The visual perks of a Cuffe Parade office in Mumbai

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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.

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

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The World Trade Centre

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The World Trade Centre

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An unusual sight of a tree inside the World Trade Centre

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An pan-India sari exhibition at the World Trade Centre

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Anonymous artwork at the World Trade Centre

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The World Trade Centre complex

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Outside the Maker Shopping Arcade

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The Cuffe Parade Garden

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View of the Arabian sea from the Cuffe Parade garden

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The World Trade Centre

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The World Trade Centre shopping arcade

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The World Trade Centre shopping arcade

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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.

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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.

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Alibag – a holiday destination for art lovers

It was an advertisement of an art exhibition that led me to Alibag, a sleepy coastal town south of Mumbai.

Famous for its scenic beaches and sprawling properties of the rich, Alibag is also a holiday destination for art and culture aficionados, besides being a weekend respite for Mumbai residents. I spent a day looking at — collectibles and contemporary art-works at The Guild gallery, the multi-disciplinary repertoire of artist Dashrath Patel, and a permanent showcase of Vinayak Pandurag Karmarkar’s sculptures.

IMG_0800The Guild art gallery, Alibag

IMG_0805Collectibles at The Guild

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IMG_0806The Guild courtyard

IMG_0845Dashrath Patel Museum, Alibag

IMG_0842Painting by Dashrath Patel

IMG_0831Sculptures by Vinayak Pandurang Karmarkar

An elaborate brunch awaited us at Bohemyan Blue, a garden café nestled in the wilderness of Alibag. Sitting in the verandah, we gorged on a large meal, which comprised of scrambled eggs, aloo paranthas, chicken sandwich, pots of coffee, and carrot beetroot juice. It poured heavily; there were no other guests to be seen, besides a friend and myself. As we ate, we beheld the luxuriant foliage of the property, and found ourselves captivated by the stillness of Alibag.

We walked towards a patch of wild vegetation, near the café, which hosted the stay area of a dozen luxury tents for tourists. The land had a swimming pool and an al fresco restaurant, where the radio was playing. There were no listeners, however.

IMG_0765Bohemyan Blue café

IMG_0771Bohemyan Blue café

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IMG_0799Bohemyan Blue gift shop

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The Alibag spell was soon broken when we reached Mumbai the following night. We grabbed a table at Café Universal, one of the city’s famous Parsi restaurants. The century-old café’s charming interior was a sight of redemption amid the stadium-like boisterousness of the guests.

That night, on my way back to my apartment from the café, I thought of the early morning in Alibag. It was a little before 6 a.m., when I had woken up to the sight of palm fronds soaked in rain. The morning felt crisp and tranquil, as if I’d never been tired. The short trip made me realise what we’re missing out on by living in cities like Mumbai and Delhi, and the harm they are causing us.

IMG_0756Drive around Kihim village

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IMG_0859Sasawane village 

IMG_0856Varsoli beach

IMG_0852Varsoli beach

IMG_0860Varsoli beach