Excerpts from Chapter 1 – South City
The Gateway of India
One of Mumbai’s most eminent landmarks. A combination of Muslim and Hindu design, built by British engineering; it stands as an architectural summary of the city it presents.
Today the Gateway of India is a tourist attraction. It’s proud stance on Apollo Bunder mirrored in modernity by the Taj Palace & Tower, Jamsetji Tata’s lavish hotel. Both structures symbolise power, wealth and the fight for control. The Gateway as a monument of British occupation, the Taj Palace & Tower Hotel as an emblem of India’s economic independence. Barriers herd people from one ‘safe zone’ to another. The back of the Gateway is closed off at night; only accessible during daylight trading hours after you’ve purchased a ticket. Filtering the crowds, Mumbai police and Taj Hotel security patrol the area 24 hours a day, interrogating everyone with a camera pointed in a ‘sensitive direction’.
5km long, Colaba Causeway is one of Mumbai’s most recognised streets. Built by the East India Trading Company in 1838, ‘the Causeway’ connected the last two of Mumbai’s original seven islands, only previously accessible by sea.
If it’s your first time in Mumbai, chances are you’ll end up on the Causeway. Travel guides and works of fiction having cemented it into the minds of the city’s eager new visitors.
I sit, at the juice bar opposite Cafe Mondegar’s, drinking pineapple crush in the mornings. Perched on a stool, I quietly stare through the traffic; a deluge of skin, metal and sound, self perpetuating around me. This street is alive. And with all’s its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it’s still a beautiful world to watch unfurl after breakfast.
About 2km west of Colaba, Marine Drive begins. A 5km boulevard that arches like an inverted ‘C’ along Mumbai’s Back Bay, connecting the central business district at Nariman Point to inroads accessing the rest of the city.
Families sit watching the water, joggers and speed walkers burn fat at sunset. Young couples turn their backs to the buildings and become alone in a city of millions. Facing out over the water, a welcome serenity wafts in from the ocean.
On Marine Drive you can hear Mumbai breathe out; the accumulated sigh of those shrugging the city from their shoulders.
Mumbai has five beaches, the most municipal of which is Chowpatty. Stretched along the north curve of the city’s Back Bay, Chowpatty Beach rests at the wealthy feet of Walkeshwar and Malabar Hill.
The first time I came to Mumbai I often felt lost and intimidated. Big cities can do this, whatever language they speak. But when I walk along Chowpatty Beach I feel safe. If anything were to happen, I would not be alone.
160ft above sea level, Malabar Hill looks down on South Mumbai. At the north end of Marine Drive; as Chowpatty Beach breaks against the curved slope of Walkeshwar Road, this affluent incline houses Mumbai’s rich, powerful and privacy obsessed.
There’s a divide in Mumbai, one that’s deeper than class. An abundant chasm; that begs you for milk then charges you Rs.300 a glass. People point out the obvious, discuss the disparagement of wealth, and dodge between the cracks of the city’s grandeur and decay.
And whilst the vantage point in Kamala Park – a beautiful vista overlooking the curve of the Back Bay, remains accessible to all; in the complicit quiet, you can still hear Malabar Hill’s reluctant sigh as the rest of Mumbai climbs upwards to share it.