Sunday, April 6, 2014

Notes from B.Town (Day 1)

I went to explore the older parts of Mumbai on the first day, Bombay. Starting from what was possibly the first establishment of Colaba, the Sassoon Dock, I went to Fort, Yazdani Bakery, Horniman Circle, and stopped at Brittannia Bakery in Ballard Estate for lunch. The air mostly felt dense, almost suffocating at places that were not ventilated. While the fish, sea food, flower and everyday goods market by the Sassoon dock became one of the most (overwhelmingly) memorable sensations of this trip, walking through the busy markets into the bylanes of Bhuleshwar with signage reading in many many locally spoken languages made me got me closer to the city’s real diversity and its cultural intersections.
Most of the wandering on the first day made me feel like Mumbai was far more urban than Delhi was and had been a mature and bustling centre of urbanity for much longer than Delhi has. It was thriving with density and diversity, with its people, shops and transactions. Walking through the Fort and Ballard Estate area, with most buildings dating back to the 19th and early 20th century colonial lineage, there was this sense of comfort for the human scale. The formal building edge, the generous footpath and the sufficiently wide road seemed to really make it comfortable for people and also impressively accommodate for the many cars of present times. The synergy felt deliberate.

In Dhobi Talao and Bhuleshwar, the expression on Old Parsi and Gujarati owned buildings changed to become more localized. The street grew tighter (and busier but organized) and the neighbourhood felt a lot more intervened upon and contemporary. The teleporting threshold of the big Krishna temple under renovation at Bhuleshwar felt suspended between the busy transactional hub and the temple courtyard that humbled you amidst other old Gujarati women and men. This un-urbane nucleus was at the centre of all of this city and yet quite outside it.

The city had this amazing intensity that came from its efficient and thrifty use of the available urban space. Seating created by buildings, shop fronts, places for plants, the edge of the sidewalk, the entrances to buildings, large urban doors that could be opened only partly to work like smaller windows. Bademiya in Colaba surprised me and inspired me. It actually manifests itself in a way that the main kitchen and seating area separated by the main street! So it functions as a take-away and a dine in restaurant with the service circulation being its most public access. Among other things, this also got the centrestage to the food. I often miss this efficiency in Delhi where I see tonnes of public space wasted because it is left unclaimed or undefined.

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