Standing not because of your balance but that is the only available space without being completely squished between passengers. The rushing wind outside, people hanging out of the train casually mentioning a joke which took place at their place of work, the heat of the person standing next to you not to mention their sweat beads, the lady with a tray full of jhumkas for sale and squabbles regarding the unwanted pushes as the station is fast approaching. But you are safely wedged between the bars separating the second class with the first class and as the train jerks forward from the station, you realise it’s now your turn to make space literally through the human wall towards the door – the first skill a Mumbaikar is probably taught before swimming. At the station, all around you, people fly by like every second count for something, there’s no sense of calm or leisure on anyone’s face nor a pause in their feet. Nothing stops them from hustling by, be it on the go or off the rails. The local train is the heart of Mumbai, it pumps people all across the city. The rail network also plays an important role geographically – it splits the city into two. Yes! The famous names followed by East or West is a character courtesy to the tracks. It can always confuse a newcomer into town, do you get off at the East exit or the West?
Mumbai is a fascinating city, it is an amalgamation of all things interesting. On one end you can find people living in spaces under 10 Sq.m. in the most creative way possible and without wasting an inch of their space, a space probably shared by a family of 6. And on the other end, the one which faces the sea, we can see the fancy buildings with glass facades and crystal chandeliers decorating the double-height spaces. But that’s not all! A trip to the South takes you on a journey dating back in time – to the British era.
The slums in Mumbai are a frequent scene due to the over-priced land rates. Approximately 43% of the population live in these slums under appalling conditions. There is hardly any sanitation, potable water, proper ventilation or enough light. The huts are closely spaced with each other made or temporary materials like sheets or plastic warps. Dharavi is the most infamous one of all. The slum is situated somewhat in the centre of the city in a prime location. Yet no cops were ever able to enter Dharavi, even in disguise. The community is so closely knit that everyone has a spare eye creating a successful surveillance system.
The chawls of Mumbai represent the middle economy class families. A large introverted building with a courtyard lined with corridors leading to one bhk apartments probably occupied by more than 1 family at a time. The corridors lined with clothes hung to dry, items which are no longer in use and also some vegetable garden. The chawls form a cultural important landmark with traditional construction involving timber for the non-load bearing façade elements.
South Bombay is a wonderland. The roads are wide and lined with trees on either side leading you to a junction bordered with beautifully ornate colonial buildings. The avenues seem to stretch forever into the sea, the smell of the sea directing you forward. The little cafes in old buildings with high volume and decorated walls. The road parallel to the promenade is the busiest – the shopping streets. The streets are half-filled with the shops, set up on temporary makeshift wooden stands. The crowd seems to be trying to bargain for a better deal while making small adjustments to allow the rest to pass by. The shopkeeper, on one hand, tries to engage with their customer while also trying to attract the passer-by. The promenade is ironically calm even though filled with thousands of people, probably because of all the effort of getting across to the end. There is a sense of calm on their faces – sea salt is calming I’ve heard of it’s the rhythmic crashing of waves. The Chaiwalas provide refreshments while staring at the setting sun far away at the horizon.
The queen’s necklace is sort of the perfect public space. Stretching for nearly three and a half kms, the stone-paved transition between the sea and land creates the subtle yet powerful backdrop for hanging out. The promenade attracts all classes and race without any bias along with millions of tourists every day. One can experience the trailer to Mumbai just by being at that place – the crowd, the different activities, the chats, the nightlife and lights and the famous ignorance of what the couple next to you are involved in. It is the best place to enjoy the famous Mumbai ki barish, watch out for the flood! Marine Drive is an emotion and to quote Thor “it is not about the place but the people.”
Mumbai is the city for dreamers, thousands arrive here every day hoping for a better tomorrow. The city has a total of 22 million people living crammed at 28,000 people per square km. It is like the savoury snack, Mixture – a little bit of boondi, kaara channa, aloo bhujiya, cashews, raisins, curry leaves, chana dal, rice flakes, red lentils and many more. The city welcomes you with open arms no matter where you’re from. One of the most crowded cities in the world but also the safest. Walking around at 2am in the morning feels like a regular Friday evening. In this city, you fade away into the crowd and that is what also makes you belong to the crowd as now you are the crowd.