Mumbai from the Eyes of a Delhite: Part 5
[This is the fifth in a series of blogs about Mumbai]
Having satisfied myself with the interiors of my new home, I began investigating the exteriors. The building, I realized lay in a Christian dominated area with a large smattering of Muslim population. The average lower middle class family in my neighbourhood spoke English and wore skirts- something you wouldn’t see in a city like Delhi, even in Christian localities. Intrigued by the French sounding name of the block I lived in- ‘Mon Repos’ which roughly translates into ‘My Resting Place’, I snooped around a bit.
Bandra, I learnt, had for a long time been a Portuguese settlement known as Bandura, before it was handed over to Jesuit priests in the 16th century, hence explaining the presence of numerous churches, convents and crosses sprinkled across what was once an independent island. Sometime in the mid 19th century, the Mahim causeway was built connecting Bandra to the rest of Bombay. Today, a residence in this coveted piece of land that has in turns been captured by the Portuguese, the Marathas and the British, adds an irrefutable glamour-quotient to one’s status in Mumbai.
The crowning glory to the new found pride in my residence was the belated discovery that Bandstand was barely a few minutes’ walk from my place. Like any new-comer to this city would be, I was enchanted by the knowledge of my proximity to Salman Khan’s, Shahrukh Khan’s and Rekha’s villas. I was soon to find out, in the course of my evening walks, that ardent admirers were barely daunted by the remoteness of their own quarters.
For all practical purposes, they virtually lived opposite Salman Khan’s house! I would often cross a mob of starry-eyed fans staring at the canopy shielding his veranda in the sincere conviction that he would appear and wave at them. An hour later, on my way back, the same necks would remain craned, untiring with an unwavering faith. I have only seen such religion in places of worship. But then, Bollywood is hardly short of a religion in Bombay.
A few hundred meters from such fervent reverence, one can see another kind of devotion- the ardent piety to love. Strewn across the rocks of Bandstand, any moment of night or day, can be seen hundreds of couples cozily tucked into each other. While solemn joggers march by in deliberate ignorance of the oozing ardour, passionate pairs conjoin in unbounded expressions of love, oblivious to the frowns of prudish watchers.
The only ones who most unashamedly land up in the middle of these mini make-out sessions, dampening the heat of the moment, are the eunuchs. This genus takes special pleasure in the resulting awkwardness, as it very effectively hastens the couple into emptying their purses to get rid of the annoying interruption. As eunuchs hop from couple to couple, you begin to admire the smooth strategy that yields them splendid returns.
The other factor that plays a significant role in these amorous goings-on at Bandstand is the tide. It took me a while to notice the pattern, but once I did, it was unmistakable. Every time the tide is low, the water recedes significantly exposing a vast expanse of rocks where duos spread out finding enough privacy in the cuts and crevices. As high tide approaches, the water mischievously chases the lovers closer and closer to land and hence closer to the voyeuristic public, until they have no option but to sit in patient decorum on the benches, waiting for the circle of life to play out again. For those who have tried to defy nature, it is said that at least once a year, an obdurate couple is washed away by the merciless waters.
Walking past the Salman Khan fans, devoted joggers and infatuated romantics, one arrives at the end of Bandstand. One morning, curious at what lay beyond, I walked right on, past The Taj to discover a restricted entry leading right up to the remains of a fort. I hopped up the crumbling stairs and was wonder-struck by the sight that greeted me. High up from the cliff where I was perched, I was surrounded by silence and water on three sides. In the distance I could see the Bandra-Worli Sea Link leading to the rest of Mumbai, from behind which the orange sun was rising upon the city.
Years ago, before the majestic Sea Link was erected, I imagined someone standing here would have felt, quite literally, to be hovering at “Land’s-end”. In the 17th century, this fort had indeed served as a watch-point for the Portuguese, to oversee Mahim Bay on one side, Worli to the front and the Arabian Sea on the other side. Ships approaching from the sea would stop by at the Fort (Castella in Portuguese), to receive fresh water from a fountain (Aguada), hence lending the name ‘Castella de Aguada’ to this historical site.
In the 18th century, when the Portuguese power began to decline, the British partly destroyed the fort to prevent the impending Maratha invaders from using it as a stronghold against the British. Crumbling yet alive, the fort stands till date, frozen in time.
Mumbai has many such contrasts tucked away, the beauty of a historic past, coexisting right beside the daily humdrum of contemporary life.
Open your eyes and you cannot miss the wonders of a city that is simultaneously stilled in time and yet speeding into modernity.
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Piyushi Dhir is the author of 'In Search of Love', 'I'm Yours, The Next Time', 'Silent Promises' and 'Enmeshed Evermore'. She is a contributor in 'Nineteen Tales of COVID-19', a collection of short stories. A voracious reader, a keen traveler, a businesswoman and a mom, Piyushi currently resides in Canada. A nomad at heart, she loves to discover new places and capture the hues of life with her pen.