It was ten years after my last visit that I arrived in Mumbai on a late evening flight in November. At this time Mumbai is usually experiencing its second summer that precedes the slight chill in the air that passes off for a Mumbai winter. The city-that-never-sleeps was still wide awake and my husband pointed out the Ghatkopar hills and many other landmarks as we descended into the city. Friends had come to pick us up and take me to my new home that on a good day would take about 20 minutes. The roads were fairly empty.
My first impressions of the city were though very confused. Images that flashed into my mind when I thought Mumbai were huge high rises and sprawling bungalows (Bollywood seemed to say so). Instead I found old buildings that refused to rise above six or seven stories high and in the locality where I began my new life, the buildings were old (most of them at least 40-50 years at the time), charming and pretty! I remember losing my way on one of the many bylanes thinking it would take me to another road and being hopelessly lost. And I kept walking until I reached another road that I knew. But that’s how it used to be…every building, every road looked the same.
Funnily enough soon after I arrived in Mumbai, an era of redevelopment of old properties began. It took days to bring down the old buildings. Those were load bearing structures with walls that were three times thicker than what we see today. The rooms were placed in a haphazard format. People didn’t believe in privacy and privates spaces obviously. You lived in large joint families and the more space there was for the family to spread out and sleep and wash and eat, the better. So basically you had more space and fewer rooms.
A visit to the suburbs to meet certain family members was always a revelation as to how quickly the city was spreading and growing. Each time we went that way, my husband would point out something new and say, “This was never there. Do you know a large part of this space was barren land?”
In 1998, I spent a weekend with my uncle and aunt in Powai in the same house they used to live earlier. The trucks and cars that plied the road all through the night kept me awake. It was the same room through which just about a decade ago, I’d peeped out and admired the Powai lake from and the same road that then had been so quiet and nearly empty even during daytime.
Powai, as people living here would know, is these days a pretty up market part of Mumbai and like several other areas in the suburbs have grown to be self-sufficient irrespective of its distance from ‘town’ as we call the lower tip of the island city that once signified ‘Mumbai’.
And this city that doesn’t sleep doesn’t actually need its beauty nap to grow and thrive. In the last nineteen years the city has seen more tall buildings, plush housing complexes, freeways, malls and flyovers coming up. And it is not without its disadvantages. Read ‘more cars on the road, more pollution, more people, less space’ !!!
But it still shines bright and beautiful…much like that first vision I had peeping out of the aeroplane …twinkling delightfully and beckoningly at one and all.