Morning Walk to Sewri Fort and Jetty in Mumbai

IMG_2323

On way to the Sewri jetty, located at the eastern edge of South Mumbai.

IMG_2331

Flamingos and other migratory birds, arriving from Gujarat, are usually spotted here during the second half of the year.

IMG_2334

Beholding the sea…

IMG_2345

Inside the 17th century Sewri fort built by the British as a watch tower.

Mumbai Through My Eyes

FullSizeRender (2)

Marine Drive, South Mumbai

IMG_1766

Marine Drive, South Mumbai

IMG_2140

Cuffe Parade Garden, South Mumbai

IMG_2163

Cuffe Parade Garden, South Mumbai

IMG_2255

Worli Seaface, one of the seven islands of Mumbai

IMG_2109

Cuffe Parade reclamation area

IMG_2298

Cuffe Parade Garden, South Mumbai

IMG_2103

Cuffe Parade Garden, South Mumbai

IMG_1969

Mumbai Fort area, built by the British; also a business district hosting large institutions such as the Bombay Stock Exchange, Reserve Bank of India and the Tata Group

IMG_1966 (1)

Fabindia store in Mumbai Fort area

IMG_1952

Cuffe Parade Garden, South Mumbai

IMG_1793

Municipal Corporation Building in South Mumbai

IMG_1773

A procession showing the idol of Hindu elephant god ‘Ganesha’ being taken for immersion into the sea.

IMG_2135

A jogger’s park in Dadar area

IMG_2171

Oval Maidan in South Mumbai

IMG_2185

National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai

IMG_2234

Prithvi Theatre, Juhu suburb

FullSizeRender (1)

The trees of Mumbai!

IMG_1453

One of the sea-facing art deco buildings in South Mumbai

IMG_1056

Inside the World Centre Complex of Cuffe Parade, South Mumbai

IMG_1329

View of the Meethi River from Mahim Nature Park

IMG_1160

Afghan Church

IMG_0972

Dadar Parsi Colony

IMG_0646

On way to British-era nature park, the ‘Rani Baug’, in Byculla

IMG_0577

On way to British-era nature park, the ‘Rani Baug’, in Byculla

IMG_0619

Inside the historic botanical garden, the ‘Rani Baug’, in Byculla

IMG_0626

Inside the historic botanical garden, the ‘Rani Baug’, in Byculla

The visual perks of a Cuffe Parade office in Mumbai

IMG_2298

Tucked away at the southern tip of Mumbai, Cuffe Parade is one of the most affluent neighbourhoods in the city. It is named after T.W. Cuffe, an official of the Bombay City Improvement Trust, which was created during the British rule to improve the city’s infrastructure after a deadly epidemic.

Home to the high-profile World Trade Centre, one of the tallest buildings in South Asia, Cuffe Parade is a “residential goldmine”. Not long ago, a four-bedroom flat in India’s richest housing society, located in this area, was sold at the rate of 111,000 rupees per square feet, the Times of India reported. Little wonder the Cuffe Parade skyline, with its high-rise residential buildings, looks like a cut-out from a real-estate billboard.

Shaded by a canopy of trees, Cuffe Parade overlooks the Arabian sea on one side, and, on the other, the British-era Colaba area. A short walk, left of the World Trade Centre, leads to the sea-facing Cuffe Parade garden. Its promenade is mostly visited by residents who come here for a stroll, and occasionally by office goers, like me, who want to take in the sea after work.

IMG_0206

The Cuffe Parade skyline, with its high-rise residential buildings, looks like a cut-out from a real-estate billboard.

FullSizeRender (2)

The World Trade Centre

IMG_0255

The World Trade Centre

IMG_0407

An unusual sight of a tree inside the World Trade Centre

FullSizeRender (1)

An pan-India sari exhibition at the World Trade Centre

FullSizeRender

Anonymous artwork at the World Trade Centre

IMG_1056

The World Trade Centre complex

IMG_1069

Outside the Maker Shopping Arcade

IMG_1404

The Cuffe Parade Garden

IMG_1400

View of the Arabian sea from the Cuffe Parade garden

FullSizeRender3

The World Trade Centre

FullSizeRender (3)

The World Trade Centre shopping arcade

FullSizeRender (4)

The World Trade Centre shopping arcade

IMG_1540

Inside the World Trade Centre shopping arcade

However, Cuffe Parade is not as hunky dory as it appears to be. It was from the shore of the fisherman’s colony in the vicinity, called the Macchimar Nagar, that the terrorists from Pakistan arrived on the night of November 26, 2008. The terror attack launched by them lasted three days, killing more than 150 people; and left a vibrant city in a state of shock.

Recently, the construction of the Mumbai metro (that would connect Cuffe Parade to Bandra and SEEPZ in Andheri East) has disturbed the area’s serenity.  Residents have complained against the rising noise levels due to the construction work,  as well as chopping of trees, intrusion into parks and gardens by Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation.

As I spend most of my day in Cuffe Parade, I find the place revealing itself in different colours and moods. On most mornings I have marveled at the manicured beauty of Cuffe Parade, with its the tree-lined streets and dramatically blue skies. During post-lunch walks, I have sneaked into the periodic art exhibitions at the World Trade Centre, to look at Indian textiles, saris, and artefacts. On certain days, when we found our creativity being stifled by the so-called four walls of the office, we sat at the nearest Cafe Coffee Day, past roadside kiosks serving tea, cut fruits, and quick meals. The coffee shop has a permanent guest — a cat snoozing in a corner; and I just want to take it home.

Slideshow:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

The fragile wilderness of Maharashtra Nature Park

The Maharashtra Nature Park, more popular by the name of Mahim Nature Park, is a modern-day achievement of a landfill site transformed into a green haven.

As you follow the meandering trails of this mildly dense forest, you wonder if an animal is lurking behind those tree barks. There are various kinds of reptiles in this park though, which is also a habitat of a large species of trees, birds, butterflies and spiders.

Indian conservationist Pradip Patade, known for documenting marine life along Mumbai’s coast, is credited with identifying a large number of species of butterflies there.

This man-made forest, located by the Mithi River, is spread over an area of 37 acres in Dharavi. The park was inaugurated in 1994, but it was proposed in 1977 by a group of Mumbai-based employees of the World Wildlife Fund. The first set of trees and mangrove saplings were planted in 1983, which led to the process of converting the dumping ground into a park.

For its watering needs, the park has developed a rainwater harvesting system atop their main office building, and inside the courtyard. The collected rainwater is diverted to a pond, which supplies the water to the rest of the park.

Located between the neighbourhoods of Dharavi and Sion, the park is a getaway for seekers of natural surroundings, photographers, and wildlife experts/enthusiasts.

I walked into this park without any expectations. Twenty minutes into following one of the pathways, I found a spot under a tree and began writing about this green wonder, with child-like curiosity. A gentle breeze continued to blow, often varying in intensity; and, as if on a cue, the branches and leaves swayed. Birds chirped, competing against the distant city noise.

A couple of Mumbai cops arrived in their jeep. One of them stepped out, spread his mat on a wide walkway, and prepared for a siesta under a tree. A bunch of security guards kept an eye on some out-of-bound trails, where the reptiles were found. But the park was all but deserted.

The city, however, is inescapable. On the other side of the Mithi river, office buildings at the Bandra-Kurla Complex can be seen, with the NSE logo never fading away despite the distance from the park. That distance might be bridged, once the park’s redevelopment kicks off — and that might cost the park its characteristic anonymity.

Here’s what Hindustan Times reported on July 30, 2017:

“The Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA) wants to redevelop the park and beautify it with a pedestrian-cycling bridge — connecting Bandra-Kurla-Complex with the nature park — a water-front promenade all along a one and a half kilometre stretch of the Mithi river, a multi-storey parking lot, build new office buildings, play area for children, library, watchtower, cafe, bird walk and a butterfly park.”

The contract for the park’s makeover has been awarded to Mumbai-based firm Sameep Padora and Associates (sP+a), The Hindu reported earlier this year.

Here are some pictures from my visit to the Park:

IMG_1373

IMG_1365

IMG_1375

IMG_1305

IMG_1288

IMG_1336

IMG_1339

IMG_1345

IMG_1348

IMG_1362

IMG_1363

FullSizeRender

IMG_1286

IMG_1329

The park is open to visitors from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm, with a fee of 10 rupees applicable per person. Photography charges may apply.

The deceptive solitude of Mumbai’s Afghan Church

If you’re in Mumbai’s Navy Nagar area, the Afghan Church cannot escape your eye. The monumental architecture of the Church of St. John the Evangelist, as it is formally called, defies the scope of what a camera lens can capture. However, surrounded by trees and wild vegetation, a 60-metre high spire, with large Gothic-style windows and doors, the church’s property is mostly deserted. The Guardian, in its tour guide of Mumbai’s heritage Colaba area, called it a place of “fairytale solitude”.

The fairytale-like solitude may seem deceptive if you walk into the church with the awareness of what it stands for. Its eerie quietude is palpable, made more prominent by the brown texture of this monument. The church’s interior is furnished with stained glass panels, marble inlays, reredos, rifle pews, and memorial plaques.

Located in the leafy cantonment area of south Mumbai, this 19th century Gothic structure was built as a memorial to the British and Indian soldiers who died during the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839-42). It was the first of the three British invasions into Afghanistan, a country that has battled foreign forces since Alexander the Great. After the war, thousands of soldiers were killed during their retreat from Kabul back to British India, leaving a sole survivor who made it to the colony.

According to historian William Dalrymple, Lady Florentina Wynch Sale was “possibly the only Brit to come out of the first Afghan war…who arrived [from the retreat] with her daughter, seeds from her garden, and a grand piano.” She has recorded her experience in a book, A Journal of the Disasters in Affghanistan 1841-42. Dalrymple’s own account of the invasion was published in 2013 under the title “Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan”. These books are part of several studies on the Anglo-Afghan conflicts, a search on Amazon website shows.

Of late, this sprawling monument has made it to the news because of a land scam, a murder case (a woman’s dead body was found behind the church), apart from being one of the most sought-after places for Easter celebrations.

Here are some pictures from my visit to the church.

IMG_1160

IMG_1155

FullSizeRender (6)

IMG_1150

FullSizeRender (7)

FullSizeRender (4)

FullSizeRender (1)

IMG_1206

FullSizeRender (8)

IMG_1195

IMG_1212

IMG_1200

IMG_1167

FullSizeRender (2)

IMG_1166

The worlds of Marquez and a Gabo enthusiast

“…because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth”

“It was the last that remained of a past whose annihilation had not taken place because it was still in a process of annihilation, consuming itself from within, ending at every moment but never ending its ending”

“Thus they went on living in reality that was slipping away, momentarily captured by words, but which would escape irremediably when they forgot the values of the written letters”

“Time also stumbled and had accidents and could therefore splinter and leave an eternalized fragment in a room.”

“That the past was a lie, and the memory has no return…and the wildest and most tenacious love was an ephemeral truth in the end”

These words, as you might have guessed, belong to Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s most famous novel, ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude.’ It’s his epic masterpiece, which sold tens of millions of copies, about the rise and fall of the Buendia family through several generations of war and peace, affluence and poverty. It’s a history of a people who, in the early 19th century founded the village of Macondo in South America.

The above extracts, most of them from the last chapter, are bleak and decidedly ominous; reminding us, somewhat, of the terrible, suffocating and “reverberating” heat of Colombia. But it’s more than that – it’s the last chapter that reverberates in these lines, when the history of the Buendia family is revealed, “down to the most trivial details, one hundred years ahead of time.” The history that began with “the first of the line…tied to a tree” would end by “being eaten by the ants.”

And yet, despite its tragic and annihilistic texture, the novel became a “virtual guide” for someone from another part of the world.

Over two decades ago, photojournalist Fausto Giaccone travelled to Columbia on an assignment that would engulf him into Marquez’s phantasmagorical landscape of Latin America. So much so that the Nobel Laureate’s 1967 masterpiece became a “virtual guide” for Tuscany-born Giaccone, who, through Marquez, found an access route to Columbia. Much like millions of readers across the world, he partook in Colombia’s “topography, its history, its traditions, and its pains, its lights and its shadows.”

But Giaccone didn’t just move on to another novel after finishing Marquez, something many of us would normally do. And what followed then was an incisive photographic investigation into the “close relationship” between Colombia and the literary world of its most well-known writer.

Reading Marquez’s 2002 memoir volume “Living to Tell the Tale” transformed Giaccone’s obsession with the writer into a book of his own, “Macondo – The World of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.” The photo book is the result of the journalist’s travels through the places of Marquez’s novels and his life, including the writer’s birthplace Aracataca, the source for the mythical Macondo village in his greatest work.

The images, shot in black and white film, are on display at the Instituto Cervantes in New Delhi. The exhibition was first showcased in Goa last year.

As you revisit Marquez through Giaccone’s lens, a vast scape of everyday life, personal and social histories, and colonial remnants comes live. But to say that the collection, as with most monochrome pictures, evokes nostalgia would be an understatement. Juxtaposed with the “magical” prose of Gabo, a nickname given by friends and fans, the photographs can be seen as an extension of the writer’s universe.

With a narrative of its own, the Giaccone show, rarely letting go of the novel’s intensely pessimistic quotes, has a bemoaning quality to it. And his subjects, the South Americans, nonchalantly go about their daily business. The bewildering contrast, stark in its absoluteness, is hard to miss.

Aracataca, Marquez’s hometown, features prominently in the exhibition. Once a boomtown of American banana companies in the 20th century, today it is home to thousands of refugees from Colombia’s endemic violence. Unfit drinking water, unemployment and drug trafficking are its other problems.

In Giaccone, Aracataca is quiet, at times apathetic, involving little activity in terms of daily life and, often, wistful.

Walking through his gallery is akin to re-reading parts of Marquez’s novel, just like this one: “Macondo was a village of 20 adobe houses built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs,” Marquez wrote in the first chapter of ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’. The photographer found the so-called prehistoric eggs, or probably their lookalike, in the Cataca river as a boy washes his motorbike.

In another picture, a man plays Vallenato music, popular on the Colombian coast and a favourite of Marquez. On the wall is seen a portrait of blind musician Leandro Diaz, a legend to Vallenato music fans.

The show also features a hundred-year-old building, the Academia de baile, once a dance hall for banana plantation workers. In another, an old woman fills water in a banana plantation near Aracataca, followed by another image that shows a washing plant on a banana plantation.

The show’s “hundred-year-old” allegory continues as you see a photograph of Marquez’s nanny, who was born in 1917. She must be 98 now. You walk past a sleepy lane showing a deserted house where the Garcia Marquez family lived in the thirties and forties. A young man, who inspired the character of Santiago Nasar in ‘Chronicle of a Death Foretold’, lived next door, the caption says.

Sitting atop a huge book is a nude statue of Remedios the Beauty at the entrance to the town of Aracataca. Wings are scattered all over this structure. A mysterious, but enchanting, character in ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude,’ here she is made to look like a pale angel, much like her last moments in the novel, when she ascended to the “upper atmosphere…in the midst of flapping sheets that rose up with her.”

The most striking image in the entire collection is of a woman cutting the hair of a man, probably her husband, as a young girl, maybe their child, sits in his lap. The caption next to the image reads: “Thus they went on living in reality that was slipping away, momentarily captured by words, but which would escape irremediably when they forgot the values of the written letters.” It’s a telling, fateful line, cleverly attached to the sight of a mundane existence, lending a semblance of oblivion to the transient nature of life, much like Aureliano in the last chapter of the book. As he deciphers the final pages of the parchment, he discovers that he would never be able to leave the room he was sitting in as it was the moment of denouement for “this city of mirrors or mirages”. Death, it turns out, was an accidental revelation for him.

When in Barog hill station, do nothing

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Yeah, that’s what I did – nothing; I slept like an infant, ate like a wolf and trekked with wanderlust.

Nestled in oak and pine forests, Barog is a pristine hill station on the Kalka-Shimla highway. It’s about half-an-hour drive from Kasauli, another short holiday destination.

Did you know a British engineer, whose name was Barog, committed suicide here? Here’s his incredulous story: He was incharge of building the Barog tunnel, the longest on the Kalka-Shimla railway track, which is now a World Heritage Site. Due to a railway alignment error, he was fined a rupee. Unable to bear the shame, he shot himself during a walk with his dog. Buried close to the Barog station, his grave – like his story – seems to have been lost in obscurity.

But Barog, named after the unfortunate man, is anything but spooky. Standing in the vicinity of where the engineer might have been laid to rest, the Scottish style station offers the perfect sundown view of the hills.

We met the station master, who had been working there for many many years, through the week, and ensured the place was spic and span. And indeed it was. Before we left, he pointed out a spot on the platform that once had a board, which read – “Indians and dogs not allowed.”

During the walk back to the “main” Barog road, you hear the sound of silence, amplified by cold winds. There are little or no tourists either in this little unknown outpost in Himachal Pradesh.

Four of us checked into Barog Heights, a relatively new sprawling property that is built in the midst a stunning green valley. My room was cold, and the food was bland; even the humblest of dishes lacked any taste. A dhaba, a short walk down the hotel, came to our rescue with half a dozen boiled eggs, spicy kadi chawal and rounds of milky tea. [Though locally brewed Apple wine would have been just the right drink, it was out of stock at every theka we stopped at.]

After a quick breakfast we walked again, this time to the top of a hill to visit a campsite run by retired faujis. And then time stopped for a good forty minutes as we beheld a spectacular view. Ferocious winds blew right in our faces, making sounds in concentric circles. Wrapped up in woolen caps, mufflers and hoods, we sat there, not speaking to each other.

Sometime later, we returned to our principal obsession – eating, at the beautiful and very warm Pinewood Café, run by the state as part of its big hotel there. I distinctly remember the smell of food. Poori aloo, sandwiches, omelets, cutlets.

Like many (but not all) state-run properties, Hotel Pinewood felt homely and warmer than Barog Heights, a walk through the premises revealed. We decided to have lunch there, which was so good, we skipped dinner. Well, almost.

On our way back, we spent some time in Kasauli. After taking in a panoramic view of the plains, including Chandigarh’s Sukna Lake, from the top of a Hanuman temple, it was time to hang out at the mall road. To get a taste of the British-era architecture, walk into a 19th century church that leads to a short mall road. At the end of the bazaar, try pickles made of meat. And definitely stop by at a photo studio which has pictures of India’s famous people – from the world of films, sports, politics – to its credit.

Braving a troop of menacing monkeys, we gorged on desi Chinese food from a kiosk that gave other eateries a run for their money at the mall.

It was time to go back, to routine, agendas, alarm clocks and a life that rarely gives the opportunity to look up and notice the sky.