Hills form the backdrop at Aurangabad’s quaint and quiet airport. Lots of two wheelers on the roads. Few wearing helmets. Many wearing white shirts and white trousers. As I shall find out, male villagers, Marathis, wear white Gandhi topis. Clearly to keep out the heat. Also white kurtas, white dhotis or pyjamas.
The Marathi language has lots of guttural sounds. Predominance of ढ़. The driver/ car rental proprietor addresses Sudev as Dada. Suave. Extremely well-informed about Bengal. Professes great fraternity towards Bengalis. Strongly built men. Many on the taller side. None too short. Courteous. Sharp features. Difficult to distinguish between Marathas and South Indians except perhaps by their slightly lighter skin and taller stature. People have good skin. Maharashtrians also say “wonly” for”only”.
Local fish: Bam machchi, Surmai machchhi… from the Godavari River. Spicy food. Masala Papad a discovery. Simple healthy snack. Good looking fruit. Not much to choose gastronomically so far. Lots of open air dhabas that say ‘Family Restaurants’. Nothing plush about them. Probably serve non-exotic food.
Ellora caves carved during the reigns of the Chalukyas and the Rashtrakutas. Artisans from the Pallava kingdom. Ancient India comes together at Ellora: 17 Hindu caves. 12 Buddhist caves. 5 Jain caves. No sharp demarcation between the physical spaces occupied by the three faiths. Same method of painstaking carving over generations using simple implements like hammer and chisel. The Jain temple most ornate. The Buddhist ones least. The Hindu one, Kailasa, richest in terms of range of stories covered. Grand but not ornate.
Funding of carvings from free donations by traders and merchants who stopped for the night at the Viharas. How did people get word in the north of religious and faith refuges in the west? Must be merchants. Merchants are conduits of far more than commodities. Merchandise is the route for the traffic of cultures. Objects and stories help bring alive far-away places.
Padmanava… Like the sound of the word. Lotuses are so fundamental to faith and culture in India. Vishnu seated on lotus. Lakshmi too. Buddha seated in Padmasana. Kailasa is a Shaiva temple. The epic and everyday life of Shiva and Parvati. … Solemn looking guide called Siddharth. Takes his name very seriously. Can chant Buddhist mantra. He is less peevish when I run into him at the Ellora restaurant afterwards. He asks if I had liked what I saw. ‘Born and brought up in Aurangabad’, he said. Such a peculiarly Indian phrase.
Goddess Siddhayika. Sacred to the Jains. Seated in Lalitasana. Which means that the asanas were adapted in devising protestant faith motifs too. Elephants welcome you into cave 19, the chaittya griha. The equivalent of the function of Lord Ganesh at Kailasa Temple. So the idea of hospitality is shared. The welcoming deities subtly changed. Seated opposite Siddhayika, the goddess of fertility, is goddess Kubera, counterpart of Lakshmi. Says how important wealth making is to the Jains.
Houses in Aurangabad north Indian style. All concrete. Wide, bare terraces. Not as beautiful as in Kerala. Not tile roofed. Aurangabad has 52 old style fort gates.
Aurangzeb’s tomb next to his guru Jainuddin Chisti’s mazhar. Of the same family as Salim Chisti of Fatehpur Sikri. Alms-seeking compulsive as at other dargahs. Lots of Hindus visit the mazhar. Marble is cool, and white, and looks pristine. Hence preferred to the scorching touch of other rocky textures.
Amazingly cool water. Pleasant indoors. Hot sun. Cool breeze. Confused weather. First casualty dogs with furry coat. Supposed to shield them from the cold. Instead traps them in the heat. Saw impressively haunched oxen. Horns of many oxen tricoloured.
Ghruneshwara Temple. Typically phallic. The ardour of the male devotees noteworthy. Mandatory for them to touch the Linga barebodied. Offering: Bel leaves and hibiscus. Sacred to Kali. Lots of shoving and elbowing. People in tearing hurry. Competitiveness and aggression of mainstream majority religion. Everyone worried about not getting to the shrine. There’s a strange anxiety within the Hindu community.
The guide at Ellora repeated the cliché about Hinduism being ‘a way of life’. Fewer men wearing Islamic outfit. Maybe because of the BJP raj. That apart, though, the cohabitation seems peaceful and close. No need for registering difference sartorially.
Lots of temples with colourful phallic spires that look like they have just got a fresh coat of paint. Lots of mosques too. Mosques seem to occupy more ground space than temples. Temples in the middle of nowhere. Mosques more centrally located in towns.
Fewer women in sight than men. Some seen in burqas, sporting flashy gilded shoes, bags, slippers and expensive mobiles riding pillion behind their husbands. Wonder if they are wearing ‘lipstick under their burqas’. For them it makes sense to say they dress up for themselves. Saw a lady driving her family car in a hijab. Upper or middle class women indistinguishable from their north Indian counterparts. Local working class women indistinguishable from their counterparts in South India. Most wear their hair long. South Indian women wear them in long braids even as they are denim-clad.
Aurangabadi silk is of two varieties: Himroo and Paithani, depending on complicated differences in the weaving process. Saw two weavers at work. Such an absorbing, painstaking job! Working under asbestos roof. Carcinogenic. Fans not above their heads. Little table fan next to one. None spinning when we went. How much of the 2550 I spent on each of the two sarees for the two mothers at Mughal Silk Emporium will go to the weavers?
Champa flowers everywhere at Ellora. And custard apple trees. Called Sitaphal. Stunningly solemn sight of the range of hills and valleys. Sahyadri Range. Sahyadri means warm fellow feeling? The grimness of the fort as an idea repeated in the landscape. Fort ruins camouflaged by the green but sombre landscape. Tremendous sense of space all around.
Route from Aurangabad to Ajanta mostly valley. Flat land. Sugarcane plantations plentiful. Old decrepit, fume spewing red state buses. Waghora River horseshoe in the gorge where the caves of Ajanta rise. Dense chronicle paintings. Art as historical record. Bodhisattwa Padmapani marked by grace. Pose almost feminine. Androgyny in ancient Indian male and female configuration. Rashid Bhai porter has six daughters. Lives in Fardabad village. Addresses us as Dada and Didi. Treated him to tea and snack. Paid him a hundred more than the stipulated rate. He still asked for more.
Mumbai airport is both luxurious and cheerfully welcoming. Unlike Delhi airport. Smart looking corporate men all around. Fast moving traffic at ten in the night. Rode past Santa Cruz neighbourhood and then Bandra and then across the stunning sealink which looks much like Vidyasagar Setu except that it is flat rather than arched. Marshy inroads of the sea – creeks, as they are supposedly called – are visible. And Hudson-Bay-like twinkling highrises across.
Lovebirds at bus stop. Helpful taxi drivers. Some lean, some portly. Posh residential quarters in Worli not too different from residential neighbourhoods of Delhi. Minivan taxis. Mostly Alto taxis. Black and yellow. A few Fiat taxis. Reminded of Farooq Sheikh, the migrant taxi driver in Gaman. And his lonely devoted wife back in some North Indian village played by Smita Patil. Fiat taxis have been replaced by Santro taxis.
From first look, Narayan Pujari Nagar Colony enclave looks like a slightly improved version of the Nukkad neighbourhood. Crackers and Bollywood music all around. Apparently for Navratri.
Vintage teak furniture around the apartment. Door opened by Munnaji. But of course. Makes lovely omelettes. Can see that breadmaking is important here. Whole grains on slices. The host is an avid reader. Teaches in an international school. Absolute contrast presented by the run down exterior of the building called Neel Sagar and the slightly worn elegance of the interior. Indoor plants galore. Apparently don’t need much sunlight. Bustly neighbourhood. Can hear chatter and laughter even at two a.m. Lots of pastoral paintings too. The more urban a place the more anxious it is to accommodate rurality into its aesthetic.
Merchants, Agarwala, Parekhs on the apartment name plates. Lots of expensive cars parked at the bottom of the buildings which have from the outside Regent Estate or Manicktala government housing look to them. But clearly not an indication of level of solvency.
Wonderfully diverse collection of books. Study table doubles up as dining table. Interestingly organic assymetry in furniture layout. Old comfortable once expensive couches. A lovely old swing. View of the sea from Sudev’s window obstructed by slums. Immediately reminded of Amitav Ghosh’s The Great Derangement of the rich and the poor making homes by seas and rivers for livelihood and succour, not knowing that the same sustainer can turn destroyer in a changed ecological scenario.
The host’s mother in the picture looks distinctly like an actress I remember from an old Bollywood movie. Aquiline, angular features. Have seen such in a few other Marathi women too. Including a teacher of mine. Our host lives with a mother and son pair of cats, called Katherine and Shantanu. Pets have to be registered with the municipality here.
A little Ganesha welcomes guests into the Shah apartment, just as a huge Ganesha ushers in visitors and worshippers to the Kailasa Temple at Ellora. That’s what I mean by continuity between India’s past and present. No other visible sign of religiosity about the household packed with books in the English language. Name plaque next to the elevator says No. 3: Mrs Ranjan N….. Is Ranjan a unisex name or was it deemed convenient for the mother to be known and identified after the husband’s demise by her husband’s name and heir?
Big, raven like crows caw us out of sleep in the morning. Kites by the sea. Pigeons at the Gateway. Regal ox cart next to Land Rovers on the roads.
Many streets, roads and lanes bear two names, the newer names being Margs as in New Delhi. Saw Annie Besant Marg, Khan Abdul Ghaffer Khan Marg etc. Saw a Nelson’s Column like Corinthian pillar with Bal Gangadhar Tilak atop. At the Gateway of India statues of Vivekananda and Shivaji. The latter in suitably Napoleon Crossing the Alps like pose astride a galloping horse. “Poker” graffitied all over the city walls. Energetic traffic policemen. Look proud and happy with the power to direct traffic at the wave of a hand and whiff of a whistle.
The Gateway architecture is mongrel. Occasioned by Delhi Durbar. Shift of power base to Delhi. Hence suitably Mughal detailing, including Islamic arch, zafri filigree work on flanking gateways and minarets on the four sides. Cultural takeover through adoption of Mughal motifs. The word Durbar itself Urdu, presumably. Victoria Terminus or CST much grander and lavishly Gothic. Town hall by contrast like the British Museum with Doric columns. White. Also similar to GPO, Calcutta. Lovely wrought iron works and tiled roofs Goanese or perhaps Portuguese style elsewhere.
Marine Drive flanked by shabby high-rises on the northern side and New York like ones on the southern side. Wilson College across the road. The promenade on the northern side of the drive teeming with college going love birds. Much unabashed PDA. Girls demurely or strategically covered in scarves. Their beaus’ arms around their shoulders for protection and privacy. A certain boy flanked by two girls! Lots of family visitors milling around without batting an eyelid. Come to think of it, there’s such a shocking lack of private space in India. How interesting that facing the bare sea can offer a way of claiming privacy. It’s like looking up at the sky and thinking one is actually lifted up alone into the sky. The lovers shut out the city by turning their back to it and imagine that the twosome (or threesome) are all on their own in mid-sea! What can we not do to our bodies with our minds! And to our minds with our bodies!
Phoenix Mall wrapped in teakwood. Formidably high-sounding brand stores all around. Singularly dull place. Sports a Laugh Club. Much needed. Only signs of life around the open air festival square. But then antiriot tank like vehicle discreetly parked on one side of it. Cosmopolitanism fragile. Bought at the cost of round the clock surveillance and state vigil. Leopold Café welcoming. Saw the bullet holes on the wall at one corner. Obese waiters wearing Leopold tees. Guests of all colour. Right next to Muslim neighbourhood decked up for Muharram on Sunday. Had some fine Caesar Salad, blueberry cheese cake and fish and chips at Leopold’s. Bubbly young waiter. Probably new. Everyone seems excited to be on the payroll in Mumbai. Some kind of arrival. Sudev says it also brings an angst. A Faustian or rather Micawberish deferral of realisation that one will never make it to the moneyed clique. But it may not be so.
The Colaba area has the look of Park Street, Chowringhee and the Grand Hotel arcade. Hawkers and retailers sharing brisk business underneath heritage structures. Courteous shop assistants.
I don’t see Marathi women wearing vermilion in their parting. Lower middle class Bengali women are. As also some South Indian wives even in trousers. Marathi women wear colourful zari bordered sarees and flowers in their buns. Elaborate hairstyling implements among artifacts at the Museum. Long hair is important in the Indian idea of feminine beauty. And their ear studs are held in place by linked gold chains around the pinna. Wonder why? Many look tall. Some short. They mostly wear one or more mangalsutras. They are hardworking and enterprising and going by an emigrant Bengali householder’s certification, even maintain their husbands who squander away their earnings on alcohol. Even bank officers do so. While their wives serve multiple households as maids and cooks. Many continue in their abusive marriages in deference to custom and convention so as not to be stigmatised. I am told. Emigrants from UP are supposedly far more enterprising and value education and its power to catapult the second generation to higher estates. Marathi women are bony. No wonder they work so hard.
Sudev befriending one gregarious taxi driver after another. One gives us the lowdown on the high cost of living in Mumbai. One has to earn at least a lakh to maintain one’s family here. Migrant from Bihar. Darbhanga. Like Munnaji. Lives in a shanty shack and pays Rs 8000 as monthly rent. Says Kolkata is a less punishing place. Many taxi drivers have worked in Kolkata at some point in their past. Water supply in full force restricted to certain hours of the day even in middle class neighbourhoods. Clothes-drying a major hassle. Thanks to density of housing, sunlight wasted. Utter disregard for conserving electricity.
The latest fashion in ladies’ upper wear seems to be slits on the shoulders with a part of the sleeve hanging off the shoulders. From frocks to tank tops to gowns, all girls and women across economic groups are going about showing their gleaming smooth shoulders. ‘Cold shoulders’ it is called, I shall gather from the Telegraph supplement on coming back. Such a ‘cruel-mistress- type name’!
Lots of fashion boutiques around. Would see Gauri Khan’s new signature store Gauri Khan Designs on the way back from Juhu Beach. The taxi driver told us how the Badshah of Bollywood had only just left the place after inaugurating it.
Parallel lives of the homeless under flyovers. Saw one mother picking nit from her daughter’s hair as the grandfather looks on. 22 people died in a stampede at Elphinstone Road station. Everyone we know is blasé about it. Billboards feature the superstars of Bollywood. Saw the 23 storeyed Ambani residential tower.
The architecture of the Prince of Wales Museum supposedly Indo Saracenic. Mismatched mosaic domes on top. Amazingly beautiful woodcarved banisters inside. Blue and cream stone work reminded me of the Natural History Museum, London. In fact, the museum itself is a cross in miniature between the British Museum and the Natural History Museum. As at the latter, lots of stuffed life size animals and birds. The Hangul stag from Kashmir is regal.
European paintings from Ratan and Dorabji Tatas’ private collections refreshingly diverse. The most striking among them is a late nineteenth century satire called Adorationby William Strong showing a woman with downcast eyes, a Madonna in the nude, surrounded by male worshippers. Exposes the utter preposterousness of religious esotericisation. A nineteenth century painting of an angelic Tess like shepherdess, a boy corn harvester, a lady blowing bubbles. Then there was Sakuntala, and another Rajput painting of a lover on horseback delivering a love letter to his belle at the window above on the tip of his lance. So many taxonomies within the Rajput style of miniature painting: Kota, Bundi, Malwa, Kangara…! And the Mughal style is a variant on these in that it adopts greater realism in theme and naturalism in depiction of flora and fauna.
Hairdo fundamental to Indian construct of feminine beauty. Elaborate hairdo ornaments and implements on display.
Protestant faiths seem to have regressed with time into adapting patterns and motifs from the mother faith. The reclining Buddha at Ajanta may have been taken from the Sheshashayi Vishnu. The eleven headed Avalokiteswara resembles the Mahadeva image with heads successively on top. The Bodhisattva Padmapani looks so like the similarly effeminate pose of a certain dwarpaal.
Many goddesses seated in Lalitasana: From Uma to Mahakali to Gajalakshmi, everyone seated in this fertility advertising posture. Continuity into Jain figurations of the Kubera and the Gajalakshmi at the Ellora Jain temples.
The idea of avatars retained too. Bodhisattvas and Tirthankars in the two breakaway faiths. The Upanishads in turn name the Buddha and the Dashaavatar include the Buddha. Wonderful Buddha statues from Mirpur, Pakistan. Suggestive of the expanse of subcontinental Indian civilization in antiquity. Likewise, Mahishasuramardini statues from Madhya Pradesh.
Avatars tell not only how much faiths travelled but also the extent of local or regional inflection. For every Shiva, there is the Sadashiva, the Mahadeva, the Nataraja, the Bhairava. Likewise, for every Parvati, there’s Uma, Bhairavi, Chamunda and so on.
Harappan pottery and toys present remarkable modernity as we understand it. Mother goddess among them too. Some exquisite prints of Kolkata sketches. Stunningly picturesque Regency Kolkata. Paper came to India in the fourteenth century. Earlier writings had been on palm leaves.
Jehangir Gallery set up with Sir Cowasjee Jehangir’s money too. Interesting overlap between Parsee and Muslim nomenclature. The Tata’s seem to have been for art patronage in Mumbai what the Medicis had been in Florence.
Bombay comes from Bom Bahia, beautiful bay. Dowry from Catherine of Braganza when she married Charles II. Leased by the king to the East India Company. There was a Great Fire in 1803. Replanned and rebuilt after that with wider streets. “Aamchi Mumbai”. A city embraced by all.
Interesting exhibition of photographs of old Bollywood stars by Jitendra Arya at the National Gallery of Modern Art. Gayatri Devi looks like a doll. Misplaced hype about her beauty. The one striking photo is that of Sobhaa De. Arya does Ravi Shankar much better justice than Satyajit Ray. Dev Anand was so photogenic. Arya’s wife Chhaya Arya impressive. Not so most others. Suchitra Sen’s facial perfection unparalleled. Would have looked far more sensuous in a sari rather than in a shimmering one piece overall. Both Jehangir Gallery and the NGMA funded by Sir Cowasjee Jehangir. His statues have the look of Renaissance cardinals. NGMA has a neo-Roman Florentine Renaissance look to it. Minimalist. Unlike the “Venetian neo-Gothic” Sassoon Library and the grim University of Mumbai and Elphinstone College structures. Some lovely mosaic work on the pavement skirting a part of the Elphinstone College building. Colleges look lifeless here. But these were holidays! No political posters? Is that why? No signs of anti establishment resistance? Is that why? Or the antiquity of the buildings? As in London, old structures functional because they have been taken over by commercial or administrative concerns. SBI case in point. As also the New India Insurance building.
Kitaab Khana Bookshop, housed in Somaiya House, wrapped in teak like the Phoenix Mall and the homestay. Our host says old teak from broken down houses sold at special auction markets. Less impressive than Oxford Bookstore Kolkata. Saw a mother trying hard to convince her child about the merits of a certain book and books in general, presumably.
Even the David Sassoon Library stays open from 8am to 9pm. Two sets of staff, presumably. Which means twice the number of staff maintained. Only possible with rolling reserve of money. Mumbai is the most functional city in the country. Jobs get done. Parsee legacy.” Says our fundamental physicist friend.
It was Muharram yesterday and had been Navratri Dussehra the previous day. But there were no signs of disruptive or intrusive revellers. It was business as usual. Inertia of work. Difficult to stop. Also, perhaps, wariness about encroaching upon other cultural spaces too obtrusively. Can be explosive in the midst of such tightly huddled diversity. Like a matchstick in a kerosene store. Also, perhaps, minorities somewhat muted by the boisterousness of the Hindu majority rule of fairly long standing now.
Sahakari Bhandar since 1966. Grocer’s and eatery chain. One inside Narayan Pujari Nagar. Had the Dabheli at Ninad roadside Café. Cafés all over. Cafés have pop art posters and captions even as they retain an elite teak gilded and wrought iron look. Why is Café Royale so called? Sports a coat of arms above the entrance. European influence evident in café culture. Lots of westerners braving the humidity. Ginger honey lemon tea badly done. This place doesn’t understand subtleties in taste. Shankar gave an interesting explanation as to why Sandesh tastes so good. Because of the fine kneading and blending, the mass is broken up into fine particles that sit nicely on the taste buds and can be absorbed more densely as a result.
First taste of street food in Mumbai: Gujarati Dhabeli. Variant of Vada Pao. Unexceptional taste and look. Clearly bread is staple here. Something called frankies sell in veg and non veg varieties. Also faloodas, coolfies. And various kinds of toasts, even in combinations of cheese and jam. Bakery strong presence. Baremiya Kebabs unexceptional. Doesn’t hold a candle to Kolkata cooking. Starbucks and Belgian Waffles and McDonald’s and Domino’s Pizza all around us.
Had Pao Bhaji finally. Soaked in butter. Unexceptional. Liked the Kesar Kulfi cubes served on a paper plate instead. Kala Khatta seems to be a popular drink. A kind of tangy slush made of tamarind concentrate with rock salt and other condiments added. Even street food is expensive. There are ushers as at the ‘lyangcha’ shops in Shaktigarh, Burdwan. Seating is interestingly on the steps facing the sea. To keep them seatworthy, mats are laid and dusted everytime fresh customers arrive. Juhu beach is a fairly democratic space. And grand hotels such as Ramada Plaza and JW Marriott stand arm in arm with the hoi polloi. But guests would be looking onto the same dirty beach, I thought. Maybe there’s something visually filtering about five star hotel window panes. They show forth the beach and the sea but not the murk on the beach. Also had Paan from a tiny roadside paanshop. Interestingly novel condiments went into it. Not that it tasted out of this world. Mumbai is not the place for food, from what I can see. Distant second to Kolkata and Delhi. Paanseller extremely dignified and surly. Has the manner of a professor. Doubtless from UP. Marathi men mostly darker. Unless of some Middle Eastern blood. Or of course Parsee. Or of the creamy layer. This paan seller’s manner somewhat like the father’s in Masaan. Sudev didn’t have the heart to tell him that the viscous colourful concentrates he had added hadn’t done much for the taste. He was listening to an interesting looking transistor. More like a walkie talkie. Music probably. Speaking of music, I have been hearing retro songs from my childhood since arriving here or local pop. Not Bollywood’s latest. Shocking lack of choices at cinemas around. From standalones to Inox at Phoenix High Street.
A residential high-rise facing the sea at Marine Drive is curiously called Ganga Vihar. It’s like a house facing the Hooghly River in Kolkata being named Seaview! People by the sea think river. People by the river think sea. We always want what we do not have. Did we not want what we have? Did we have it in spite of not wanting it?
Mumbai, like Berlin in the late 1990s, looks like a gigantic construction site. Sign of change, growth, life. The classic sign is of cranes atop half built buildings. Come to think of it, so many Hindi films, be it gangster thrillers or middle class domestic tales of the Basu Chatterjee Amol Palekar films have scenes set in unfinished high-rises. Imitated in the Aniruddha Ray Chowdhury film Antaheen starting Rahul Bose.
Sea-green sea during the day turns white bordered rippling mass of quiet black in the dark.
The sea rolling with abandon underneath us, as the steamer that’ll take us to the Elephanta Caves loads more passengers and crate after crate of soft drinks. Consumption of soft drinks phenomenal.
Loud Bengalis an embarrassment here as at Ajanta. Interesting perhaps to note that even the socially lower middle class but economically upstart Bengalis also travel, thanks to a long tradition of disinterested travelling among Bengalis. It is doubtful whether the Marathi lower middle class would ever go to Kolkata as tourists. My ambivalence comparable to Sunanda K. Dutta Ray complaining about Indians frequenting flights to South East Asian shopping havens.
Abhi wonders why everything has to be named after Shivaji. Suggests a shocking dearth of heroes. Between Shivaji and Shakrukh, what? So you either have conqueror heroes of the past or actor celebrities of the present? Significant. Like Henry V, Princess Diana and Beckham in the UK. So doers were conquerors and their contemporary counterparts are those who simulate doing. Classic sign of decadence. So real entrepreneurs and moneymakers are merely invisible facilitators of culture? Not heroes? What do we ask for from heroes? Not that they do. But that they show doing. Machiavelli was right.
Elephanta caves a pleasant surprise architecturally. Impressively thick square pillars. With carvings as they rise. Striking laterally split Ardhanariswar, with the feminine half on the left. So one breast. Pose Padmapani like once again. Going by Parvati’s vital statistics, ancient Indian markers of feminine form involve full breasts, reasonably narrow waist and full hips. Elephanta Island originally called Gharapuri. The central cave sacred to Shiva. Various avatars of Shiva around the cave temple. Invisible except on approach. From the sea, looks like a largish uninhabited island. Doubtless was that. Again, natural source of water uphill. Water constantly dripping down crevices past the temples.
Mangrove like exposed roots in the marshy water surrounding the concrete jetty.
MTDC Restaurant named Chalukya after the sculptural style and cultural and political patronage evident in the temple. Suggests a co-opting by the state of earlier state cultures. The noise around most monuments a great obstacle to connecting to the past. No space for reflective observation. The one silent space was the Shiva Linga vestibule right at the centre.
On the way back, find a woman clad in hijab and burqa accompanied by a well built, well-gymed husband in smart American denim and tee. Clearly her choice to step out hijab-ed. The husband of the miniskirted Sharon Stone who spent most of her time looking at herself on the Samsung lock screen and the fully hijabed woman, how much say do they have or exercise when it comes to their wives ‘ sartorial choices? The contradiction that is India.
Mumbai slum houses stand on top of one another… The best way to make up for cramped space. Grim mimickry of the affluent high-rises next to which they have mushroomed. Extremely swanky and extremely squalid neighbourhoods coexist in remarkable contiguity. Wonder if that makes for greater inclusiveness or contempt bred by familiarity. Mumbai slums are a study in blue. Blue tarpaulin. Mumbai slums are hard to hide because they stand in pockets right at the heart of the city rather than on one side. Apparently even slum households sport dish antennae and air conditioners. The downmarket neighbourhoods of the city visually indistinguishable from sordid Jharkhand or Bihar small towns.
Mumbai Metro rail tracks being laid. Talk of bullet train service between Ahmedabad and Mumbai. In that sense too a city is always in the making. Or in the mending, shall we say. Or remaking. That is where the association of dynamism comes from. Civilised post industrial humans are geared to appreciate only manmade mobility or change seriously, not the changes in nature except as relief or retreat
A proud signboard says Witty International School. The school is witty? Or does it aspire to make its pupils witty?
In Mumbai everybody makes their own daily time table. It’s not just post natural time but also post clock time.
Malls across cities feel like home. Because they look the same across cities. Malls called Infiniti and Inorbit. The illusion of inexhaustibility. Don’t people tire of malls? One supposes they move to some other mall when they tire of one! Stunning city scape from the terrace apartment. City of dreams. Of glitter. Interesting neighbourhood name: Evershine Nagar.
Arrive back in a festively lit but somnolent Kolkata. No sign of the midnight bustle as in Mumbai. Kolkata looks like the city of relaxation as opposed to one of struggle.
Fundamental difference in look between Mumbai airport and Kolkata airport owing to the use of yellow and white lights respectively. The latter makes everything look shabby. The former gives a dreamy hue.
Taxi drivers in Kolkata seem equally pleasant. Uber and Ola are to blame for their loss of swagger. Or perhaps the fact that they’re not overworked? Tempted to ask a Bihari taxi driver here whether he plans to move to Mumbai too for more earnings.
Mumbai is the city where everyone is easily replaced and replaceable. Hence the anxiety to perform and hold on to what one has. From the singer to the teacher to the domestic help, everyone knows they have thousands waiting to take their place. Success then means the perception that success is fragile, yet to come and must therefore be clung to with more striving, not shirking. Mumbai is a city plenty in extras. As our singer friend said, the vast majority of the working population is directly dependent on Bollywood for bread and butter.
Bottom-line? Mumbai is not Maharashtra.