“I live on a wedge of land
reclaimed from a tired ocean
somewhere at the edge of the universe”
– From the poem, Where I Live by Arundhati Subramaniam
To call Mumbai (Bombay!) an emotion may seem cliched, but for the millions who call this city home, it is an axiomatic truth. One may love it or hate it; one may live here life-long or leave Mumbai, and settle elsewhere, as I have, but the city itself settles inside you. It gets in your veins, and weaves itself into your memories.
It is an attitude, a way of life and a mindset.
The story of how seven Koli villages came together and became a world renowned megacity, a financial and cultural hub, and the most populous city in India, is a marvelous tale indeed and a long story, that is best summarized thus,
“Though the shrewd entrepreneurs of the East India Company had been the first to see the potential of the largest deepwater harbour on India’s west coast, Bombay is essentially a product of the nineteenth century, when the British built a national railway network around it and shipbuilders developed its position as India’s chief post and link to the world. Bombay has long been a fragrant souvenir of the shotgun marriage of mercantile greed and imperial dreams.”– From Bombay: Hobson-Jobson on the Streets by Pico Iyer
Because of its history however, Mumbai has long had the advantage of being the city of dreams –where people, from across India, and across the world, even, arrive hoping for success and better lives.
It is New York and Los Angeles and Hollywood, all squeezed together into one city. No wonder then, that Mumbai doesn’t disappoint! Here’s a list of experiences that Mumbai offers to its residents and travellers alike:
i. Downtown Mumbai, that the locals refer to as “town” or “fort” is the Mumbai that is known best to the tourists. It is here that the past is ever present, in the form of its Victorian and Art Deco buildings.
From VT station (CST now) to the Gateway of India, from the iconic steps of the Asiatic Library to the Rajabai Tower, the architecture in this area is a pleasure to explore.
ii. Mumbai has a long seashore. Unfortunately the beaches themselves, at Juhu or Chowpatty are a bit of a disappointment, as they are not the typical swimming/bathing beaches. They are an experience in themselves, however, and worth a cursory visit. A stroll along Marine Drive, where one can see the magnificent “Queen’s Necklace”, or along Bandra Bandstand is a better choice.
iii. Needless to say the opportunities for shopping in Mumbai are amazing. There are of course, outlets for international brands and renowned designers, but the real joy is in shopping on the streets. Be it Colaba Causeway or Linking Road, Chor Bazaar or Zaveri Bazaar, one can score some great steals at the many local markets!
iv. One can sample any kind of cuisine in Mumbai. From paella to pasta, international cusine does have a presence here. However, Mumbai runs on street food! Grab a vada-pav or a chaat, and eat like a local! Eat some berry pulao and custard at Brittannia, famous for its Parsi delicacies. Scout the many restaurants that serve traditional Maharashtrian fare, especially in the Dadar-Shivaji Park area. I especially recommend Aaswad. Do not miss their kothimbir wadi! If it is South Indian food you crave, then head on over to the Matunga- King’s Circle area. Or experience the multiculturality of the city through the fusion food that can be found everywhere!
v. Ride a Mumbai local! While I wouldn’t recommend taking a train during peak hours, on a sedate weekday afternoon, one can get the “local train” experience minus the death-defying stunts. Or take a double decker bus. Or a kali-peeli taxi. Or ride the Mumbai Metro or the monorail!
vi. Party the night away! Mumbai has indisputably, some of the best nightlife in India. Go to a club and party. Or catch a late night show of a movie.
vii. Mumbai is the home of Bollywood. From Amitabh Bacchan’s Jalsa to Shahrukh Khan’s Mannat, there are plenty of places and opportunities to feel starstruck! A glance at any tourism website will provide links to a plethora of Bollywood studio tours. Choose what fits your pocket the best 🙂
viii. If you need to take a break from all the fun and frolic, and feed your spiritual side, then visit the famous Siddhivinayak or Mahalakshmi temples. Or the Haji Ali dargah. Or the Mount Mary church. Whatever your faith, Mumbai has a place for you to pray. Or travel to nearby places of pilgrimage, like Shirdi or Pandharpur, all easily accessible from Mumbai.
viii. When you get tired of the madness of the city, spend some time at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, in the lap of nature. Maybe you’ll spot a leopard! While you are there do check out the 2400 year old Kanheri caves. Or escape to the Elephanta island,or Alibag, over the sea. If it is the hills you seek, then Lonavala or Khandala are close by too! In fact, travel a little further and go see beautiful Pune as well. Or travel to Goa!
ix. There are a number of museums and galleries in Mumbai worth visiting. The Prince of Wales Museum, now rechristened as the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, is one of India’s best. Close by is the Jehangir Art Gallery, and while there do not forget to check out their amazing cafe, Samovar too! Catch a play at the iconic Prithvi theatre. Check out the Discovery of India exposition or be awed by the magnificence of our Universe at the Nehru Planetarium.
x. Any discussion of Mumbai is incomplete without referring to the ten day Ganpati celebration. The fanfare surrounding this festival must not be missed! Same goes for the awe-inspiring dahi handi celebrations during Gokulashtami. The Kala Ghoda Arts Festival, which is the country’s largest multicultural festival, takes place in February each year. From the Tata Literature Live! to the Gateway Lit Fest, there are multiple opportunities for lovers of the written word to celebrate it. Queer Azaadi Mumbai Pride March also called Queer Azaadi March and Mumbai pride march, is a LGBTQIH pride parade, that is held in Mumbai every year. From street festivals that celebrate a particular locality, to city-wide events, there is always something happening in Mumbai!
To be honest, it is impossible to capture Mumbai in a single blog post. No matter what your interests, Mumbai has something for everyone. The city and the experiences it offers are so vast, that they cannot be condensed effectively. I have made an attempt though. Hopefully, it is enough to make you want to experience the magic for yourself.
Until you can come to Mumbai in person though, you can always read about it in books like Bombay Meri Jaan edited by Jerry Pinto and Naresh Fernandes; Maximum City by Suketu Mehta; Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra; Dangerlok by Eunice D’Souza; Why Loiter? Women and Risk on Mumbai Streets by Shilpa Phadke; or Baumgartner’s Bombay by Anita Desai.
Or watch movies in which Mumbai is so key to the plot, that it is a character, such as, Kaala (2018); The Lunchbox (2013); Satya (1998); Ek Chalis Ki Last Local (2007) or Salaam Bombay (1988).
Sing along to Bambai se aaya mera dost, or Ae dil hai mushkil, jeena yahaan.
Few cities are so celebrated in art and culture. Mumbai and its many mysteries are deserving of it.
“Puri bhaji, bhelpuri you can try and tell
Idli dosa, hot samosa you will like it well
Once you come to stay then you won’t like to go away
Come to Bombay, come to Bombay
Bombay meri hai.”Verse from the song Bombay Meri Hai, a favourite at Christian and Parsi wedding celebrations, with music by Mina Kava and lyrics by Naju Kava.
I started this post with an excerpt from a poem about Mumbai by Arundhati Subramaniam. I leave you with a poem of my own, about this shining, brilliant city, that straddles the ages.
Majestic old moss covered lion
standing guard over the locus of a pagan soul
and hedonistic bloodhounds ready to pounce
their muscles stretched in anticipation of feasting
An ancient timekeeper drips eternity in pearly drops
over and above the city of omniscience…
chalky faces embedded in the century old walls
I wonder about their cloaked, clandestine lives
The lady in white lost in peaceful contemplation
demure head ensconced within her flowery crown
presiding goddess over a temple of busy-ness
devotees scurrying beneath her perennial sight
– Vijayalakshmi Harish
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