for almost seven months. His wife was a nursing mother and she and her son was at her mother’s house in Bangalore. When the bus exited the Pune city my cousin called up and asked if I used a wash room. ‘No why?’, I asked. ‘The toilet is broken. You cannot use it. But that’s alright we can use the one at McDonalds near my house’, he said.

When I got to Mumbai, I learnt that I would have to see Mumbai alone, and my cousin had to travel to Bangalore for a meeting. The list of places to see and time to spend at those places was prepared by both of us. Beaches was not important to me I told him because I lived in the coastal city of Mangalore for 15 years, and I had already drunk enough water to last me a lifetime. ‘I understand, but do go to the Juhu’s Girgaon Chowpatty when the Mumbai Darshan bus stops there’, he said. Yes I did that and it was brilliant.

I spent the first day running errands, and sleeping off the bus lag (more than 15 hours of travel, so I’m calling it that). In the evening I accompanied my cousin and his colleague to a business meeting with a Gujarati father and son. After the meeting I insisted on having some Maharashtrian dinner. I had Solkadhi. That was how my 9th of June went. The morning of the second day was spent watching PM Modi’s speech on television. ‘Today evening after I leave to Bangalore, you will take a train to Vashi. That way you can experience Mumbai locals. Vashi is a nice hangout place and there are two shopping malls there’, my cousin said.

After my cousin took a bus to Bangalore, I took a train to Vashi where I spent my Monday evening at the Inorbit Mall, and watched Akshay Kumar starred Holiday at the Raghuleela mall. That afternoon I had booked a Mumbai Darshan bus for the next day. So I went home after the movie and mentally prepared to wake up early. Wake up early? I was used to waking up late at 7.30 even during office hours. The tour operators said I had to be there at 6.45 in the morning. I was there at 6.45 but the bus wasn’t. I called the operators. ’15 minutes mein ayenge. Abhi Panvel main hain’, they said.

The bus came a good fifty minutes late, but that was ok. That time was spent watching two auto rickshaw drivers push, shove, and claw each other while swearing at each other in a mixture of Marathi and Hindi over a matter of Rs.1000. They took the fight to the streets, to the Belapur bus stand, and inside their rickshaw.

The Darshan bus stopped at the Gateway, the CST Museum, Nehru Science Center, the Mahalaxmi Temple, Juhu Beach (the famous Girgaon Chowpatty), The Hanging Gardens, at all of them for twenty minutes each. The other popular landmarks that were shown were Regal Cinema, Tower of Silence, The Maharashtra Police HQ, the Legislature Buildings, the Oberoi Hotel, the Breach Candy Hospital, the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, the Brabourne and the Wankhede stadiums, the Haji Ali Dargah, the BSE building, the 6-D show.

‘See houses of your favorite movie stars’, the Mumbai Darshan pamphlet said. The bus took the small streets, taking tight turns of Juhu to show Jackie Shroff’s, Rekha’s, SRK’s, Salman Khan’s, Sachin Tendulkar’s, Lata Mangeshkar’s, Mukesh Ambani’s Antilia, The Maharashtra Governor’s official residence, and Amitabh Bachchan’s house. Along with it the tourists would have to bear the tour guide’s jokes.

The shoe house at the hanging gardens.

‘Woh dekho Jackie Shroff balcony mein’, the tour guide said. After everybody got off their seats to look, he said ‘Mein majaak kar raha tha’. I know that I thought. ‘Unka doosra ghar bhi hain. Shayad wahan rehte honge.’ The bus stopped only for a second at Prateeksha, but Bachchan’s security guard nudged the bus to move. I don’t know how many buses, taxies, and rickshaws stop in front of Amitabh Bachchan’s house to look, but asking people to keep moving is one of the key tasks his security guards need to do.

The bus came back to Belapur at 6.30 in the evening. The Girgaon Chowpatti beach is a nice place for an evening stroll. I had kala khatta for the first time. One day is a short time to see all these but a good way to familiarize yourself with Mumbai. I recommend you to take a Mumbai Darshan bus if your visit to the city is a short one.

I think if you want to see Mumbai and watch Mumbai move, travel by bus. Or use the taxi/rickshaw if you don’t mind paying more. But traveling by local trains is the best and the fastest way to get around. The trains are Mumbai’s lifeline. If the trains stop, so will Mumbai. A friend told me to take care of my wallet, and forget about finding a seat inside the trains. I had used the trains in Chennai, but the Mumbai trains are of a different league. I don’t know if I’ll see a rush like this in London or Tokyo.

On the fourth day, I went back to the Gateway. Taking a ferry to the Elephanta Islands was the plan. However the ferries to Elephanta caves weren’t operating because of the high tide. And it had rained heavily the previous night. That morning I saw waves crashing into the wall, and the water flooded the road in front of the Taj Mahal Hotel. The road was closed by security, and people were not allowed to walk on that road. I even saw news crew reporting the high tide. So, I came back to the CST, and took a train to Andheri. I wanted to watch a show at the famous Prithvi Theatre.

I Googled it and Google showed that Prithvi was at Juhu. So the plan I made was to take a train to Andheri, and then travel to Juhu. The Andheri train was jam packed, but lucky for me that the train terminated at Andheri. I went to a bridge, stood there and looked at the trains stopping at Andheri station below. People did not walk out of trains that stopped there. They spilt onto the platform just like ghee would spill when the packet was squeezed. I saw it in videos, but watching it live was unreal. I exited the station, took a rickshaw, and ten minutes later both of us were at Juhu looking for the Prithvi theatre.

‘Aapko maloom nahi kidar hain yeh?’

‘Pehli baar aaraha hoon’, I answered.

‘Yeh dekho Amitabh ka ghar’, he rickshaw driver said when he went past Prateeksha. It was the second time I was looking at it in the last two days. This time I wasn’t as enthusiastic as the previous day.

‘Kal dekha tha maine’, I answered.

We took a right after Prateeksha, and there was the road to Prithvi. After I paid the man and thanked him for his patience I went over the reception to buy a ticket to the 4 PM show, but I was already twenty minutes late.

Photo courtesy: Guidepal

Continued in Part 2