Going for a jog along Marine Drive in the morning at this time of year is a breath of fresh air. I’m used to coming to Mumbai in the hotter months, when a mere few minutes of walking results in beads of sweat dripping down my back — not different from Dubai, I guess — and I’m also used to being on the other side of Mumbai, in the hectic Juhu and artistic Bandra. Being in the south of the city feels entirely different, more authentic in a sense with the Gateway of India, the Taj Mahal Palace and the Oberoi Hotel dominating the skyline, and yet it feels less like the India I know. There are no rickshaws, people aren’t dawdling haphazardly on the roads, and I see no cows lazing on the street (though perhaps this is more characteristic of the rest of India rather than Mumbai).
It is only 9am and there are couples sitting head on shoulder and hand in hand, legs dangling on to the rocks and the ocean. This seems more the order of the evening, though I then remember this is a Saturday. I pass a girl taking a photo of her friend inches away from her face, so up close I wonder if she is able to get any of the sea in the background. And when I run back to the Oberoi, I notice the same girls, roles swapped.
The sun is just starting to appear from behind the silhouette of buildings on my left. Here and there as I meander, walking or breaking into a slight jog, the rays peek between the buildings. A lady wearing a tattered sari, carrying a bundle of clothes on her head and swinging an empty bottle in her hand, passes me. I look across the water at the point where the ocean touches the sky, a slight haze merging the two, clearing up as quickly as the sun rises from the left.
More familiar with a chaotic Mumbai, where car horns are such an integral part of the commotion that I immediately become immune to their sound, where black and yellow rickshaws zig zag swiftly and noisily through the roads, where no street feels complete without a vendors, I’ve realised that the South is more formal and colonial. The beautifully rich British architecture sets the tone even as you enter this end of the city. Even the busier, more touristic Colaba, a wonderful place to meander, has a slight sense of reserve, though the pleasurable mayhem of Bhuleshwar market is somewhat refreshing, not quite in line with the undisturbed nature of south Mumbai. The disparity isn’t so obvious on this side, and yet some of the oldest and wealthiest families live just five minutes from here in Cuffe Parade, shadowing a large slum.
I walk back to the Oberoi and gaze from my window at the long drive that forms the Queen’s necklace, though the string of pearls aren’t lit up at this time of day. The coast of the Indian Ocean stretches forth, curving ahead to the bridge, and I’m grateful to have been on the quieter side of this city after so long.
— Meera Ashish is a columnist, editor and writer. She is also founder of Next Generation Schools NGO, Uganda www.nextgen-schools.org.