four. glocality & rugby rushhour
1.20 train to Masjid (Central Line), foot to Charni Rd. (Western Line) via Kotachi Wadi
the market presses up close to the rail, and here in Masjid (one stop north of Churchgate, the WL terminus) the scale and density change is noticeable. immediately outside of the station I am along narrow hectic back streets for 1/8 mile before I hit the concrete sweep of an overpass. here there is dense taxi traffic along a 4 lane road, yet the neighborhood remains oddly…unbroken. the traffic is a minor nuisance, seems simply to be passing through: people cross, and the market streets continue on the other side, a few feet away. really allowing myself to get lost back, heading generally WSW, sometimes hitting a dead-end alley, which feels isolated and uncomfortable, once getting luxuriously drawn into an airy courtyard coop where space opens up to high balconies and a small central shrine. it is easy to be in this courtyard -- even as men stare at my picture taking there is no discomfort. three little girls come to say hello. I follow my nose for a couple of hours – not trudging along, not really stopping, but the winding takes time and the maze doesn’t seem to end. tea at the jewelry shop, the hand tools filling me with nostalgia for days when my life had the same quiet rhythm. sitting in Kotachi Wadi – a small hamlet close to Chowpatty Beach – one realizes the effects of the auto. somehow this hamlet remains undisturbed. turning off the main street, with its incessant horns/bells/people, it is suddenly…. hushhhhhhh. the streets are too narrow for traffic, besides the occasional moped, which is grating and out of place. low-roofed Victorian bungalows hunker beneath the high rises not too far away. here I feel like an outsider, even though it gets its share of visitors. people live here quietly, wanting to be undisturbed. then finally to Charni Rd. Station by the sea , where the 6 lane Queens Rd. runs adjacent to the WL. a busy overpass next to a new luxury high rise, which the other night from Marine Dr. I misread to be an elevated patio for the highrise…
1.21 Bandra to the sea and back (CL)
the oddness of the billboard along the train track : “We could talk about 73 foreign offices in 30 countries. But being your most trusted global bank is what we really care about.” it is facing the CL, where an overpass is located, to catch the attention of riders and drivers alike. what I couldn’t capture in time was the squatter settlement adjacent to that same overpass. Mumbai is trying to go global, there is no doubt about it. in churchgate station a snack shack assures visitors it wants to give clean service with “fixed rates: pay only what is on the sign” (as opposed to bargaining for your tea). right now there is a small Mumbai food festival outside of the modern art gallery, everything white and plasticized to give a sense of cleanliness. ‘Mumbai unbreakable’ is the anti-terrorist police campaign that implores everyone (in English) to make the city safe. the Biennale Mumbai reader proposes developing ‘neighborhoods of excellence’ centered around high class retail and residency – an understandable desire to gentrify but in many ways the least of the city’s pressures as it continues to grow.
I walk for awhile, west, ending at the Taj Land’s End. it is even more unsettling than the original here in Colaba. aptly named and located at the end of the Bandra peninsula, the inside is a Hilton, off-color carpet & all. it is one of those disorienting places where, 30 minutes ago feeling humbled by local streetlife now suddenly it is so many “how can we help you’s” -- even though I am filthy, sweaty, and look like a hippy-ninja compared to the man wearing golf loafers. none of this is a surprise really, that suddenly my colonial status is made flagrant with the assumption that I belong in this palatial air-conditioned tomb. cut off from everything by a long seaside promenade the hotel is not only culturally isolated but physically as well. the promenade, almost a mile long, is used largely by hotel guests – an unimaginable abundance of space in an overcrowded city. the signs posted along it are the visitor: “beware of jaundice, do not consume street food. this is a non-hawking zone.”
more generally … walking streets and riding trains and crossing roads one sees: everywhere the small-scale economy moves its goods. not so much via the bright-red baby freight trucks (which are painted to look ganesha, the Hindi elephant god) but on the trains and roads themselves. two or three men hauling wooden carts 5 times their size, compete with the cabs. a women with a basket of fish on her head buying a rail ticket becomes drenched by the water running through the weave down onto her sari. there is a way people walk when they have a heavy load on their heads, their hips loose and swaying, which makes them glide over ground quickly. in the train cars too there is an economy: an upper class woman covered in jewelry buys even more bangles and rings from a woman riding our car. on the backstreets, shops the size of my room churn out wrapped packages of ‘engineering goods’ which then get stored in a cellar where a man sits and simply guards them. I have yet to see a recognizable factory, or viable department store. two French women at leopolds (local bar) are wondering where to find tattoo guns to buy for a friend in france; they are supposed to be cheap here, where many of them are manufactured. this conversation after watching Blood Diamond, about the conflict diamond market in sierra leone (surprisingly good; leo’s finally stopped looking like a teenager), in a packed theatre. the sex scene (I assume it’s what followed after they looked longingly at each other for 3 minutes?) completely deleted, there wasn’t even a kiss…(although oddly, 4 blocks away is the dildo-sex movie street stall area). the informality of food production as well…there are small gardens along the railways, rows of bright green leaves breaking the monotony of steel, brown-gray sludge, and garbage.
the sidewalks. often there are none, and where there are I’ve learned they are for shopping. if you want to get anywhere it’s typical to walk on the roadside instead, with the cars. this single small gesture, of leaving the stall-saturated sidewalk to walk on the road, gives me a small pleasurable feeling of Mumbai becoming familiar. more often then not, in the less cosmopolitan neighborhoods, the sidewalk is just a third lane, often delineated in a different material (stone, break) – a brilliant multi-use zone where cars park, cabs pull over, people walk, and stalls set up their goods. it sounds chaotic but it works very well.
1.22 Central Line to Karyan (54km)
in the morning the breeze through my window is cool, and i can see the man in the neighboring building brush his teeth on his balcony. there is a rhythmic bell around 8:45: ring ring RING ring ring RING ring ring RING. it is playful and reliable and makes me smile.
a full day, took the central line from Victoria Station (VT, now Chattrapati Shivaji Station, as part of Mumbai’s massive renaming campaign) 54km north up to Kalyan, the last major junction within the urban Central Rail line -- although lying outside the boundaries of most city maps. these same maps refer to the neighborhood clusters that line the rail route as ‘colonies’ – an eerie but apt term that makes one think of ants, accretion, and forces of nature piling habitations. many of these colonies well-established; houses are concrete and a lively market streets veer off from the rail lines. also looming above the rail are 1970’s soviet-looking concrete towers in various states of habitability, some brand new with unfortunate geometric attempts to violate the ‘block’ – so the balconies terminate in dr. spock-ear points. or the windows are round. or the building garishly painted. these towers often don’t exist in isolation, but are part of and adjacent to the colony – a possible planned attempt to house the area’s growing population. traveling north I also passed a few industrial areas, some extinct as evidenced by rows and rows of empty mill buidings, some still spewing smoke. saw one manufacturer of the 20 ft. diameter wide metal water and sewege tunnels. monolithic and out of context, a glaring visual reminder that the city is still being built, organizing itself, trying to resolve gross infrastructural shortcomings.
in Kalyan…a small & busy town, with a strong Mumslim presence. passed a cerulean-colored Mosque whose open doors gave me a glimpse of a man standing in silence under a window’s sun, other men napping on the floor. I longed to go in where it looks quiet and cool but felt inappropriate. got lunch, stood in the station roundabout for awhile and watched the auto rickshaws circle and circle and circle and circle…there was very little English, a total relief although difficult to order food, and all day in fact I saw not a single foreigner. flatteringly, though: a few people on the train ask if I am half-Indian. or French.
on the return down the line I stopped at what caught my eye on the way up: the town of Mumbra, huddled beneath a monolithic rock face. the topography as you travel north surprises; Mumbai central is so very very flat, much of the land reclaimed in-fill (as the city was once a series of islands). high up nestled into the rock I could see a small temple, to which I made my way, slowly passing through the sloping town, which dissipated quickly and led to a set of steep concrete stairs, every couple of minutes revealing a new panoramic element of the land below: the Ulhas River, lined by dense green trees and cultivated fields, the snaking rail-line which generally follows the river at this point, the adjacent local road through the town. amazingly: the whole climb up I never lost sound of the din of human clamor below. sitting at the temple, sketching, the landscape thus ceased to become a picture-perfect postcard, voices reminding you that the neat and tidy miniature, so easy to objectify, is infused with life.
the space of the train itself, and its tracks, is SO activated it’s unbelievable and inspiring: a women brought her portable foodstall (really an enormous basket) on the train during rushhour and made belphuri for passengers, strangers talk casually, women sit on the floor and sell or peel and eat fruit (one offering me some papaya which I gratefully enjoyed), younger women chat with me, ask what I am recording and why I am on the train, whether I like Mumbai, etc. etc. people on cell phones, others doing as I love to do and hanging out of the door. and some people’s lack of bodily fear continues to amaze my orderly sensibilities: I saw men on the tracks who, when two opposing trains are passing, simply squat and occupy the small niche of space just below and adjacent to the body of the train. a man leaning far far out exuberantly balanced on one leg, the other hanging over open space; 4 year old children in school uniform racing down the tracks and laughing as a train speeds by. the tracks as place is everyday news, is apparently not limited by marginality. the station platforms themselves usually ramp down into this area. I did my first track jump (or ungraceful totter, as it may be) and find myself wanting to examine this zone. the stations themselves during rush-hour: my god, such violence, and I say that in earnest. the force with which people pull-push-elbow-yell-yank-jab etc. to hurl themselves on and off the train leaves me bruised and muttering astonishments. this struggle for a space on the train is completely raw and takes my breath away, literally: emerging from the spin cycle of a washing machine one is glad to still have life and limb. the train riding makes VT station seem tame, even with its throngs and bustling night market. its rear entrance ingenious, the street comes into the station, streetlamps continue into the open entry, cabs and cars passing into a drop-off point … all of which minimizes the garish gothic formality of the building a mere backdrop for the more pressing vortex of movement and exchange.