I don’t really remember what fateful day it was when I decided that a trip to Mumbai was warranted. I was still a student perhaps. Or not. I don’t know. All I know was that I, a resident of the National Capital, was dying to see the Commercial Capital for a long, long time. And that after years and years of failed plans, one of them actually came to fruition in the beginning of May.
For me, there hasn’t been anything like this before—full of unexpected surprises, mouthwatering delicacies, profound questions, observational overloads, and drama! So much drama! What more could you want from a holiday? I won’t go as far as to say that I’m back as a completely different person—but I’ve definitely gained experiences that I won’t be forgetting them in a hurry.
As a born-and-bred Delhiite I was excited to observe a city from up-close which terms itself as truly cosmopolitan, and I was not disappointed! There are subtle differences between the two cities, which a keen observer can easily spot. Just like Delhi, there are numerous milk booths that dot Mumbai, but instead of Mother Dairy, they say Brihanmumbai Milk Supply. Similarly, green DTC becomes red BEST, dustbins promote Chakachak Mumbai instead of Clean Delhi, Green Delhi, the minimum auto-fare is Rs. 15 instead of Rs. 25, the roads are narrower and real estate lot more expensive. They actually juice watermelons and nobody seems to mind the excessive humidity much!
I stayed there at a place called Seven Bunglow, in Andheri West, at my Mama-Mami’s place (Ajay and Rekha Munjal—wonderful people!). This is what you see when you look out of their window –
I know, right? Breathtaking! When the mood is quiet you can even hear the musical sound of lazy waves. The very first thing I did after reaching there and freshening up was to perch myself on the window ledge with my diary and my pen. Writing in such a soothing atmosphere was a delight! Other than an infrequent stench of fish, it was a great experience.
The first half of my first day in Mumbai went like this. Since we were exhausted after the long journey by Rajdhani Express, Mom and I slept for a bit before catching up on news and the first venturing out in the city. It was the famous ISKCON-Juhu.
Mumabi’s ISKCON temple is situated in Juhu, in a sprawling four-acre campus that houses the shrine, an auditorium, and a towering guest house too. Due to the venerable luck of “knowing” somebody, Mami arranged for someone to guide us around the temple. He turned out to be a rather short, bespectacled IITian who was spending his break from a HolidayInn internship at the temple in order to learn the scriptures. Quite a jovial and honest chap! He gave us a complete tour of ISKCON-Juhu, starting from His Divine Grace A C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada’s living quarters (his office, as he used to call it!), to the main sanctum sanctorum. As expected, the idols of Sri Sri Gaura Nitai, Sri Sri Radha Rasbihari and Sri Sri Sita Ram Lakshman Hanuman are beautiful and exquisitely decorated. The devotees in the main temple hall were transfixed to their own bhakti. You could see them dancing, or chanting, or singing, or playing music—all in the name of God. To an outside observer like me, the scene was nothing short of magic. Walls adorned with paintings depicting scenes of Krishna’s life… Beautiful exhibits of various saints of ancient and modern India on both sides of the main hall… The very air charged up with the electrifying presence of hundreds of devotees… The whole visit was awe-inspiring.
ISKCON-Juhu is much more than a temple though. Other than being a host to Swamiji’s living quarters, is also houses a library where you can peruse the ancient texts as well as works by Swamiji in almost every Indian language. Inside the library you can also view a miniature exhibit of Jaladoot—the freight ship which carried Swamiji to the United States for him to preach the teachings of Krishna.
In addition to the library, the temple campus has a meditation center, a sweetshop (yum!), a bookshop (heaven!), and an eating area where they have ISKCON’s biggest attraction—the sumptuous food! (Devotees would argue that it is the sanctum itself, but the foodie in me would tend to disagree.)
If ever they give out the prize for the most glamorous temple in India, or the most newsworthy one, Siddhivinayak will easily be one of the top contenders. The trust that manages the temple is already the richest in the country, and it is the favorite divine destination for many a celebrities that live in Mumbai, or even elsewhere.
I had the chance to visit the famous temple on the second day of my Mumbai stay. For some strange reason I had the notion that visiting the temple required climbing a lot of stairs (maybe I have watched too many Bollywood movies!). So I was pleasantly surprised to find none.
I was also longing to taste Ganesha’s favorite sweet—the Modak. There are a lot of shops (stalls, I should say?) that sell so many varieties of it in the temple complex itself. Apparently they come in a lot of sizes and a lot of colors! (They all agree on the shape though). The complex has a typically Indian arrangement—you need to get into a large serpentine line in order to get inside. The sanctum is small and not so well lit. Pujaris surround Ganesha’s idol, police officers man each nook and cranny of the place (there is one inside the sanctum also). And no one is allowed darshan for more than a few seconds. Very unlike ISKCON though, where the very idea of God is larger than life and there is virtually no restriction on attendance.
There is also a unique way in which the devotees express themselves in front of their favorite God in Siddhivinayak. After Ganesha Darshan, they go to the idol of Mooshak—Ganesha’s rodent transport, and whisper their wishes in its ears! (I did not witness it firsthand as the day I went there, the idol was removed due to a large number of devotees present).
All in all, it was really worth paying a visit to this legendary temple. True, it doesn’t match up with the utter magnificence of ISKCON in any way, yet spiritually it is its equal in every way.
All this temple thronging gave me a lot to think about. Why is it that people attach so much devotion to mere idols of stone? Why is it that some temples are considered to be more holy than the rest? What good does it do to people when they pray, hoping for divine intervention in their mundane, everyday problems?
The way I see it, I don’t think that there is any divinity in praying. And average person goes to a temple mostly for wish fulfillment. (I know I’m generalizing, but stay with me). People visit temples either because they want some of their wishes fulfilled, or they have suffered some major loss / disappointment in their life and they want to recover from it. They visit temples hoping the God will help them, and they go back to their lives looking for signs of divine intervention. They keep faith, that God will help them. And you know what? Help comes too. Their wish gets fulfilled, or they recover from whatever misfortune that had struck them.
Did God do anything? No, not really. I don’t think so. It’s their own faith and hope the works wonders. Yet many don’t understand this. they still praise God for whatever good that happens to them.
No doubt faith is a powerful ally. When you have faith in some omnipresent power to set things right for you, you fail to realize that there is, in fact, no omnipresent power. It all is a matter of willpower. Those who lack it, turn to God for help. And He does help, but not in the way you like to think. He doesn’t raise an invisible hand and takes away all your troubles—you acquire the strength yourself to fend them off, because you believe the somebody up there is helping you. The mind works in mysterious ways, and the power of thought is limitless!
After Siddhivinayak, I had exhausted my quota for Godliness in the city of Glamour, and I was longing to see the sights that the city had to offer. So Mama took mom and me to a guided tour that lasted most of the Sunday. He has lived in the city for nearly three decades and knows Mumbai intimately, so it was a pleasure traveling with him. He showed me so many things that I scarcely remember them all!
We started with Nariman Point, where the power brokers of Mumbai come to work. We saw Hanging Gardens with their lush greenery and ample fruit trees. Kamla Nehru Park with the famous Boot and the incredible view of the Queen’s Necklace. We saw the Governor’s house from a distance and marveled at the luxury in which he lives. We saw the Linking Road—which is compared to London’s High Street as the shopping destination favored by who’s who. We saw the Cuffe Parade road where property prices are sky high and houses are only accessible to the super rich. We saw the Breach Candy and the Lilawati hospitals—where the ailing glamorous regularly go to get themselves treated. We saw the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, which is an engineering marvel in itself. We passed the Worli sea-face and had the most delicious bottle of flavored milk ever! We visited Colaba and saw the Leopold Cafe—where many of the events of Gregory David Roberts’ magnum opus Shantaram take place. We took a ferry ride from the Gateway of India (which is just a cheap way to go somewhat further into the filthy waters that is the Mumbai sea, but enjoyable nonetheless).
We passes the houses of the richest industrialists and the most popular Bollywood celebrities. Looking at them, I could only imagine the affluence in which they lead their everyday lives. Being a die hard fan, I even clicked a picture of Mr Bachchan’s house. (Also, having a friend who is a die hard SRK fan, I clicked a picture of his house too, for her sake!). We saw the Bombay Stock Exchange, the famous Haji Ali dargah, the ever-so-intimate Juhu Beach, the imposing Taj Palace Hotel and the boisterous Chowpatty. We saw the grounds where Sachin Tendulkar played cricket as a kid (which now serves as a mecca for aspiring players), and also the stadium where he bid adieu to the game. We saw the Jogger’s Park, and also a lot of joggers on the streets. We saw some of the richest neighborhoods of Mumbai, as well as some of the poorest. We were greatly dazzled by the riches, but slightly shocked by the poverty too. All in all, a typical cosmopolitan experience!
The Taj Palace!
BOM vs DEL
Touring the city from a stranger’s viewpoint, observing everything that could be observed, I could not help but make comparisons between the City of Dreams that I was visiting, and the City of Djinns in which I was born and brought up. I have never lived in any other city, much less in a city like Mumbai, which is a behemoth in itself! So I was pretty excited to observe each and every facet of a city which was completely alien to me. (I have always been fascinated by the unknown). I was confident that Delhi would win in the end—that Mumbai would turn out to be just another Indian city. But now that I have seen the sights and heard the sounds, I’m not so sure.
No power on earth can take away the glamour that is instilled in the very veins of Bombay. In which other city of the world can you go out for a stroll on a breezy night, pass a row of houses, and be informed that one of them belongs to Madhuri Dixit? In which other city of the world can you sit outside Amitabh Bachchan’s house and wait for him to come out in the balcony? And he actually shows up? Mumbai is the nerve center for the star struck!
Yet there are a number of things that are better in Delhi. We have wider roads, and (compared to Mumbai) ample parking space. I love the absence of humidity and excessive sweat. I love the fact that Delhi can expand, that colleges here have real playgrounds, and that you don’t have to smell fish if you don’t want to!
I also felt that Mumbai was in a constant turmoil. Ever in a hurry—never stopping, never looking back. Ever so resilient! Delhi’s street hawkers can never churn out burgers and momos at the speed with which a typical vada-pav vendor in Mumbai serves them out. A Delhiite can never imagine buying a Samsung Galaxy S5 from a shop that is filled with shoppers like a peak-hour metro and that also sells cosmetics and T-Shirts. Mumbai has stricter parking laws and enough policemen on duty to enforce them.
In the end, I can safely say that this Mumbai vs Delhi debate can never end. Each city is good and bad and unique in its own small ways. You cannot compare the two cities. One is an apple, other is an orange.
Thus concluded a rather whirlwind Sunday on the streets of Mumbai. As anyone would be after covering the length and breadth of a city in a single day, I was dead tired. But as it turns out, the day’s surprises were not over yet. When we reached home, we were treated with Mami’s magnificent cooking! She really is an innovative cook. I mean, can you imagine having a vegetable dosa, filled with cheese inside? I bet you can’t!!
The Great Indian Railways
As Monday inched closer, so did the time to leave. Yet there was one last thing to be done before going back—making sure that our return ticket was confirmed! Believe it or not, it turned out to be easier said than done, especially when Indian Railways was involved.
I’ve always loved train journeys. The long rides, the idyllic atmosphere, the scenery—farmlands, industries, towns, and hordes of cattle passing by, the relative calm and unhurriedness—they all fascinate me greatly. Which is why I had booked the onward and return journeys by Rajdhani Express. As is the custom while booking train tickets during summer holidays (not mine… the school kids’), they were heavily waitlisted. As dictated by the tickets, I waited on the list, hoping to get a confirmed berth by the time the date of departure arrived.
Tickets for the onward journey were confirmed just a couple of days before we were scheduled to go, but the return tickets were still waitlisted. We were supposed to leave on Tuesday evening, and by Monday the waitlist stood at 16. No wonder I was panicking!
Even an early morning trip to Andheri station did nothing to help, as even the Tatkal quota had filled up. That was the time when real anxiety set in!
I spent the entire day refreshing the PNR status page of the Indian Railways website. While doing it repeatedly, I cranked up my addition to the QuizUp app by several notches and ended up reaching level 42. For a short period of time, I stood at #1 globally for Harry Potter topic too!
By Tuesday morning, the waitlist had gone down to a healthy 7, so I was confident that we would make it. It kept getting closer and closer to the magic figure as the hours went by.
Alas! The battle was lost by a hair’s breadth. The reservation chart was prepared with our tickets finishing at W/L 1 and 2. That was when we decided to book a flight.
It cost a bomb.
While all this Railway drama was unfolding, I took some time off and paid a visit to the Mumbai office of IVP (I work in their Noida office). There are a fair amount of people who I know there. There are people from my own batch of joinees who attended their training in Noida before moving to work in Mumbai, and there are people with whom I have extensively worked with for the past few months in the same project. So I’ve always wanted to pay a visit to this particular workplace. Now that the opportunity presented itself, I grabbed at it!
The office didn’t turn out to be very far from my Mama’s place, and I got to meet my colleagues (some of them for the very first time!). Yet… it didn’t feel that I’d never met them in person before. I knew them, and they knew me! Some of the pleasures of telecommuting I guess!
The next steps
I visited the astonishing city for a mere four days. I perceived all I could… Took in everything that I laid my eyes on… Yet it feels somewhat incomplete. And why not? Whoever heard of witnessing whatever Mumbai has to offer in mere four days? Yes, another trip to this exquisite city is warranted. I want to experience everything that I haven’t. I want to spend time in Northern Mumbai, in Navi Mumbai, in India’s largest slum and the greatest Stock Market, in big air-conditioned malls and in sprawling outdoor markets, in cafes and in pubs, in a BEST bus and in a local train. I want to walk the entire shoreline and get drenched in the famous rains and see a shooting and find a writing corner on a beach and visit Ajanta and Ellora caves and experience Mumbai like a true Mumbaikar (although I ain’t one!).
I’m gonna have to be back. Soon.