Gateway to Mumbai

A man pretending to hold the Gateway up between two of his fingers while posing for a photograph, camera-toting photographers trying to sell heavily photo shopped images of the monument and women selling miniature versions as keepsakes. These and more shenanigans are daily occurrences at the Gateway of India, Mumbai.

The Gateway remains a wry observer, seemingly oblivious to the crowds that gather around it but the imposing, yellowed gate with its four domes and weathered inscriptions gives away its age. It always evokes a second glance from tourists who gather to admire its beauty, locals who come to admire the sea breeze after a hard day’s work or just passer’s by.

Even with all this activity, there’s still always a hush around it. It’s almost like it’s a wise old man, whose reputation precedes him. He’s seen it all, he’s done it all and so you can’t help be awed in his presence. That’s what the Gateway if India is to Mumbai. Revered. It has seen Mumbai through everything. Bloody murders, bomb blasts, terrorist attacks, pick pocketing and run of the mill con artists. It has been witness to decades of celebrations; a romantic proposal by the sea and even just a day’s outing for a family. Candlelight vigils to protest against atrocities commemorate a day or an event; it’s seen and heard everything. It keeps everybody’s secrets. People say that they make unique memories at the Gateway and the truth is, everybody does. On March 31st 1911, the foundation stone of the Gateway of India was laid making 2011 its centenary year. For 100 years it has seen the city develop from an English colony to the financial capital of an independent nation, from a trading town to a bustling city; it has seen kings, sailors, fishermen, lovebirds and tourists pass through. A passageway to Bombay in the old days, today it sits and watches the streets of Mumbai as the city scurries along at a mind boggling pace. Even though it was famously inaugurated in 1924, its foundation was laid way back in March 1911 to commemorate the visit of the then King of England, King George V and his Queen, Mary to Bombay, as the city was formerly known. From 1911- 1920, its construction was interrupted to build a seawall and reclaim land, forcing construction to resume only in 1920.

The Gateway captures Mumbai’s all encompassing spirit and diversity. It brings together the architectural style of the two most at odds groups, Hindus and Muslims. With an arch that is an ode to Muslim architecture and decorations in the Hindu style it acts as a mirror to the streets that accommodate groups of people who are drastically different from one another but live, breathe and die side by side, in the same salty air of this cosmopolitan city.

The Gateway was meant to be accompanied by an esplanade but lack of funds forced a delay and change in construction. A sign of things to come perhaps because Mumbai is infamous for projects that have been abandoned midway or shoddily done because of cost constraints, like the Worli Bandra sea link that took double the time it was meant to, to be built because of delays caused by lack of funds. The roads of Mumbai are notoriously bad, repaired every year and disintegrating with the first monsoon showers.

Back in 1911, acquiring 21 lakhs (29,358)for a monument was a big amount and it was borne largely by the Government of the country and contributions from rich business families of the city. The Sassoons, a wealthy business family donated ten lakhs () towards the construction of the Gateway; a tradition that dates back to the 17th century wherein rich families of the city would donate money to develop their city and even today, they play an important role in the functioning of Mumbai.

It’s often debated whether it’s government that keeps Mumbai running or the dozens of rich business families and their connections. It is no stretch of the truth that the rich and the powerful have security that could rival that of the Government in our country and on many occasions, the whims of the rich have overpowered what is right and legal.

Salman Khan, a much loved film actor ran his car over a sleeping man and injured three others and was shockingly found not guilty of culpable homicide nor was he jailed in this case for even a few days while incidents of rich kids being involved in hit and runs scarcely make the front pages of newspapers. Even when they do, somehow follow up stories neglect to occur.

It’s often been described as the city of dreams; that big city where millions from under developed parts of India come to pursue greener pastures.

Very few go on to attain these dreams, like Dhirubhai Ambani who amassed his great fortune after relocating to Mumbai in 1958. He went on to feature on the Forbes list of the world’s richest men. The majority of movers however have to satisfy themselves with working in factories, as taxi or car drivers and maybe even domestic workers.

Says driver Kartik Yadav, “ Mumbai promises greener pastures but when you reach here it’s an entirely different story. It’s a struggle, it’s a fight to survive but the more you give this city, the more it gives back.”

It may promise greatness and the stars may cloud your eyes but the city is as unruly ass the waves of the ocean that can take you down as easily as let you ride on them.

At the end of the day, it is simply a stone archway but what makes it ever so important is the fact that in a city that’s constantly changing, fluctuating and sometimes struggling to survive, this 100 year old Gateway is still standing.

It’s witnessed bloody murders, bomb blasts and broken hearts. It’s seen crime, crowds and catastrophes. It’s been witness to the whims of the rich and the wails of the poor and even though Bombay has changed to Mumbai and it’s people labour everyday with themselves to survive in this land, the Gateway remains constant, forever.

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Published in: on July 31, 2011 at 9:20 am  Leave a Comment  
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The grocery store of the masses- Bhaji Galli

 

A whizzing of flies is in the air. They sit atop the coconuts that stand in the very first stall of the lane and if you listen carefully, almost sound like a welcoming jingle.

Being able to hear them is rare as the noise of the street is so overwhelming that it becomes difficult to even hear the voices in your own head. It is after all, in every sense of the word a street vegetable market, Bhaji Gallli where vendors and buyers come together, burgeoning stalls and bargaining voices.

Oversized and overused umbrella’s shelter the brightly coloured fruits and vegetables from the harsh Mumbai sun and the even more relentless rains but flecks of mud nonetheless make it to a these wares. Flecks that are sneakily wiped off when the customer’s backs are turned.

More than 60 years old, this long meandering lane at 17, Shankar Seth Road, Bhaji Galli, offers a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables in small stalls along with a quirky peppering of items such as metal vessels, plastic wares and oddly enough, a little shanty selling only fancy ribbons.

The smells in the air are confusing, there’s a whiff of garlic here, the smell of wet leafy vegetables there and somewhere in the midst, the scent of juicy plums.

You can find ordinary Indian vegetables and fruits here but as you venture into the heart of the market, exotic wares like Celery, rosemary, thyme, cherry tomatoes and purple cabbages make their presence felt.

The vendors have a kind of brotherhood, nobody slashes their prices beyond an accepted rate and most customers have their favourite sellers.

The stalls on the street are rented or even bought. Om Prakasah from Uttar Pradesh was attracted by the lure of the big city and came to Mumbai seeking fortune. He has his fields at home but decided to get into the fruit business and has been a fruit vendor at the market since ten years. “ You need a BMC license to own a stall here, which I don’t have so I rent out the space for Rs.6000 (₤ 84) a month.”

The opulence of the vegetables and fruits and the simplicity of the market and its lower middle class vendors form a sad paradox. Little boys younger than even 14 wander the lane offering their lifting services to customers, customers who only want the freshest fruit and the greatest variety in vegetables while the boys can scarcely afford even half a fruit.

As the vendors shoo these little men away and turn their backs, they dip into the somewhat spoilt fruit basket and wander away with a stray litchi, grins of accomplishment on their faces.

Much like the women who feel they’ve struck a great bargain and the vendors who think the same. It’s a continuation of the streets of Mumbai, where the rich remain rich, the poor remain poor and they both like to think they’ve outsmarted one another.

 

 

Published in: on July 23, 2011 at 7:35 am  Leave a Comment  
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