Monday, February 4, 2013

Mumbai Walk: On a Leisurely Trail Across Colonial History

If I get mugged again and lose consciousness for a couple of seconds (with a blunt object hitting my nape like what befell me one day in Madrid) and wake up on a street in Mumbai, I'd easily get disoriented and think I was in one of the avenidas of the Spanish capital. Yes, a few streets in new Bombay looks like transplanted pieces of some European neighborhood. Several edifices are gloriously designed with art decos and Victorian architecture. But let me backtrack a bit to put some perspective to this post. 

There wasn't much to do on the night of my arrival in Mumbai. The trip from Delhi was long, the assault of the taxi drivers was jarring, and the visit to Elephanta Island was more than relaxing. But the body could only take so much. The street population around Colaba turned into a younger, more vibrant, albeit less enterprising demographic as night descends into the mishmash of colonial buildings, many of which have seen better days.

That night, I scurried through several by-ways of the business capital, many of which needed lighting, but nevertheless the place felt safe. As experience would teach me, shit happens even on a mid-day when the sun is up and a good population is on the area where you stand. One is better off not letting his guard down.

The next day, I woke up with renewed vigor and took a leisurely walk at the bay area. People were walking their dogs. A man was praying before the sun from the east (left). I was energized by a relaxing sleep and decided to take a long, unplanned walk around Colaba and the Fort Area. At some point, I just stood at a corner street, soaking in on the fascinating scenery of the locals' daily grind. Mumbai's glorious past lives through its architectural designs. The sad thing is, many of these buildings need refurbishments. I could have gone to Nariman's Point where Mumbai hosts her towering buildings, but I chose to stay here where I could probably immerse myself with a more authentic verve.

I wasn't mistaken. There were enough to satiate the eye and the spirit. The University of Mumbai, for example, was established in 1857, and is actually one of the first three universities in the country. The eye-popping structure is characterized by its towering Rajabai Clock Tower that reminded me of London's Big Ben. I wasn't wrong; the tower was designed by British architect Sir George Gilbert Scott (left) and modeled on the Big Ben. Scott, you see, was architect of many iconic buildings, including London's St. Pancras station which is memorable to me for I have set foot on that station on several occasions in the past. It was a familiar gateway to some of my earliest adventures in the united Kingdom. Scott was one of Great Britain's most prolific, having designed - and altered - some 800 buildings. He was a proponent of the thought that "gothic design" isn't exclusively and intrinsically  ecclesiastical. 

The tower was named after an industrialist's mother whose monetary support made construction of the tower possible. It stands 280 feet tall and has 5 stories. The businessman's name was Premchand Raichand. The tower is a pretty sight and rightfully a beloved landmark. It should not me missed. The Rajabai Clock Tower is visible in several areas in the city and looms proudly from a cricket field. 

Somehow, Mumbai seemed less populous than what I expected, considering it is the country's biggest city in terms of population. It's also overly hyped as a frolicky Bollywoodland so I half expected Shahrukh Khan, Hrithik Roshan, Aishwarya Rai and Katrina Kaif to appear before me grinding their Elvis Pelvis moves to the tune of an A.R. Rahman ditty, as customary. I always chanced upon Hollywood stars in London, why not here? Fat chance. I've also read that crossing the street is a hellish experience in the city, but this wasn't so, at least from my experience, and I think it shows in some of my photos. Mumbai is pretty, if a bit under-maintained. Much of the city retains its old world charm. If only I could identify some of the buildings in my photos here... darn! Regardless, Mumbai's colonial vestiges impressed me as I navigated around its pricey metropolis. 

This is the Eye in the Sky

A tree-lined boulevard in Mumbai

Sorabjee Shapurjee Bengalee, India's first cricket historian. In his lifetime, he drafted a bill proposing that the hours of work of men, women, and children who toil in factories, be restricted to eleven, ten, and nine respectively, all including an hour of rest. This resulted to a barrage of criticism from the legislature and several journalists who thought that the bill was useless. Factory workers, they thought, did not need any protection. Such was an era of simplistic arrogance.  

Rajabai Clock Tower, University of Mumbai
Side view of the University of Mumbai's Fort campus. Reminds me of a structure in Oxford, England.

University of Mumbai

Mahatma Gandhi

The Orchid Hotel, a 5-star hotel along Nehru Road. Here, it looks like a piece of a part that Optimus Prime forgot. :)

A deserted walkway from the side of the cricket field going towards the University of Mumbai

Fruits of the season: watermelon, pineapple, papaya. They slice them up without gloves, but since I didn't have breakfast and lunch yet, I was almost desperate for a plate. So I braced myself for what some would awkwardly call "Mumbai Belly" which seemed like a bad word play for "Delhi Belly". Guess what? I survived Mumbai without stomach trouble. :) 

Our previous posts:

Mumbai's Elephanta Island

Mumbai Tales, Greedy Drivers and Losing Cool

A Rickshaw Ride in Delhi One Lazy Morning


NRIGirl said...

Wow! Definitely not the Bombay I have seen! This one is beautiful.

Of all the places I have ever visited the one place I wouldn't want to go back to - it's Bombay.

But now after seeing your pictures I do want to return to this part of Bombay!

eye in the sky said...

@ NRIGirl:

I'm glad. I have seen a Bombay that I actually liked. I may have chanced on the prettier area, but then this was a day's unplanned walk. :)

Krishna said...

great photos and info