FIRSTPOST. Mumbai: A state of Mind
Mumbai’s Word: Square Feet
The city never discriminates. You realise you are an outsider when the politics of exclusion seeks to drill into you that you are not part of the herd. You look around, see so many herds. You laugh and then forget.
We don’t care that millions of good people, who lived on the right side of the law and didn’t know that money could be black or white, crossed over to the other side when they bought their first house.
Dreaming of a House Sunainaa Chada Even an entry-level home is a difficult proposition. Speculative pricing, investor-driven acquisitions and scarcity of land have taken even 1 BHK houses Navi Mumbai beyond the reach of the professional class
What if Mumbaikars were SIMS
What makes Malabar Hills Exclusive
On the Deccan Queen
Go to West young man, Bandra West
Where Gavaskar always learned something
Metal is like Beer
a state of mind
elting pot or salad bowl? The city never discriminates. You realise you are an Maximum City? Minimum City? outsider when the politics of exclusion seeks to drill City of dreams? Or city of nightmares? Mumbai never throws up clear answers. Too into you that you are not part of the herd. You look many things about the city are in the realm around, see so many herds. You laugh and then forget. of the abstract. Too many answers depend on where you stand in so many divides that define the city. The city is never in a hurry to explain itself. Speed. That in a way defines the city. Its daily rhythm is fast and But it confounds — by its sheer variety, by its cussedness, by its brilfurious. You are sucked into it even before you make sense of the skyline liance, by its ability to balance contradictions, by its energy and by its beyond after arriving in the city. Before you make sense of the faceless exuberance. crowds at the railway platforms, you Demography does not take us are a part of it, jostling, running, getbeyond the obvious. There are too ting hauled into bogies, getting ejected many intangibles that make the city out of them, getting badmouthed and bigger than the sum of its indibadmouthing back. viduals. It does not explain which Your delicate ego is crushed efmagic glue holds so many disparate ficiently with that first experience. people together. Watch the crowds The city knows how to handle egos, everywhere closely. It could be a flatten everybody to nothingness. You miniaturised India. Yes, there’s turn to that ubiquitous, aestheticallya sprinkling of the global too. It’s challenged black and yellow taxi and an agreeable co-existence of the sigh. You know you have been reduced dissimilar. Unique, yes. But this is to that within seconds, metaphorically Mumbai. at least. You never know whether you are Movement is the static reality in an insider or an outsider. The question does not come naturally here as Mumbai as is speed. The city loses it cool at times. Bombs shatter its it does in other cities of the country in times of momentary confusion. rhythm, the city goes under water, politicians pour some hate into the The city never discriminates. One becomes an insider upon arriving everyday existence and the auto guys go on strike for no reason. It rants here. But you realise you are an outsider when the politics of exclusion and simmers in impotent fury. But it cannot stop. It is programmed to seeks to drill into you that you are not part of the herd. You look around, move. The city’s a giant treadmill. see so many herds. You laugh and then forget. Is it a melting pot or salad bowl? Mumbai is much more than a city. It’s a state of existence. Maximum City? Beyond its everyday visuals, of the slum spreads and vertical villages, City of dreams? of glass-fronted structures and decrepit chawls, of the cheek-by-jowl City of disasters? existence of the rich and the wretched and of the chaos on trains and on Mumbai does not fit into any description. roads, Mumbai is an experience without parallel. Every Mumbai experiIt’s a state of existence — beautiful and wretched; beguiling and ence frames a different definition of the city. simple.
If New York’s word is
Achieve, Mumbai’s has to be
n Elizabeth Gilberts’ ‘soul searching’ memoir where she eats, prays, loves (and then writes about it and gets rich) there is a scene where she and her friend Guilio are sitting at an outdoor café and discussing words that define cities. So while New York’s word is Achieve and the word in Rome is Sex, it makes one wonder what Mumbai’s word could possibly be. Is it Aspire – with the endless flow of immigrants streaming into the city looking for a better life? Is it Adjust – with its perennial shortage of public utilities and heaving infrastructure? Or is it plain Indifference disguised as ‘spirit’ that makes it carry on with business as usual in the face of the exploding trains? It could be any of the above and maybe many more. But there is one word that, in my opinion, towers loftily above them all. A word that has been ingrained not only in the vocabulary and minds of its citizens but has even elbowed its way into the dreams of everyone, starting from the biggest industrialist to the poorest slum dweller. It’s a terribly practical and uninspiring word and yet it manages to rule our world. Mumbai’s word is, SquareFeet. In a city where families with a few D-segment cars, more than a few exotic holidays a year and an army of round the clock nannies who speak perfect English and a smattering of French are everyday, the mention of a ’4000 square feet’ apartment can make us stop in our tracks — at least long enough to ask ‘in which area’? If the answer veers towards the southern parts of Mumbai, then we simply bow down and put our hands together in reverence because in a city where space is venerated and carpet is not a floor-covering made of thick woven fabric, SquareFeet is the undisputed God. So acute is our desire to acquire SquareFeet that it ceases to matter whether it is horizontally available – so what, we will go ahead and claim it vertically across multiple levels, starting from a paltry floor if we hail from the plebs, spiraling up to a 27-floor-cantilevered mansion with floating gardens if we happen to be the richest people in the country. It doesn’t matter if it’s an eyesore on the city skyline and consumes more electricity than a small country. We don’t care — we have SquareFeet. This little word is responsible for more than just triggering a hoard-
ing frenzy. It is responsible for singlehandedly turning the fortunes of the city in the last decade by magically turning the Middle Class into millionaires with the merest flick of the re-development wand. The residents of Nutan Nagar went to sleep one night with a few thousands in their bank account and woke up to a 451 crore deal. We don’t care that behind these changing fortunes and eroding skylines live feuding families torn apart by property, prosperous builders joined together by corruption, bended laws and chopped trees. We don’t care that millions of good people, who lived on the right side of the law and didn’t know that money could be black or white, crossed over to the other side when they bought their first house.
We don’t care that millions of good people, who lived on the right side of the law and didn’t know that money could be black or white, crossed over to the other side when they bought their first house. ‘We don’t care because now we got, SquareFeet’. Life shouldn’t be lived in SquareFeet and yet it is. According to the The Economic Times, a man needs to earn a minimum of 40 lakh a year for a decent apartment* while a slum dweller gets 50 lakh for his illegally acquired 10X10 foot chawl. But nobody sees the absurdity in this state of affairs. Nobody in this city seems to care that in other parts of the world that kind of money will buy you a small villa fringed with bougainvillea or that they are cheerfully giving up half of what they earn to teensy flats in remote areas that face nothing more that the neighbor’s drying underwear. Of course they don’t care because they now have, SquareFeet. It’s only in Mumbai that an ad campaign with the pointed question ‘What is the carpet area of childhood?’ can stand out and be noticed. In the kothi-filled, space-blessed Delhi with their numerous parks, this question will make no sense but Mumbai understands it, thinks about it and then pipes up and says — about 120 SquareFeet!
The Long View
Dreaming of a house in Navi Mumbai Sunainaa Chadha
avi Mumbai, one of the world’s largest planned cities, can no longer assert that it offers an option to every segment of house buyers. Originally planned as a respite from congested Mumbai, it has become a mirror image of the island city, with property prices shooting up at a scorching pace. Property prices have surged four-fold in the satellite township in the last five years, defeating the very purpose it was supposed to serve. In 1971, when the city was conceived, the idea was to provide affordable housing to the migrant workforce, primarily professionals, crowding the island city and adding pressure to its already inadequate infrastructure. In the 1990s and the early years of the last decade, it worked to some extent. Professionals could afford houses and aspire for bigger ones as their earnings climbed up. Now, even an entry-level budget home is a difficult proposition. Speculative pricing, investor-driven home acquisitions and scarcity of land have taken even 1 BHK houses in remote nooks in Navi Mumbai beyond the reach of the professional class. “The main reasons for the shift to Navi Mumbai were push factors like dilapidation of older buildings in Mumbai, costlier accommodation in the island city and lower employment opportunities,” said Devendra Trivedi, managing director, Progressive Builders. However, things have changed drastically in the last five years. He said, the “city of the 21st century has become too cosmopolitan. People are no longer thronging Navi Mumbai because of the push factors. It has developed pull factors of its own which are luring more and more investors here.” He has a point. From a quiet, emerging location, Navi Mumbai has transformed into an independent, self-sufficient city. From excellent connectivity through highways and suburban railway to educational facilities and entertainment hubs, the satellite city has all the ingredients to attract a home buyer. It’s no more a poor alternative to Mumbai; it’s an independent presence in itself. It has become a destination of choice. The initial home-buyers were small entrepreneurs and industrialists who set up shop in Navi Mumbai as it was affordable. Over the years, IT companies, large MNCs and the India Inc bigwigs have moved their headquarters to the city. As more and more professionals moved in, the home market hotted up. DINK ( Double income no kids) families began buying property as it was affordable and in close proximity to the work stations. Basic infrastructure worth Rs 4,000 crore is already in place in the 14 nodes that make up New Bombay. While Vashi, Belapur, Nerul, Khaghar, Sanpada, Ghansoli and Airoli are completely developed, areas like Panvel, Kamothe, Mansrovar, etc, are experiencing major infrastructure development due to their close proximity to the proposed international airport at Panvel. In fact, the environment ministry’s go-ahead for the Panvel airport has served as the biggest catalyst for property prices, which shot up 20% in Panvel, Kharghar and Kalamboli and rose from Rs 3,000 to Rs 5,0000 a sq feet within a very short period. It’s a complex situation here now. It now attracts speculators in
hordes. Big money follows. It has become a destination for big money.
ajeev Bhandar, an IT executive, bought a 2 BHK house for his family for Rs 25 lakh at Vashi in 2005. Today the same property is worth Rs 88 lakh. Says Nitin Bhuliyan, a property consultant in Sanpada, “In 2006, a 2 BHK in the most expensive areas of Navi Mumbai — Vashi and Palm Beach — could be bought for Rs 30 lakh. But today, it is anything between Rs 70 lakh and Rs 1 crore.” Given the current economic situation where interest rates are soaring and home loans are available only at at 10% plus rates, the middleincome buyer is finding it difficult to buy a house which costs thrice the amount of his annual salary. Rupesh Rajendran, a marketing expert with a leading logistics firm, aspires to buy a house in Vashi. Unfortunately, with an annual salary
Even an entry-level home is a difficult proposition. Speculative pricing, investor-driven acquisitions and scarcity of land have taken even 1 BHK houses Navi Mumbai beyond the reach of the professional class of Rs 29 lakh, he is being forced to take a housing loan for the next 15 years. ”At 11% interest rate, I have to lose at least Rs 11,000 a month for the next 15 years for a loan of Rs 80 lakh,” he said. Rajendran is now considering buying a house in Panvel, where property prices are still at Rs 4,000-5000 a sq feet, but the area is completely underdeveloped. Why have they appreciated so much? Brokers, builders and property consultants say it is due to infrastructure development and excessive demand. But the truth is that the market has become excessively speculative and overheated. Brokers complain about flat availability while developers are constantly bickering about scarcity of land and clearance delays. However, this is not a demand vs supply problem. Yes there is an issue of oversupply, but the market has not seen any price correction. The property market in Navi Mumbai is a gamble where big businessmen and NRIs play and buy flats only for investment and capital appreciation. Land prices can only rise when land is scarce and where the market is capital-driven and not consumer-driven, Pankaj Kapoor, MD of realty firm Liases Foras told Firstpost. Today Navi Mumbai has failed to realise the housing dream because speculation has come into play, pushing the prices upwards. The only reason Navi Mumbai had the potential to become a buzzing commercial and residential hub was because of the excellent development envisaged by CIDCO.
If Mumbaikars were Sims Anant Rangaswami
lmost coinciding with my move to Mumbai 15 years ago was the purchase of a computer for my children. Both were under 10 years of age then. With the PC came the CD ROM-based games. While the kids played a variety of games, my favourites were two: Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego, a game that taught you world geography and history as you played, and SimCity, a game where you could build and manage your own city. Carmen was good fun for a bit, but SimCity captivated and enthralled. Before I go further, for the benefit of those of you who haven’t played the game, here’s a brief on the game, courtesy Wikipedia: The objective of SimCity, as the name of the game suggests, is to build and design a city, without specific goals to achieve. The player can mark land as being zoned as commercial, industrial, or residential, add buildings, change the tax rate, build a power grid, build transportation systems and take many other actions, in order to enhance the city. Once able to construct buildings in a particular area, the too-small-to-see residents, known as Sims, may choose to construct and upgrade houses, apartment blocks, light or heavy industrial buildings, commercial buildings, hospitals, churches, and other structures. The Sims make these choices based on such factors as traffic levels, adequate electrical power, crime levels, and proximity to other types of buildings—for example, residential areas next to a power plant will seldom appreciate to the highest grade of housing.
scrambled to stem the rot, correcting your errors, quickly, before you were left with a degenerating ghost city.
nd I think of Mumbai when I recall SimCity. “The Sims make these choices based on such factors as traffic levels, adequate electrical power, crime levels, and proximity to other types of buildings — for example, residential areas next to a power plant will seldom appreciate to the highest grade of housing.” In real life, real people, not Sims, make real choices based on similar criteria. If decision-making in real life was as simple as it is in the game, millions of Mumbaikars would have disappeared to a new city, based on their daily travails with traffic, commuting, increasing crime, corruption, poor development, lack of parking, ineffectiveness of the police, illegal encroachments, growth of slums, lack of water and the quality of water, slow pace of infrastructure projects, the abject lack of a sense of responsibility of those in power. Since coming here 15 years ago, I’ve seen the city degenerate on each one of these factors. Unfortunately, living is real, and, frustrated as one is, one can’t just up and out. There are other parameters as well; your job, your friends, your children’s schooling, your aged parents, and so on. Life is real; it’s not a game. Sadly, for the politicians who run this city, it is one.
So you built a city, watched as citizens happily paid you taxes, you smiled as the city grew. Life was good – till you made a mistake, such as not keeping an eye on the growing education needs of the city, or forgetting that you need a larger airport, and so on. Make a few of such errors, and the population from ‘your’ city would move out, presumably to greener pastures. When the population left, it gutted you. You
If decision-making in real life was as simple as it is in the game, millions of Mumbaikars would have disappeared to a new city
I think of Mumbai when I recall SimCity
Mumbai chaos: It’s not money, it’s not migrants, it’s poor governance Akshaya Mishra
unctioning anarchy. That small but expressive phrase fits snugly into any description of
Mumbai. More than 22,000 people crammed into every sq km of space; 750 vehicles for every single km of road; less than two sq mts of open space per individual; 54% land occupied by slums; sky rises in competitive vertical growth with scanty civic facilities to fall back on; and new infrastructure projects like the metro and monorail being foisted in that cramped environment. If the casual visitor finds the city
or a dispassionate observer, irreverent to the greatness and the so-called never-say-die spirit of the city, Mumbai does not make sense. It may not be a dying city yet. But it looks to be city on a suicide mission. That the city is genetically programmed to plod along is known but the prospect of an urban collapse is rarely contemplated. It could be because there’s too much hope around, too many individual aspirations to distract attention from the city and its living conditions. It could also be because of the pressure of the migrant population as some political parties believe. They have no sense of ownership since they are outsiders and want to stay outsiders. The argument forms part of the exclusive agenda of the parties. But what is conveniently forgotten here is they also contribute to the prosperity of the city. They have been as much part of the city’s history as the locals. Is it the burden of the past all old cities carry? Poor planning and disorganisation is common to all of them. Many times the damage caused
That the city is genetically programmed to plod along is known but the prospect of an urban collapse is rarely contemplated. It could be because there’s too much hope around.
utterly chaotic, well, he has reason to. How can a city survive all this? The more pertinent question: How long can a city take all this? The fancy title of the ‘financial capital of India’ does not really go with the ground realities in the city. For the record, Mumbai accounts for more than 6% of the country’s GDP, 25% of its industrial output, 70% of total capital transactions, 33% of Income Tax collections and 60% of customs duty. It is also the country’s commercial and entertainment capital. But look at the city’s roads — the potholes, the traffic, the congestion and all; at the local trains with people hanging precariously out; the sprawling slum clusters with grave questions of hygiene and living condition tagged to them; the decrepit chawls and people living on footpaths; and news reports of crime and corruption. The mismatch is glaring. It’s a city missing many of the basics of civilised living. Ironically, it’s also a city dreaming to be Shanghai.
centuries ago in the form of civic arrangements is beyond redemption. This is partially the case in Mumbai. It is also possible that the city gets back a fraction of what it contributes to the country in terms of revenue. It is too little to get the city in order. This is an argument put forth by some political parties. But the biggest missing piece is governance. Mumbai, for most part, appears to be on auto-pilot. It survives because it has learnt to find order amid chaos not because of any conscious effort from the government and the civic body. The Adarsh society affair exposed the nexus between those who wield the power to manipulate. But that should not be news. The media keep digging up scandals of different sizes on a routine basis. Greed seems to have taken over the city’s soul and the institutionalised solution to keep it in check is falling apart. People who should be managing the city have certainly failed to do so. The headlines keep drilling into us the failings of institutions. The dominant perception is that the city is run by the builder-politician nexus which is aided by an accommodative bureaucracy. This is a potent power combination that can bend rules with impunity and ingenuity. Look at the rampant construction activities on CRZ, forest and other prohibited land, and the skullduggery over open space in the city and the simple issue of recurring potholes. Rules are in place, but the question is are they being implemented? Is there a will to do so? With the economic interest of the power class converging here, there’s little hope. The question again is: how long can the city take it?
Deccan Queen youâ€™re either a Regular or an Intruder
That the city is genetically programmed to plod along is known but the prospect of an urban collapse is rarely contemplated. It could be because thereâ€™s too much hope around.
Season Ticket Anant Rangaswami
eave home at 6.30 in the morning and you’re in office by 10.45 am. There are lakhs of ‘Mumbaikars’ who do that each morning, travelling from Kalyan, for example. They trudge from home to the station, get into a train that’s packed to the rafters, If they’re lucky, they get a seat and can travel the journey to CST in relative comfort. Most aren’t lucky, though. It’s the same story in the evening, as they board a packed train, standing almost all the way back, and then make their way from the station to their residence. There are a few thousand who have it better. For them, it’s a 15 minute trek to the station, they sit comfortably, have a couple of cups of tea or coffee, a hot and tasty breakfast, a visit to a the loo (which is clean) just before the train pulls in at CST, disembark on a clean and uncrowded platform and make their way to work. Except that they’re not Mumbaikars; they’re travelling 198 km by train, from Pune. That’s their commute – almost 400 km per day, not counting the distance from home to station, station to office, office to station and station to home. They’re members of the army that is the season ticket travellers on the Deccan Queen. They can choose from AC Chair car or second class chair car and make themselves comfortable in bogies reserved for season ticket holders only. It’s a very different morning for these commuters than it is for someone who lives in, say, Dombivili or Mira Road. Reach Pune station in the morning and you queue up, in an orderly manner, separately for AC and second classes. The train enters the platform and you queue in, again in an orderly manner. If you’re lucky, you enter when there are still free seats. If you’re late, you stand, but it’s not an uncomfortably packed coach.
The atmosphere is different from the morning; the Regulars are actually talking to each other, laughing with each other. The day is done, and they’re on their way home. You’re late, so you’re standing, and another passenger ambles in at 7.08 am, two minutes before the train begins the journey to Mumbai. He makes his way up the aisle and walks up to an occupied seat. He stands, silently, as a few passengers explain, gently, albeit firmly, to the occupier of that particular seat, that he has to get up and allow the Regular his Regular seat. That’s your first realisation that the Season Ticket compartments form a club in themselves. They are the members of this club; they make the rules. The older you’ve been doing the trip, the greater your say, that’s how it works. There’s no entry fee; it’s a democratic institution. There is, however, a clear pecking order, one that brooks no debate or argument. So you get up, unhappily (though you were one of the first in the queue), and stand as the train pulls out of the station. Within minutes, the catering staff arrive, serving tea and coffee to the privileged class, those who have been Regular. You try and catch the attention of a
waiter; he shushes you, and tells you he’ll be back. As the Regulars finish their beverages and get down to reading the newspapers, working on their laptops and making their phone calls, you wait. Finally, your coffee arrives. As you wonder whether you get breakfast on the train, some waiters are back, plonking food on table after table. You see a Regular get served an omelettte with buttered toast, another Regular has idlis and vadas. The waiter passes you, pretending you don’t exist, as he goes about his business. As he heads back to the pantry car he asks you what you want. There’s hardly any conversation. As the Regulars catch a power nap, as the train approaches Lonavala. It’s the only time the train will stop before Dadar. It’s not a ‘stop’ for passengers; it’s a technical halt to allow a second engine to be added, to increase power as the train makes its way through the western ghats. It’s getting eerily quiet now and you’re still standing, watching through the windows as the world goes by at a steady 60 kmph. Waiters walk around desultorily, because they have to, and push coffee and tea. You buy a cup of coffee to stay awake. As the train crosses Kalyan, the Regulars start waking up all over again. They check their phones for messages, power up their laptops, get ready for the day. They glance at their watches; the train’s on time, as it is, unusually, almost always. There’s a flurry of action as the train reaches Dadar, and the bogie more than half empties. You sit down, gratefully, as the disgorged train trundles on to CST. It’s 5.00 pm, and you’re on the platform at CST waiting in the queue. You’re one of the first, but, by now, you know better than you did in the morning. You stand, as the Regulars take their places. Even before the trains begins the journey back, waiters come around with fresh, cold lime juice. You grab a glass and glug it down. The atmosphere is different from the morning; the Regulars are actually talking to each other, laughing with each other. The day is done, and they’re on their way home. A group is playing bridge, another is playing rummy, a third is discussing the stock market and yet another is worried about corruption. One of the Regulars is walking down the aisle, handing out invitation cards to his daughter’s wedding, talking to each Regular for a moment. Another is distributing sweets; his daughter gained admission to a reputed engineering college. A group has decided to go to Main Street for a drink, since tomorrow’s Saturday. Another plans to meet at the Races on Sunday. One of the Regulars pulls out a wad of cash, it must be at least Rs.25,000, and hands it to another, saying thank you, I’m sorry I was late in returning the money. A Regular is talking to a doctor, another Regular, about what can be done to his mother and her cholesterol levels. It’s 8.15 pm. The train approaches Pune, and there are quick goodbyes, a few hugs, promises to call and meet over the weekend. You watch and listen, and you feel like an outsider, an Intruder. Fret not, though. In a few months, you’ll be a Regular, a respected member of the club. And the Deccan Queen will be your home, too.
Where Gavaskar always has something to learn Ashish Magotra
magine a scene straight out of the 70s — a Sunday morning… rains have ruined the day… and everyone participating in the world’s only monsoon cricket tournament, the Kanga League, resigns to another day cooped up at home, waiting for the rain to
for a pretty big sum of Rs 10. The shop started in 1956 and around 10 years later, they had to move to Dadar, where the shop is currently located. “Those were tough times but we kept the shop going. We divided half end. the house to just keep books and Vijay Merchant, who was very fond of But not everyone is sad about it. Rainy days during the Kanga League books, once came home while searching for a book.” gave Sunil Gavaskar the chance to drag all his team mates from Dadar Now, fewer people come to the shop looking for books. Most will head Union to ‘The Marine Sports,’ the only bookshop in India that stocks to some mega shop. But there is a certain charm in just rummaging only sports books. through books without It was a different any set goal in mind. In era — no television, many ways, you often no internet and discover things you radio commentary didn’t know exist. Most wasn’t exactly the of the big shops only best way to learn house current bestthe game, so almost sellers. But at Marine all cricketers worth Sports, you’ll find all their while would kinds – old and new; make a beeline to known and forgotten. Gokhale Road in Survival, though, isn’t Dadar West. easy. The core audience If you rehad changed as well. If ally wanted to the years before the 70s learn — you either were about books, then headed to a library the 80s were about vidor a book shop. eos and now, it’s the digAnd that’s what ital age. But even now, Gavaskar did. Even the books that we hear now, when he is in the city, Gavaskar about are mostly biographies. But sneaks in – carefully making sure the books that are selling in huge Rainy days during the Kanga League gave Sunil that he isn’t facing the door, so that Gavaskar the chance to drag all his team mates from numbers at Marine Sports are no one recognizes him. technical books – about umpirDadar Union to ‘The Marine Sports,’ the only Bishen Singh Bedi does the same, ing, about the rules of the game bookshop in India that stocks only sports books. often dropping in on his way to or even technique. For example, the airport. They chat with Theo Tom Smith’s Cricket Umpiring Braganza, the owner, about the old days; they reminisce; they laugh but and Scoring is a bit of a best-seller now. And there’s always demand mostly they just let their eyes scan the shelves filled with sports books. from Don Bradman’s The Art of Cricket – a manual on how to play Every once in a while, they pick out a book and read – comfortable in cricket – Bradman style. the knowledge that no one will trouble them here. “The thing is no matter how much we progress, the technique remains “In the 80s, before they became big stars even Sanjay Manjrekar and the same. So you can always learn something,” said Braganza. Sachin Tendulkar would drop in. But they would be looking for videos,” One would have expected biographies to do very well. But it’s a sursaid Braganza. “At that point, I would have people in England and prise that technical books are outselling them. One of the reasons could Australia record matches and then someone would bring me a copy imbe that big stores like Landmark or Crossword don’t stock such titles. mediately. I know I cater to a very specialized audience.” But there is one book that continues to be in demand, Gavaskar’s Sunny But the whole idea of selling just sports books happened by acDays. cident. The Marine Sports was actually a sports equipment shop that “The first print run for Sunny Days wasn’t that great but it has enwas housed at Marine Lines, hence the name. But Braganza’s father dured and become a classic. I see so many fathers come here and buy imported 12 copies of International Athletics Rules. And then he just the books for their sons to read; the same books that they once read. It’s was visiting the Mumbai School Sports Association offices when he heartening to see that, makes me feel like there’s hope for a small shop mentioned the books to the president, who promptly bought all of them like mine.”
Family treks: Some good for grandpa, too
ife in Mumbai is so much about the commute. Try as you might, you always get stuck. And it is in those times that you wish you had an outlet; a place to reconnect —with yourself, your family and nature. And if you are looking to do that, then the place to head towards is the Sahyadaris, more specifically the Malshej Ghat region. Here’s a list of five places in the Ghats, just a few hours away from Mumbai, where you can just up and go with your family; you don’t need no climbing gear; just water and power snacks. Some of these are also places of religious interest, so if grandpa and grandma are fit and ready, then make a plan this weekend .
Sudhagad Still very well maintained, this was one of the places that Shivaji considered making his capital. The walls of Sudhagad still stand strong. The trek itself is easy and if you have a religious bent, there is Pali close by. The place is well known for its Ganpati Mandir, which is one of the eight Ganpati mandirs popularly known as Astavinayak. Gorakhgad A pretty easy trek if you are decently fit. The initial part is pretty easy but it does get a little steep towards the end, which leads to a nice cave. Nothing that will take more than a couple of hours. Reach the cave, take a break, rest and then you have the chance to do something exciting. From the cave, there is a route that takes to the top of the hill, where there is a Hanuman temple. There is however, a catch. There is no proper path to the top, and to get there, you have to do a bit
of rock-climbing. If you know how the three-point hold — at any given time while climbing, at least three of your limbs should be securely attached to the rock face) works, it’s done easily enough. Raigad We’ve read about it in our history books but to see the imposing structure is quite the thrill. There is a temple on the premises so it’s quite clean and there is a water tank too. The trek itself is pretty simple, something that your grand-parents (if they are pretty fit) can do too. However, reaching the Bale Killa (a little fort right on top of the hill where the King stayed) is quite another thing. The fort is so huge that if you want to explore all of it, it can take you upto three days. Naneghat A beginner’s trek. If you aren’t sure about how well you’d tackle the rigors of trekking, this is the place to check out. The trek is easy; you’ll often see entire families making their way up. At the top is a guard post from the old days from where you get a panoramic view of the entire area. Best time to visit is in the monsoons, but winters aren’t too bad either. Kothligad Peth or Kothligad is another easy trek. It won’t tire you too much and you’ll still be able to go to work the next day. This isn’t quite out of touch with reality, there is a village at the base of the hill but the small fort at the top is quite something. The caves are a simple yet good example of Satvahan architecture. The views are quite astounding.
What makes Malabar Hill exclusive
and other Bombay ramblings Mahim creek
couple of months after I moved to Bombay, I went to Malabar Hill for the first time, to my boss’ house on Little Gibbs Road. I was then staying at Khar (West) and working at The Times of India building at VT. My daily commute was by road, limited to the ‘west’. My work took me to advertising agencies, all of which (the ones I dealt with) were also in the ‘west’. In a couple of months, therefore, I was familiar with Khar, Bandra, Mahim, Matunga, Dadar, Shivaji Park, Prabhadevi, Worli, Peddar Road, Girgaum, Marine Drive, Churchgate, VT, Fort, Nariman Point and Colaba. As I travelled to and fro my office, and as I travelled locally on work or pleasure, I visited or passed all the above mentioned places regularly, but I didn’t get to see Malabar Hill for ages. And places of worship are all over the city. There’s always a place to pray near you; there’s always hope. In the pic: Banganga in the Malabar Hill Complex. Honza Soukup/Flickr It was then it struck me – Malabar Hill is on the way to nowhere. You can’t pass Malabar Hill; you have to go there. That’s what makes Malabar Hill exclusive. To have reason to visit, and therefore, see Malabar Hill, you have to know someone on Malabar Hill. The same is true of
Altamount Road, of Pali Hill Road, of The Taj Mahal Hotel. You don’t pass these roads or places on the way from anywhere to anywhere; you go there. As I complete 15 years of living in Bombay, I learn that there are many, many people who’ve lived all their lives in a city as small as Bombay and have never, ever seen Malabar Hill. That is exclusive. But people who live in Malabar Hill will rub shoulders – happily – with people who live in the smallest chawls of Bombay – when it comes to food and drink. Many cheap establishments were, and are, funnily, status symbols, places to be seen at. Having a few drinks at the uber exclusive Bombay Gymkhana and then going to the roadside Bade Miya’s for rolls was cool. Having a couple of drinks at Gokuls, a bar where you could (and can) buy alcohol by the ‘quarter’ and then heading to the coffee shop at the Taj for dinner was cool. Going to Harish in Vile Parle east for Mangalore style fish and prawn and then returning to your penthouse with a sea-view in Backbay Reclamation was cool. CEOs proudly talk about how they’ve discovered a place in a bylane near the high court which serves fantastic missal pao. Food and drink are great levelers in Bombay. If the railway tracks separated the east from the west, the richer from
the not-so-well-to-do, the Mahim creek divided those who respected traffic laws from those who didn’t (this is not so true today). Jump a red light in south Bombay and you got a challan. Jump one in suburban Bombay, and you could get away with it. The traffic police are thinner on the ground; the chances of getting caught for a violation are small. So, what the hell, jump the red light, go down a one-way road the wrong way, park in a no-parking zone, it’s cool in the burbs. South Bombay
As I complete 15 years of living in Bombay, I learn that there are many, many people who’ve lived all their lives in a city as small as Bombay and have never, ever seen Malabar Hill. That is exclusive. doesn’t have more disciplined drivers – it has more policemen. Bombay is not for the weak. Whether you’re poor or rich, you work a hard day, made harder, for the majority, by the commute. The rains batter rich and poor alike, the dabbawalla could be late for the peon and for the CEO. Buildings could collapse as easily in Fort as they could in Antop Hill. Traffic snarls could hold up the new Jaguar for as long as it does a Premier Padmini taxi.
Whether you’re rich or poor, if you’ve survived Bombay, pat yourself on the back. Perhaps that’s why Bombay prays so much. The hard life is daunting; you need something to help you through. Churches are packed to the rafters on Sundays, mosques on Fridays and temples, depending on your chosen God, on various days of the week. There are special Gods for the unusual prayers; the Church at Mahim, Siddhivinayak Temple, Haji Ali, Mount Mary. These are secular Gods, happy to bring succour to followers of others’ Gods. Bombay, incredibly,is a very secular place to live in. Except when it comes to housing. Unwritten rules will see the Muslim aspiring to rent a flat in a ‘Hindu’ building blocked, a non-vegetarian denied a lease in a ‘vegetarian’ building, a single woman blacklisted in a ‘family’ apartment block. Bombay is more conservative than you thought. Bombay’s a tough city. Distances to travel, punishing monsoons, difficult for housing. Why on earth do you stay here? Because the city is a city of opportunities, there are jobs for every kind of skill or profession, businesses grow and hire, crime is low (for the average person), women are safe, schools are good.And places of worship are all over the city. There’s always a place to pray near you; there’s always hope.
Go West young man — Bandra (West) Sharath Chandra
orm always follows function is a long-standing ethos that guides the design world. And today I believe that the digital world would do well to follow the ethos of Mumbai! This (silent) eureka moment occurred during a brainstorming a few weeks ago on “The Next Big Digital Thing”, nearly 5,000 miles and 3 years away from Mumbai. You would think that enough has been written about Mumbai — its spirit, its people — and no cliché spared to describe its every nuance. But just as “every generation thinks it has discovered sex” and proceeds to postulate on its merits, so too does every bearded bloke who has lived in Mumbai morph into a pop-anthropologist when blogging and proceeds to propound a ‘priceless’ set of insights that deserves a wider recognition! Onward, then. Every morning, well before 6 am, Venkat delivered milk at our home in Bandra. His unerring punctuality ensured my interaction with him was just once a month — payment time, during which he would accept the cash with a pleasant “Thank You” (only to be reciprocated with a smile or a nod depending on the excesses of the night before!). One occasion when I was short of cash, I suggested a cheque instead. He reluctantly nodded, and as he took the cheque, I could see him silently
read out my surname “Govindaraju” which was printed on the leaf. Then to my utter surprise asked me in pure Telugu, “Sir, you are from Andhra ?! ” and noticing my eyes widen and smile, alerted me to Ugadi occurring the following week, wished me in advance and enquired if we would want extra milk for the festival. Pleasantly surprised by his synaptic leaps, I chatted up with him. For the record Venkat moved to Mumbai from Ongole, armed with nothing more I suspect than a high-school certificate to pursue like so many others the dream of a better life, during the course of which he cheerfully delivered milk. You would think that enough has been written about Mumbai — its spirit, its people — and no cliché spared to describe its every nuance. (In the pic: Carter Road, Bandra). Anuradha Sengupta/Flickr Having experienced every known version of Microsoft Outlook from ’98 onwards (and the attendant zillion updates) I am sure that one day some perceptive techie from Microsoft will take a leaf from the humble Mumbai milkman and incorporate local Holidays in their Outlook Calendar (or likewise, the Google Calendar)! And save the hapless colleagues and associates in UK, US, Mumbai or Chennai the scramble to move a conference call, realizing after a flurry of emails, that it was scheduled on Maharashtra Day or Thanksgiving or Pongal or Bank
Holiday ! Kaka (as I blithely decide to baptise him here, not having ever made the effort to know his name) is a newspaper vendor at the intersection of Perry Road/Andrews Road. His claim to fame, as far as I was concerned, was that he was the only one in all of Bandra West who stocked one or two copies of Eenadu, the Telugu daily. Every year, when my parents came to stay with us for a month or so, my dad would pick-up a copy on the morning walk. Kaka would see us approaching and would have the copy ready in his hand, and again a near wordless transaction save a cursory thanks. Months after my parents had left, on the odd occasion that I would go for a morning walk, Kaka would notice me approaching and in perfect broken English ask “Father ok? Diwali pe zaroor bula lena unko,” the paan-stained toothy grin betraying his simple motive. Over the years, my dad and I regularly receive, at the same address, the same hyper-personalised glossy brochures from the same bank/airline/hotel. And I’m pretty sure that one day some CRM analytics team managing these ‘loyalty-enhancing mailers’ will stumble upon Kaka’s algorithm (!) and work out that the two persons with the same surname at the same address must be related, and send a simple but powerful sales pitch “Sharath, next month is your dad’s birthday, why don’t you surprise him with a…”. For a price, I am sure Kaka would be happy to share the IPR. A few years ago, just as I got off the cab outside our apartment, I ran
Just as “every generation thinks it has discovered sex” and proceeds to postulate on its merits, so too does every bearded bloke who has lived in Mumbai morph into a pop-anthropologist when blogging
into someone with whom I had worked on a one-off project nearly six or seven years ago. The usual pleasantries exchanged, we stood at the gate and talked for a while before he continued on his way to his home down the road. Pankaj the local laundry service man (to refer to him as a dhobi would constitute gross injustice!) who had been in earshot sorting his delivery, walked me to the lift, and in a conspiratorial voice said, “That gentleman… bahut gussa karta hai..” referring clearly to my recently departed acquaintance, and then proceeded to tell me how he, Pankaj, was often at the receiving end for even a minor issue when delivering to my acquaintance. I worried later whether the last line to my acquaintance at the gate, “Sure, send your CV” prompted the omniscient Pankaj to give me this ‘tip-off’! And one of these days, the smart folks at LinkedIn will brainstorm and come up with a new feature — a way to get honest feedback, when evaluating a candidate, from his or her ex-colleagues (especially the disgruntled ex-colleagues!). A feature that would be worth many, many times the Premium Membership subscription that I have been so reluctant to pay (as yet). Pankaj, of course knows just what a killer app that could be! As the brainstorming came to an end, there were a few subtle hints from some young ‘uns on the merits of them attending those uber-coolleading-edge tech conferences in the Valley. I found myself murmuring, “Go West Young Man, Bandra (West)”.
A city is beyond its people. But we may be destroying something in it
etal is like beer, says Vishwesh Krishamoorthy suddenly. “Think about it. To enjoy a beer you have to look past the bitterness. To enjoy metal you have to look past the noise”. Vishwesh and Prashant Shah, are two fifths of Scribe – the insanely popular, Mumbai based, DIY (Do it yourself) heavy metal band. They’re discussing the thrill of Scribe’s latest achievement – it is the first ever Indian band to be nominated for a MTV Europe music award. The conversation is freewheeling and often spirals off in unexpected directions. Vishwesh would start for instance, by describing his reaction to the news that Scribe had been selected for the nomination (It just didn’t occur to me – I do a lot of voiceover work for VH1 and thought it was something related to that. It took days to make the connection) and suddenly, no one is quite sure how, he’s in the middle of an animated description of how Prashant got flashed after a performance at the Inferno festival in Norway. But this, according to Prashant, is also how Scribe functions as a band. They don’t restrict themselves to a framework and are always experimenting. “We just begin somewhere and see where it takes us”, says Prashant. As a result, the music they produce, while undeniably metal, does not adhere to so many of the stereotypes that have to come to be associated with the genre. There is no angst, no blood and no hatred. Instead they sing songs like “I love you pav bhaji” and ‘Etherea” which is about a man brushing his teeth. “That would be an utter blasphemy in metal terms”, says Vishwesh gleefully. ‘We’re shameless, but in the end people also like goofy shit. While metal may be about angst and high entry music, it’s also great to jump around to”. Apart from Vishwesh and Prashant, who are the vocalist and guitarist respectively, Scribe is made up of Viru (drums), Shrinivas (bass) and Akshay (guitars). Prashant and Akshay also write most of the songs. The band has been together for five years and by all accounts they really “get” each other despite coming on from very different musical backgrounds. In fact they use this to their advantage. Every member brings something different to the plate, and this contributes to the creative process, and the ‘experimental’ techniques that makes Scribe so unique. “You couldn’t get a better bunch of people to work together”, says Vishwesh of his band. They are some of the finest creative minds in the industry today. They are passionate, dedicated and have above all else,
a strong sense of prestige and ethics – the need to do everything right”. Prashant nods emphatically. “Take even one member away and Scribe will not be Scribe”, he says.
cribe is also very rooted in Mumbai – all its band members are fully fledged ‘Bombay boys. Or as Vishwesh so eloquently puts it, “Of the soil of this city and all of its chaos”. And this is clearly reflected in the music they make. “Old Nagardas road” for example is about the street outside Prashant’s house. And the video for “Dum hai to aage aah!”, which is the song nominated in the “Worldwide” category of the MTV European music awards, was shot at Battle fort – where slum kids from Dharavi gather to compete against each other in B-boy battles. The same group of kids featured in the video then performed on stage with the band at a gig at the Blue frog. And the best thing about the city, according to the duo, is that it is home to what is possibly the best underground creative arts scene in the country. “This is the true grit of Mumbai. It rejuvenates the city and we’re glad we’re a part of it” says Vishwesh. And that is also why the MTV nomination is so important. It is, in a sense, recognition of the underground scene and the way Scribe works within it. The band says that they do not work for accolades and awards, but this nomination is still special. “We must be doing something right”, they say. But start them talking about the city and a sense of frustration and disillusionment begins to seep in. Everything it seems is changing. The famously ‘nice’ people of Mumbai are becoming outnumbered by an influx of ‘not so nice’ people who won’t think beyond money and how to make as much of it as possible. The development is haphazard, there is no respect for the architecture, and the infrastructure is shot to pieces. Even Bollywood, which was, according to Vishwesh, something ‘kitsch and inventive” as little as five years ago, has mutated into something trying to be refined but only succeeding in becoming totally horrible. And yet this is not ordinary cribbing. Genuine sadness and frustration is evident in the way they talk. ‘We love this city and all it stood for. But Bombay’s development has become like a fungus. Without direction and totally random”, says Prashant.“ Mumbai has the potential to be the creative nucleus of all of South Asia, but we have let it down”, adds Vishwesh despondently. ‘A city is beyond its people. But we may be destroying something in it”