Saturday, 17 November 2012

Faces of Bombay

Walking life's crooked path
If ever it is possible, I will lend a helping hand to those less fortunate than I. 
Whether great or small, their burden is mine, my roof is theirs

I captured this picture 
with my cell phone while returning home from a taxing day and hectic college schedule. The plight of the old hunchbacked lady was extremely striking as she hobbled along amidst bicyclists and pedestrians.

So few of us realize that we are luckier than what we make ourselves out to be. Rather than bemoaning our misfortune, perhaps we should better the world by lending a helping hand forwards.

However, I would like to end the post on a hopeful note, and focus on her unflinching strength to walk the long roads for her families daily needs. A human being is never helpless until hope fades away, and despite her apparent helplessness, this woman moves ahead on sheer force of will and love. 
She is one of many in this city of Bombay, land of a thousand different sights and vistas. Home to the rich and abode of those in poverty, yet smiling with an unknown inner strength.

That broken, yet ever hopeful and smiling face you see on the roads is the true face of this glorious city. The land of broken dreams as well as the land of fulfilled destinies.
It is a hard face, one which has to be seen and embraced with strength of will, smartness and love in equal amounts to survive and succeed.

In the city of Bombay, love and misery come hand in hand. Fate and destiny cavort and dance together on the silent rooftops at night as the multitude masses sleep, resting in their peaceful slumber, dreaming of grandeour, while the fates frolic and revel in their own dance of the slowly unravelling future. In the city of Bombay, Shattered Dreams and Burning Hope dance hand in hand, while the city rumbles and shows its true visage to its denizens. The thousand faces of one small city by the shore in this grand universe; where love, hope and death run around, hand in hand.


Weekly Photocaption - 2

Mumbai Bombay suburban western lines train andheri station

Mind the gap: The space between tracks on the suburban Western Railways on a day when trains were unusually empty. Each 12 coach train can seat 1,168 and accommodate 2,336 standees, a total of 3,504 passengers. However, commuters often tend to push the limit by squeezing in a few thousand more people. By the way, if you're wondering which train won the race, mine did. :)

Monday, 5 November 2012

4 rupee therapy

It's easy to lose time within yourself when you're always on the move in a city like Bombay. The city of dreams is also the city that stops for no one. In it’s rich and troubled history, Bombay has seen its share of riots, communal violence, protests, public transport strikes and even terrorism. However, the city and its people have always managed to get back up and pull through in times of adversity.

For most of the city, a commute in the suburban local trains can be a harrowing experience, and a matter of life and death for first-timers. Crowds at morning and evening rush hours can run up to several hundred people occupying a compartment intended for 150. However, in the odd event that the city decides to take a break (or on a Sunday), a ride on the Western Railways can offer a perfect opportunity for soul-searching and introspection. If one has the good fortune of getting on a train at either end of the route, one may even have the privilege of being seated, a coveted luxury in the Bombay local trains.*

(*Protip: A good way to know if a train is crowded is if you can't tell what colour the floor is) 

Friday, 12 October 2012

Weekly Photocaption - 1

Silent guardian : A statue of four-time president of the Bombay Municipality, Sir Pherozeshah Mehta stands grim and solemn, ever watchful of the thousands of people that make their way through the busy Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus everyday. Declared as a World Heritage site by UNESCO, the 124-year-old station is situated in South Bombay, an area of the city known for its striking Gothic architecture.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

The sky is crying

It would be almost impossible to express the magnificence of the events of this evening, but I hope the following photographs will do some justice.

The gold rush.

The skies were clear at 6:00 pm today, with no indication at all of any rain. At about 6:30 a light drizzle began with a pitter-patter of scattered drops, a child's first uncertain steps. Steadily, the sky began to turn into a mellow amber. The whole city was covered by a sepia filter, turning the streets into a Bollywood movie from the 70's. The sky was gold and the drops of rain shone through like molten glass falling form the heavens. Then, the rain began to build in intensity and reached a crescendo and the sky burst forth with an ominous boom. Almost like a chameleon changing colours, the scene turned from a glorious yellow hue to a pallid pink. The king had surrendered to the queen. Like a jubilant girl in a new dress, the heavens screamed in delight while water rained down in sheets. 

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

The Silver (and red and blue) Lining

'Expect the unexpected' is always good advice to give anyone before they travel to Bombay. The city never ceases to amaze you more day by day. I was travelling in a friend's car a few days ago, and we were trying to negotiate our way through the inevitable Bombay traffic on an irritably humid afternoon. Bombay's motorists are not renown for their patience, and that day, it seemed even the elements were spoiling for a fight. As is the custom during long traffic jams, the air was filled with the exquisite cries of cars, buses, rickshaws and motorbikes as if it was mating season in the Serengeti. Frustrated taxi drivers swore loudly, cursing the mothers of anyone unfortunate enough to be within hearing distance while pedestrians and beggars zig-zagged amidst the chaos. 

As we lurched forward inch by inch, constantly shifting between first gear and neutral, the sky began to darken. True to their nature, the Bombay rains had decided to show up unannounced. However, a far greater development was about to astonish me. A large SUV that we had been kissing bumpers with for the last few miles somehow managed to switch lanes, revealing a towing van (otherwise known as the arch nemesis of the parking-challenged) with Herbie on it! YES, THE CAR.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

A Land of Paradoxes - Part 2

A diamond in the rough.

In continuation to my previous post, I thought it would be a good idea to show the varying level of extreme contrasts that can be witnessed in the city in a new series titled 'A Land of Paradoxes'.

On a particularly warm and lazy Bombay afternoon a few days ago, I was standing in the balcony of a relative's place in a sort-of upper suburban part of the city, and I happened to notice a small cluster of ramshackle tarpaulin and corrugated tin roofs nestled between a clump of trees. Even though these are a common sight throughout Bombay, they are often more striking when seen against the backdrop of a concrete jungle. I stood and watched in fascination while people below navigated through the claustrophobic lanes and went about their daily business, perhaps completely oblivious to the happenings of the world around them. While a woman occupied herself with hanging her clothes to dry, a group of very young children played with stray pups, their squeals of laughter reaching all the way up to the 8th floor. Meanwhile, a man attempted to fix his makeshift roof with what looked like a large plastic sheet, placing heavy stones over it so  that it would withstand the wind and rain.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

A Land of Paradoxes - Part 1

It's a commonly known fact now that Bombay is home to one of the biggest slums in the world. With a total estimated population of over 9 million (over 60% of the city's people) the slums of Bombay are a mini-metropolis of their own, leading through the winding narrow lanes of Dharavi and along the local railway lines that span the length of the city. Easily identifiable as being an endless cluster of makeshift shanties and huts, Dharavi is a city in a city. Director Danny Boyle even went so far as to romanticize the slum's poverty in his Academy Award winning film Slumdog Millionaire. The movie was monumental in bringing the slums of Bombay under the global spotlight, and sparking interest from all corners of the world. However, it also brought forth a deluge of misconceptions about the city.

Dharavi : A city within a city

A pottery establishment

A man removes staples from cardboard boxes to sell as scrap metal

While the fact remains that the majority of the city is still shackled by the chains of economic distress, a largely undocumented feature is the amount of resilience shown by the people. While you may read about how an extended family of eight are crammed into a tiny 8x8 room where they have to manage all their cooking, cleaning and washing up, you won't read about how the population of the slum have developed into a controlled ecosystem, capable of sustaining themselves, albeit barely.

You may read about the lack of toilets, drinking water and electricity, but you won't read about how people manage to get along fine without needing them. You won't read about how hundreds of people know each other by name and manage to live together in perfect harmony, while barely managing to avoid stepping on each other's toes. You will not read about how despite all odds, the fires of industry still burn throughout the night in Dharavi, giving life to small businesses and allowing people to scrape a living. You will not read about how when the day comes to a close and the oil lanterns begin to fade, the laughter of children still rings out clear through the seemingly empty streets.

Even though money may be scarce, the smiles aren't.
The slums are also an excellent option for cheap accommodation, for those who aren't squeamish about the lack of facilities. It also poses as a safe haven for people to slip under the radar and disappear, if they so desire. However, while these facts may surprise and intrigue you, they will probably not come to you as that much of a shock as what I am about to reveal in my next post. Stay tuned.. :)
Part 2 is here.

Friday, 14 September 2012

The Sifting Winds

A wind blew through the snow covered Kashmir hills, as it passed through the Himalayan ranges, twisting and coursing through the minute gaps, it split into two- Raging above the craggy peaks, blowing through the deep crevices. Drifting onwards, ever ahead. The wind crossed the high mounts moving onto the sifting dunes of the Thar Desert, finally blowing by the western coast, creeping towards its final destination.

Through the bottomless depths, the wind surged ahead, onto the sea-green plains of Bengal, undulating through the grasslands. It blew on, towards the southern states, carrying with it the dreams and hopes of a billion souls. Softly as a wave it moved ahead, now climbing up, again going down, ever inching ahead. And then the two became one, the many partitions coming together in a fiery conflagration above the city of Mumbai. Blowing with renewed vigour, it coalesced into one, forming the soul of Mumbai, made up of the hopes and aspirations of countless Indians. Unifying into one, the great soul of the lively city was formed – A merger comprising of all facets of India - thrumming with vibrance, drumming with fervor.

This is the heart of the Nation, the spirit which defines our being. This is Mumbai- one among millions, like no other to be. Once the crowning jewel of the queen’s reign; now the pulsating heart of a grand nation destined for greatness.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Make hay while the shoe shines - Part 2

1 Indian rupee = 0.0181 US dollars

Every time a train pulls into the station, they look up expectantly at the rapid outpour of people onto the platform, never asking for more than a few patrons for them to lend their services. I’m not too sure of how much it would cost to get your shoes shined in another country, but I can say with certainty that you will not get the same dedication that you get here. For just 7 rupees (Google tells me that amounts to about 0.12 cents. Yes, you read that right), these men will shine your shoes. I know of some stations where you could get the job done for even less. There aren’t many places in the world where you can get such an efficient service for such a small amount. There are even fewer places where shoe shiners actually manage to scrape a living by doing what they do.

Luckily for them, however, the inevitable scuffle to get onto and off a crowded train, and the much stepping on toes that happens in between, gives the shoe shiners of Bombay a raison d’être.  There’s nothing worse than having to dismount from an extremely uncomfortable train ride (more on these later) than to look down and see your shoes bearing the imprint of 50 different designer shoe knock-offs, courtesy of your co-passengers. That’s when these guys come to your rescue. In less than a minute, they tend to your footwear, ensuring that your shoes are not only in spanking condition, but that you also reach your destination without delay.

Make hay while the shoe shines - Part 1

These guys have got sole. (ba-dum-tss)

Nobody likes waiting for a train when you’ve got somewhere important to be. It’s just the act of standing around aimlessly while you miserably await the arrival of your train that makes you want to swear loudly. So while you mutter curses at the motorman who’s driving the train and try to bring ruin to him and his family in your mind, your eyes tend to wander and pick up things that you might not normally notice in your hurry to get to wherever you have to go.

shines at railway stations are a common sight in pretty much any city in the world, and this city is no exception. However, you will probably never see a more sincere lot than the ones at the local train stations in Bombay. Seeing that my train wouldn’t be arriving for another 10 minutes (a rare occurrence on a usually very reliable train service), I decided to divert my attention away from the rats scurrying around on the tracks and onto the shoe shines seated at regular intervals along the platform. 

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

The smell of Struggle

There's probably nothing better than waking up on a bright sunny day and taking a deep breath of the fresh morning air. Smells great, doesn't it? On some days (especially for those of us still enrolled in the education system), that first breath is probably the most crucial, sending some much needed oxygen to our heads before another busy day.

Spongebob knows what it's all about.

However, things aren't as lovely on this side of the planet. When you first land in Bombay (or any Indian city, I'm told) the first thing you notice before anything else is the air. The sheer weight of it can bring you to your knees. Many people associate the smell to be that of sweat, or perhaps less appealing forms of body waste. Comedian Russell Peters once described getting off a plane in Bombay as receiving "an overwhelming blast of shit-smell". However, the more time you spend here, you realize that the air encompasses the city like a blanket, and more than the smell, you become aware of just how intrusive it is. 

Monday, 10 September 2012

The Bollywood Dream

We've all had dreams of stardom and fame at some point in our lives. Dreams of stepping out of limos with gloved chauffeurs holding doors open for us as we make your way down the red carpet into a premier screening of our latest silver screen appearance. As one gets older and somewhat wiser however, our feet come crashing down to earth when we realise that some dreams only remain so in our minds. However, in this city, you will find no shortage of amateur actors and models aspiring to make it big and see their name in lights someday.

Bombay has a thriving television and film industry, and to be honest, the people here love it. I might have distanced myself from Indian cinema at an early age and yet, I am still in awe of the fan following that movie stars receive here. Everywhere you go, you see popular movie stars on posters and billboards, in TV commercials ranging from Pepsi to plumbing, and now, most recently, even in politics. Movie actors achieve a demigod-like status after starring in a hit and overnight, your small-town average Joe turns into a superstar.

Let's get this out of the way...

For those who are unfamiliar with what or where Bombay is, this should clear some things up. Bombay (now formally known as Mumbai) is the largest metropolis in India, and pretty much one of the most populated places in the world. As a centre for trade, politics, culture, entertainment and industry, it is informally known as the commercial capital of India. Bombay is also the headquarters of Bollywood, the famed Indian film business which has now received worldwide acclaim.

With a total population of almost 14 million, it's no mystery that one of the most noticeable things in the city is just the sheer volume of people. Wherever you go, out on the street, restaurants, beaches, parks, public transport (that's a completely different topic altogether), all you see is people. The fact that thousands of people migrate to the city everyday in search of better fortunes doesn't make things any easier. However, Bombay is a city that never turns away those that knock at her door. With open arms, the city welcomes people from all walks of life. It shouldn't surprise you to know that the population of Bombay is a melting pot of people following different faiths, from different castes coming from different parts of the country. There are areas in Bombay where you will find people belonging to a certain community living together, making up for most of the population in that area. However, the whole city manages to keep its cool and work in unison. There ARE certain moments when things reach a boiling point and somebody throws the first punch, but when everything dies down, people go back to peacefully co-existing with each other.

Bombay also has a vast history, and a rich heritage, but of course, that deserves a whole new blog post. Stay tuned...  :)

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Greetings from hot and humid Bombay!

This is probably my first post in what I'm hoping will turn into a successful blogging endeavour. I have never had the commitment to do anything of the sort, but I'm hoping this time I'll be able to deliver.

I've lived in Bombay for half my life and yet, everyday I learn something new from the city. Bombay is such a rich city in terms of cultural diversity, cuisine, people and places. I would compare it to New York City, but it's just so much more complicated than that. Bombay's a city that's literally overflowing with people, like a petri dish about to crack. The city has been one of the main economic hubs in the country ever since the British ruled here, and has remained that way over 60 years after the Brits packed their bags and left.

Here is where I intend to perhaps post a photo from the city a few times a week and write about it, just so that people get to see things that are not always covered by the mainstream media or the internet. A personal photo documentary of the city, if you will.

The city is always full of life and the fact that there's always something going on should help keep this blog interesting. Hopefully it will make you want to visit Bombay someday so you can see the city of joy for yourself. Till then, just wait it out till the next blog post. See you on the other side. :)