off to travel for a couple weeks up north: ajanta, ahmedabad, chandigarh, possible stops in jaipur or delhi… a great day of conversation yesterday at the MMRD (Mumbai Municipal Redevlopment Agency) and with some friends of a friend, but will have to wait until next time, because my Kamayani Express train to Jalgaon won’t…
1.29 Naval Base, nariman point, and colaba seaside ZP
sunday, a day of rest and long walks under draping trees. who knew that the most peaceful part of the city might be the naval base, on the southern tip of colaba? this mile-long military establishment feels less militaristic than some parts of the city. here thick walls hide fading fortresses of Victorian-era british military austerity, while plaster peels and guards yawn. bicycles cruise up and down the street, or the occasional bus, and the even more occasional private car. the roads are wide, for once-quick transport, no doubt. in all of Mumbai, this would be the place to run, away from the sun for the trees shade everywhere, away from the cars, because no one comes here, away from the pollution, as this tip is surrounded by water on all three sides, narrow and verdant.
from here the bus to Nariman Point, where one can see the southern city as a compass rose, all of its variegated qualities shrouded in a saltwater smog. to the north: the dense green of towerless Malabar Hill and just beyond, Grant Road and Mahalaxmi, whose high-rises tumble down to chowpatty beach and marine drive’s elongated arc. to the south: the tightly packed business district of the backbay reclamation (including mumbai’s very own world trade center), flanked to the east by a ZP, zopad patti, a ‘hutment’ (informal) zone & official map term for slum area, this also flanking the water’s edge in a bizarre contraposto to marine drive’s sweep on the other side of nariman point. it is sunday, and the Nariman CBD is a ghost town taken over by hawkers and loiterers who claim the streets which lead to the water. where there are not loiterers there are guards; every building here has its own guard, or two or five, sitting behind iron fences which bear the signs: no hawkers, no taxis, no entrance without permit. down one of these gate-lined streets a boy with a horse runs, the horse wearing plastic flowers in her mane, the boy whipping her with his skinny arms. down another street a man follows me for awhile until I tell him to leave me alone. around the corner, a glassy movie theatre with a metal detector entrance admits the well-to-do for a sunday afternoon movie. here, two guards simply pace the sidewalk in front of the building, which is not fenced. these corporations and agencies must live in fear, and that fear is reflected back into the general aura of the area.
I continue south and soon am walking along the along the streetside edge of the ZP, which from nariman point looked much more deep than it is – only 3 or 4 houses thick from the sidewalk to the seawall, which melds seamlessly into the homes. life is spilling out onto the sidewalk – a little girl baths in a pothole of muddy water, a woman pisses into a street drain, laundry hangs from a bus stop, everything more narrow and cramped than I have ever seen. further along, this narrow strip begins to expand and claim more land as the street pulls away from the water’s edge, and the ZP becomes a veritable village, first comprised of landlocked wooden boats within which tired men and cargo lay, evolving into even more established territory where multi-storied, pastel-colored alleyways lead to slits at the water’s edge. here the front stoops are well-cleaned and cared for, and women sit in the doorways brushing their hair, chatting. the space is tight, but orderly, not as destitute as a few hundred yards back. from here space expands further into a small single-storey mini-village, with a few stalls selling veggies or sweets. this is still within the limited, approx. 50 m. zone between the road and the sea. I pass a cricket game in what passes for a small public square, a meeting house with microphone blaring politics. then, just as quickly, the whole settlement ends in an iron fence, as a municipal park begins. all of this transition happens along the linear space of the road for about 1/3 mile.