Mumbai, As I Knew Her

— Sayantan Sharma


I had a very lovely opportunity to know Mumbai during my stay at TIFR. It is a huge city where people come from all parts of the country to pursue their dreams. It is a busy place teeming with life. Struggles of the city life aside, Mumbai with all its beauty tries to calm its busy residents and assuage the uncertainties of life. I will try to take you around this wonderful city and to share with you the sights and smells which are my favourites. You may have noticed many of these, captured them with your cameras or read it from the pens of her many ardent fans. But I feel that going through this montage again for a few minutes will give you a sense of pleasure of remembering the sweet memories…

The Marine Drive (Photo Courtesy: Nairit Sur)

Scene 1:

It’s a sultry afternoon near the middle of June and all are waiting with bated breath for the monsoons to come and purge us. For quite some time, few dark clouds, the harbingers of happiness, have been roaming around aimlessly, but the rain is still playing truant. The sun rays are now oblate, the shadows of the buildings are growing and it’s time for our weekend cricket match. With a splurge of red and yellow all around due to the gulmohars, the nature is busy in its silent celebrations, unmindful of all of us. The Brahmagupta cricket ground, or BCG as it is famously known, is sighing silently in solitude and gloom with dust spread all around. Now suddenly the silence is broken by shouts of excitement of the TIFR cricketers. I am a bit depressed though… the person with whom I like to open the innings did not take me in his team. Upset with him, I lay on the grass feeling the warm earth beneath – BCG still breathing hot with angst for leaving it alone for so long. The match is at the climax with my side in a tight spot. Suddenly, the dark clouds conspire to hide the sun and wow… there come the first drops of rains. First a drizzle and then a shower for a few minutes  – enough to make the warring teams run for shelter. The match resumes again on a refreshing note. The first smell of the dusty hue of BCG is so refreshing that it melts away all the upheavals in me. The streaks of sun have jostled out through the shroud of those black clouds. Meanwhile, his team has won and his joy brings out a smile in me.

The BCG (Photo Courtesy: Nairit Sur)

Scene 2:

Two weeks after the trailer, the sporadic visits of the thick black clouds have now turned into a full-fledged aggression. The western sky is becoming darker and the sea is roaring in excitement. It’s time to head towards the sea side… cold winds with the smell of the sea greet you there. Getting drenched in the first drops of monsoon gives you a lot of bliss as many of you will agree. It is an annual ritual for many people, especially in TIFR. Rain brings in respite and happiness in the city and makes her look gorgeous.

There are so many facets to this beauty and I will present only a few snaps of them… the clouds running through the high rises of the Malabar Hills, the sullen beauty of the Marine drive during the first rains, the roar of the sea and the smell of the dishevelled almond trees on the drive, the verdant shades near Powai and Borivali incensed with the smell of the new grass, the washed roads near the Fort sizzling in the light, the view of the glistening Sea-link from Bandra, the sound of the cars whizzing through the drenched roads and the excitement of a dinner outing on a cool rainy night. Come July, the rains are in full command. The city looks pensive and the nights gloomy with the winds moaning through the streets. Suddenly after days of incessant rains, we are gifted with a colourful evening with the setting sun smiling with happiness. The city glistens with a smile like that of a child who has just ensured a candy for herself after a long cry. My friend arrives in my office with a smile and he wants to take me out for dinner to celebrate the wonderful evening. It’s time to pack up – no more work today.

The Bandra-Worli Sea Link (Photo Courtesy: Priti Gupta)

Scene 3:

After adorning the city with greenery all over, the monsoons are about to retreat. It is time for celebration – huge Govindas in the streets of Dadar recreate the mischievous childhood of Lord Krishna. The great God of the masses Lord Ganapati, or Ganesha as he is lovingly called, comes to Mumbai around this time for his annual rendezvous with his subjects. He is in every neighbourhood – his huge elephant head with innocent eyes providing assurance to all of us. He is fondly called Raja by Mumbaikars and there is a lot of prestige at stake as to which locality has made the grandest arrangements for their Raja. The most famous among them is the Lalbaugcha Raja and you need to stand in a queue for hours to get a glimpse of him. It’s hopeless to get an early appointment from him, so I will take you eastwards towards Sewri towards the vast expanse of the almost deserted cotton mills. One of these industrial buildings is the temporary shrine of the Raja of Cottonworks. Amidst the smell of the incense and of the laddus, one can feel an eerie despair in the eyes of the locals who once worked in these closed down mills – they may be earnestly praying to their king to bring back the good times again. Why don’t you oblige them, the grand king?

Scene 4:

One of our seniors has recently braved five long years of doctoral work at TIFR and before he bids adieu to all of us, he is taking us for a grand treat. Our destination is a famous restaurant in the Bhindi Bazar, which is quite popular with the TIFR junta. Incidentally, it is the holy month of Ramadan and its colours have spilled over on the streets, the old monochromatic buildings and on the sea of people. The sizzle of the hot oil, the tinkle of the spatula on the burning tawa, the smell of spices, fries and tandoor are all pervasive creating an ambiance of great satiety. Subtle smells of Mehendi and perfumes greet you as you make your way through the sea of people to your desired destination. We are all feeling hungry already, but, alas, we will have to restrain it for a while. The restaurant is buzzing with people with no tables empty for us; smiling faces all around enjoying their delicious meals after a day-long fast. We have a sumptuous meal at the end of a long wait. After the treat, we head towards a sweet shop famous for its Rabris. We end our party amidst the smell of boiling milk, with the subtle taste of Rabris strewn with delicate kesar and pista, and a lot of contentment.

Scene 5:

Jubilant October brings in two causes of celebration in our lives: Diwali and Founder’s Day. Founder’s day is a celebration of oneness, a great coming together of the members of the TIFR family. The usually sombre Almond garden gets filled with the laughter of children, the smell of paneer and fried rice and people with colourful clothes. The lonely colonnade of the late noon reverberates today with the clatter of the kids running around in joy and with a constant hum. The cultural program provides the perfect ending to this annual get-together. It is usually preceded or followed by Diwali, the grandest festival of India. On this special night, Mumbai looks like a pretty bride getting ready for marriage.

Diwali at Marine Drive (Photo Courtesy: Shamashis Sengupta)

It is a night of jubilation with the fireworks adorning the sky over us. It is decorated with diyas and tinkling bulbs. And, as usual, Marine drive is the centre of all attraction tonight. People from all parts of the city, of different castes and religions meet here to celebrate Diwali together.

Diwali at Marine Drive (Photo Courtesy: Debjyoti Bardhan)

Scene 6:

Winter has silently arrived and one can notice it through the dew on the grass in the morning and the haze on the skyline in the Malabar hills. There are elaborate arrangements throughout the city that bring in a lot of warmth in our lives during this time. Mumbai, with several fairs, food festivals, theatre and concerts gets ready to pull you out of your rooms and ensure that you enjoy the cozy feeling of togetherness. The midnight congregation inside the church on the Christmas Eve amidst the sombre hymns and smell of the fresh cake and burnt candles add to this feeling of warmth. The modern theatres at the NCPA, the traditional cultural hubs of Dadar or the Bandra-Kurla complex teem with people in this season.

Winter also brings in the very colourful Kala Ghoda festival. The nine day extravaganza of music, food and exhibition, on the streets of the Kala Ghoda crescent brings in so many thrills. The usually quiet sidewalks get filled with sounds of music, drums and get tastefully decorated with street paintings. The festival ends with a live music concert, with both the performer and his/her fans preferring that the wonderful evening never ends.


“Mumbaism” – An Exhibit at the Kala Ghoda Art Festival 2011 (Photo Courtesy: Nairit Sur)

With the music of the Kala Ghoda still ringing in the ears, it’s a perfect time to wrap up our journey through Mumbai. You can add these few colours and sights to your very own album that you must have assembled during your stay in this great city. It may not be ordered, it may be a scrap book of little experiences randomly pasted here and there in your mind. But do open it sometime at your leisure and relish it as it will give you moments of pure bliss.


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