Saturday 9th November 2013
A decent buffet breakfast featuring something like uppma (but made of rice), uttapam and coconut sauce, washed down with watermelon juice. Then a morning trying to complete the registration for my Tata online account (failed), get Indian Railways to text me tomorrow’s train ticket (failed), and book a ticket from Kochi to Trivandrum (succeeded, including getting a text – so now we don’t have to worry about getting to a printer).
We lunched off 4 bananas that we bought yesterday, then headed out to walk to the beach, which was about 1.5 miles west from the hotel. If the mention of a beach in India brings to mind Goa’s 70 miles of white, palm-fringed sand, forget it. This was city beach, and a poor specimen at that – a sliver of scruffy sand lapped by very uninviting detritus-edged wavelets. You really wouldn’t want even to paddle, but yet people were. To be fair, the detritus was mostly just Diwali debris; leaves, bits of marigold garland and broken clay oil lamps, plus bits of fruit. But still…
For me, the best thing about it was the view of the new suspension bridge between Bandra and Worli. It’s an elegant structure, with its one large and two smaller pillars asymmetrically arranged. In the slight haze it hung ethereally over Mahim Bay, insubstantial, like a sketch. Behind the beach were a few stalls and shops of the sort that sprout on beaches everywhere – snacks, candy floss, and beach toys. It might not be much of a beach, but for the people of Mahim, Dadar, and the nearby Dharavali slum (of Slumdog Millionaire fame) it’s somewhere to take the kids and catch a bit of a breeze.
Also somwhere frequented by courting youngsters, if the “Strictly prohbited for couples” signs on the sea wall were anything to go by. We flouted them by walking hand in hand. To the south the sand petered out and the promenade was lined with stalls selling Buddhist books and trinkets, the reason becoming clear when the path ended at a Buddhist temple. It was nothing special, architecturally speaking, so we headed back to the main road where we had noticed the magic word ‘bar’ on a couple of restaurant signs.
Suitably refreshed by 2 small Kingfishers, we retraced our steps to Dadar. It didn’t seem noticeably cooler to us, but shoppers were now out in force, spilling across the minor roads and forcing traffic to a crawl. The rule here sems to be that any collision between a vehicle and a pedestrian is the fault of the driver, no matter how stupidly the pedestrian behaves. This of course just leads to even greater recklessness on the part of pedestrians. People wait to cross at busy junctions, but long before the lights change the growing number gives them greater confidence and they start to edge into the traffic, then almost as though at a signal, they push forward en masse and the traffic has no choice but to stop. People power – and one of the reasons I wouldn’t want to drive here. The ‘driver is always wrong’ mentality means that there are even people who make a living from hurling themselves in front of slow moving vehicles in a bid to get slightly injured, then claiming compensation (or hoping for an on the spot payoff).
Mind you, it’s not all plain sailing as a pedestrian. Mumbai’s pavements are largely made from 3-lobed/triangular paviours that interlock quite firmly, but then tree roots push them up, or drains collapse and the resulting holes are roughly filled with whatever is available (if they are filled at all), and sloppy construction projects leave a rough layer of concrete over the paving. Shops regard the patch of pavement in front of their premises as theirs, space for signs or extra stock, and where the pavement is wide the kerbs are appropriated by stallholders. Then in places progress is impeded by parked cars or motorbikes, ruminating cows, sleeping dogs, or even sleeping people. A pedestrian has to make frequent detours into the road – so a pedestrian-friendly mentality is probably the only way of avoiding carnage.