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A Tale of Two Cities: Mumbai and Bombay

Walls are said to have ears. If they had a mouth as well, Oh, the tales they would tell!

The roads of India’s financial capital are not just varying mixtures of concrete and tar. They sketch the path from Mumbai to Bombay, from the colourful suburbs to the black and white Fort. Hopping onto a Mumbai Darshan bus will certainly show you the tourist hot-spots of Mumbai, but a walk down the memory lane might introduce you to Bombay. Two cities reside on the same land, you just need to find the city you desire. 

The public transport is this city’s nervous system. It carries the load of the entire city and cracks like a twig when the first showers of monsoon arrive. I would recommend exploring the city during monsoon because that is when it is at its most beautiful. I set off on a cycle at 7 AM, with my camera charged and mobile discharged. My journey started from Bandra, and I had no particular destination in mind. The importance of an expensive cycle or a healthy diet cannot be stressed enough. My tired limbs and rickety cycle forced me to take my first halt at Worli Sea Face. Worli, along with Lower Parel and Mahalaxmi, marks the transition from the suburbs to South Mumbai. A light drizzle had already begun, and the promenade along Worli Sea Face began to clear up. After a rather scorching summer, seeing the sun hiding meekly behind the grey clouds, as early as 8 AM,  is more welcoming than gloom-inducing. Bombay does not care about your income or your social status. It loves and loathes equally. You could be one of the joggers along the promenade, trying to sneak in an early run before heading to work, or the homeless man seeking refuge on a stone cold bench; the sea will not spare either of you. Its massive waves, spurred by the relentless rain, rise higher than the boardwalk and drench every bystander. 

One of the wall paintings, adjacent to Marine Lines Station
Courtesy: airoots.org

After 9 AM, the traffic hits you. I cycled towards South Bombay, exempt from the trauma of following a traffic signal. Luxury car owners wait frustratingly before a red signal, while an innocent child sets his paper boat sail in the torrential waters on the road. Oh yes, the roads of Mumbai are the first to give up. Cycling in such weather is not the easiest feat, but then again, even the paper boat had covered a greater distance than the luxury car. I had reached South Bombay by 11:30 AM and this region felt different from the suburban Mumbai. CST (or earlier known as Victoria Terminus), the BMC Office building, and the lush sylvan cricket grounds remind you of simpler times. These buildings, however, can be found in every tourist guide book. Bombay treats everybody equally, and it’s the harsh nature of this beautiful city that unites its tireless citizens. During the attacks of 26/11, while the armed forces sacrificed their lives for us, the people of Bombay waged their own war against terror. The wall bordering the road, running parallel to Marine Lines railway station, does not have a single vacant spot, with every centimeter being covered by a grafitti dedicated to the victims and heroes of this attack.

The deserted streets of Ballard Estate, which usually play host to street cricket

It was lunch time, and I was famished. I must admit, my choice of a restaurant wasn’t as spontaneous as my trip-Britannia Cafe, located on the streets of Ballard Estate. A tiny restaurant, known for its keema pav, its location is rather appealing. Ballard Estate is primarily a commercial area, and post lunch time, the entire locality loses itself in a solitude. Canopies of trees protect the boys playing cricket on the deserted street. The leisure of not being on the schedule of a tourist guide allowed me to play a game with these boys as well. I blamed my loss on my tired limbs, and they took me to a tea vendor for a cup of cutting chai.  They kept talking about their daily schedule, and all of a sudden, it felt as if I was living in the hectic environs of Mumbai, while they seemed to enjoy their leisurely life in the city of Bombay. The tour guides may not mention everything, but they, too, would recommend ending the day with a glass of Bachelorr’s chic-choc milkshake, while relaxing on the Marine Drive deck and watching the sun set over the Mumbai skyline.

The Taj Mahal Hotel, one of Bombay’s most iconic landmarks.

Bombay and Mumbai co-exist. Your travel choices will decide which city you end up touring. Cycling back at 6 PM is when one gets to feel the rush of the city. Mumbai is known for its restaurants and watering holes, and most of them do not close their shutters until the wee hours of dawn. However, try slipping into one of the lanes of Bandra Village on the night of a cricket match. Leaving the hustle and bustle of Mumbai behind is a gathering of people, relaxing on cots and watching cricket with the help of a large white cloth and a projector. It is in moments like these that Mumbai vanishes, and Bombay comes to life.

Cover Art: Varsha Rai

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