Last Friday (May 25, 2012), I had a whirlwind trip to Mumbai, literally. It's rare for me to wake up at 5 am, and even rarer to be at the Pune railway station at 6.30 am. And, there I was, to catch the Deccan Queen. Thank god, I had reservation. I had a place to sit. After several cups of tea, at 10.30 am, the train pulled up at Dadar Station. From there, I took a cab to the government Colony, Bandra. The day was understandably hot and humid.
After freshening up and having 'poha' for breakfast, we were back to Bandra Station at 12.30 pm. Got into a fast local to Churchgate. It was the middle of the day, so the train was relatively empty, we got a place to sit. From there, a cab to Crawford Market (officially Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Mandai), the mother of all markets in Mumbai, where the colonial past sits perfectly at ease with 21st Century India. In the main market building, a colonial structure, the stone fountains were designed by Lockwood Kipling, father of his famous son, Rudyard Kipling. The building itself was completed in 1869. I wondered aloud why all markets in Maharashtra are named after the reformist leader, Jyotirao Phule (The market in Pune is also named after him). My friend had a tongue-in-the-cheek answer: He was from the Mali community, a community of gardeners, so Malis were flower-sellers.
Our destination, however, was not the imposing building, but one of the numerous bylanes that surrounds it. We were looking for stuff I don't want to mention here. I wasn't buying anything anyway. Then I saw this cap while navigating through the crowded pavement, and I had to have it. I know, no one would ever want to wear this red and floral number, it's too camp, too flamboyant and that's the reason I wanted to have it. Predictably, the guy on the shop quoted an outrageous price, and I haggled on till he gave in. My friend was irritated. He told me the trick: Never make the vendor believe that you want to buy the stuff. Make it clear that you'll buy it only if it's cheap. Otherwise not. Then, he'll lower the price. Anyway, I had the cap, and it was good to have a cap in the sweltering heat. Then my friend took me to a specialised sweatmeat shop in one of the gullies to get his favourite sweet — Mohini Halwa. I had never tried it before. I was incredible.
Then another taxi, this time a shared one, to Churchgate. Then another fast local. This time to Andheri. A autorickshaw at the Andheri station, to the Infinity Mall. It was a long journey and I was not sure we will find the place. Time for a short break. Then another rickshaw to Lokhandwala. I was told that this is a star-studded place. This is where the stars live. This is the place where all the wannabe actors from all over the world hang around till they get that break, or till their dreams are broken. Then, my friends said, these strugglers become fortunetellers, predicting the future of the second generation strugglers.
As the evening wore off, it's back to Infinity, then to Andheri station, a long stopover at a bar, and then back to Bandra.
Okay. The point of this post was not to relay my itinerary, but to make an observation about Bombay — Mumbai. Despite the recent, or shall we say, ongoing drama about Marathi Manoos and Mumbai being only for Maharashtrians, in the day-to-day public life, an average Mumbaikar is more accommodating that they are given credit for. I have just two observations to make.
Here, despite the politics, or perhaps, in spite of it, the lingua franca is Hindi, not Marathi. If two strangers meet, they'd start their conversations in Hindi, even when both parties know they speak Marathi. As they go along, they may switch to other languages, Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali, English, but the start would always be with Hindi. This indicates a rare sense of acceptance. This perhaps is the reason why people continue to travel to Mumbai, from across India.
We were on a relatively empty gully. There was a rickshaw little ahead of us. We hailed at him, but he did not seem to hear. There was a man, in a nice pair of jeans, coming from the opposite direction. He saw us and then whistled at the rickshaw guy, for no apparent reason, other than to help us. And, I was thinking, I wouldn't do that in Pune. I won't just randomly stop to help someone, if the help is not sought.
That's why this is Mumbai.