The Day’s Just Starting.

The alarms went off, not the physical ones which are ever so kind and ring only when they’re supposed to and stop at your command, the alarms in context here have no sense of respect, they will come at you with a vendetta solely meant to disturb you and your balance and ironically get stronger the more you try to stop them. Apparently labelling them as anxiety, intrusive thoughts or ‘stress’ makes you more aware of them, only acting as a paradox to pull you in more towards them. I was up, immediately, unlike the days where you feel like a cocoon just not ready to open itself up, this was one where the moment you open your eyes you know it is going to be an exhausting one from the minute you are awoken, not awake. 

I didn’t shower, the thought of water trickling down my face, my body while I just sat there stirring in my own thoughts, losing the grip on my reality, almost morphing into an immovable object didn’t seem so appealing to me. I put on what I wore last night, the clothes still smelled of hope, something I needed. To make this an entirely dismal morning, I topped it off with some espresso, and it was good to go through my day feeling like shit.

I did have something to drown myself in, a social gathering at my aunt’s place and the drive was over 30kms, though I cannot say I don’t love it. It is something that puts me at ease, it is dynamic, the experience is never the same, every time it is different. You can drive through the same route for over 30 years of your life, wearing the same attire as you step into your office every day, but the people you see on the road will always be different. It’s change, the one thing associated with fear, but the one thing true to life. The realisation of the moving nature of life is a respite, it is a safe haven because the passing nature of my feelings is now in front of my eyes, all i need to do is to be (and not move my eyes away), let them displace themselves while i observe the little guy knocking on my window. He probably doesn’t even know what anxiety is, for him his fears are only limited to his tongue tasting his own saliva throughout the day, or water if he can get lucky. 

I could hear his muffled voices through the window, their sounds drowning out the voices in my head which were overflowing with anger. I pulled down my window. The trembles in his speech now clear, ‘Sir, 20 rupees only, high quality tissue paper, please sir.  Kuch nahi khaya hai subah se. Please sir.’

He had the face of every beggar I’ve come across, they tilt their heads, frown, engaging more face muscles in that activity as opposed to smiling, which really does not help their cause. But his honest attempt at the pre-trained English has led me to giving him a crisp 20 rupee note. He smiles at me, the windows in his mouth give me a clearer look at his plaque ridden gums. I move away. He is now waiting for the next set of cars to arrive while I look at him through the mirror. 

Looking at him, that desolate child who was brought into this world by his parents only to suffer everyday made me think about last night and as I was moving through space and time here in front of the wheel, while I let my body steer, I permitted my mind to wander. The couch sinking in from the weight of my body, and a paperback leading me to a world of its own, the night seemed flawless. We keep the gate of our home open, laziness being the reason here. A family of three walked in, I put down my book, the couch returning back to its original shape as I greeted them. I didn’t know we were expecting guests. 

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The man was a distant relative, and had the marks of struggle all over his body, his beard probably around the third day of him not shaving, the eyes expressing nothing but exhaustion and drowsiness, and his smile gave a peek into his teeth being red, probably from him chewing paan, his anchor to his painful reality. He smelled of despair and his aura was contagious. You could see the same colours on his wife, her distinct forced smile as she greeted my mother hinting at the frayed relationship they had. What stood out amongst this humble family was their 4 year old child, who was supposed to tie them together but now was probably another reminder of their unhappiness, the intentional knot was now an obligation. 

He has the average height of a 4 year old, skinny, but had a mouth full of teeth and a black dot at the corner of his forehead, ironically to ward off evil energies. The father sat besides me and started making small talk while my mother and his wife went in the kitchen to let their woes out. I don’t enjoy involuntary conversations, but i felt pity for that man. Whenever reality gets too painful you shift towards imagined ones because they seem hopeful. I knew he would be excited about movies as I am no stranger to the pleasures of an escape to a fictional world. I ask him, ‘Did you see that new show on Bombay Mafia which was released recently?’ I could sense my speech imitating his.

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His eyes lit up and I knew what I needed to do next. 

Smiling through his decayed gums, he went on, ‘solid show hai yaar, jhakaas. I love the man’s acting. I finished the whole thing in one night. You need to download it right now. I love watching these series. It’s my favourite timepass. Bhaari hai ye sab. Ekdum best’

I wanted him to go on even though I had seen it, so I pose my next question, ‘Recommend me some? Tell me about your recent favourites.’

As he continued with his boring description of supposed cinematic masterpieces, I noticed the child. Since the time he entered the home, he hasn’t sat in one place, or had engaged in a particular activity completely. He was running from one room to the next, falling, curiously checking out the trophies which mother had displayed in the living room, running again, outside the home, coming back in, waving to his father whom i suppose he loves, taking a bite out of the chocolate i had offered him, then moving again. He was hyperactive. I paid attention for a few minutes and realised he probably had ADHD. 

I cut his father off while he is now absent from the living room, ‘Is he like this at home too?’

Seriousness now being the dominant emotion, he says, ‘All the time, he can never stay in one place man. It’s like there is a spring in him which makes him jump all the time. He tires me out yaar.’ I wanted to say something in that moment, but I knew my words wouldn’t have been received well. I continued to listen to him, I got the sense that’s something he needed, and didn’t have the privilege of, his day only permitting him tiny slivers of pleasure through his phone screen. I wondered whether the child will go through his whole life without being noticed, by the people that brought him here? The question is heavier than what I can take that night. I let go.

Conclusions regarding this memory allowed me to reach my aunt’s with a raging headache. I attribute it to the stress of forced conversations that were to follow. The ignition stops, but my mind’s still running. I stay there for a while and let myself breathe. The day’s just starting.

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A Day In Mumbai!

Recently, I took up the duty to show an acquaintance across my city and give them an idea of what Mumbai really is. I just had about 5-6 hours on hand and decided to make the most of it. The idea was to show them the raw energy the people of Mumbai possessed and it’s rich culture that included the iconic buildings the Britishers left us.

Kala-Ghoda-Cafe-frontOur trip began with having lunch at the renowned ‘Kala Ghoda Cafe’. A cafe that is listed in the city’s “Must Go To” cafes as well as a recommendation on Trip Advisor. It is a small, quaint cafe hidden amidst the narrow streets of the city. It took us a few minutes to find it, but it was totally worth the effort. A cafe that has a menu with vegan and gluten free options, richly cooked food and some amazing beverages.

Since we’d decided to see Mumbai in its true light, we conferred it was best if we walked through the streets than drive around everywhere. The closest and our first destination was The Asiatic Library.

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The Asiatic Society of Mumbai is a learned society in the field of Asian studies based in Mumbai, India. It can trace its origin to the Literary Society of Bombay which first met in Mumbai on 26 November 1804, and was founded by Sir James Mackintosh. It was formed with the intention of “promoting useful knowledge, particularly such as is now immediately connected with India”.

The library of the Society has over a hundred thousand books out of which 15,000 are classified as rare and valuable. It also has priceless artefacts and over 3,000 ancient manuscripts in Persian, Sanskrit and Prakrit, mostly on paper but some on palm leaf. The numismatic collection of 11,829 coins includes a gold coin of Kumaragupta I, a rare gold mohur of Akbar and coins issued by Shivaji. Its map collection comprises 1300 maps. This library holds 1 of the 2 copies of Dante’s Divine Comedy.

Right besides the Asiatic Library are the old abandoned buildings which are now taken over by The Indian Navy. You’ll find a finely painted mural on its walls which tells you about what exists beyond those walls. From here, we walked through the streets towards the famous Colaba Causeway.

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The Causeway has found it’s way into various books by some renowned writers who spent some time here in the city back in the 80’s and early 90’s. One of the most famous ones being in the book ‘Shantaram’ by Gregory David Roberts.

bombay-natural-history-society.jpgOn our way towards the causeway, we walked past the Bombay Natural History Society, Regal Cinemas and The Maharashtra Police Headquarters.

Since our guest had just recently seen “Hotel Mumbai” based on the terror attacks that took place on 26th November 2008, they also wanted to see the locations that were affected. Accordingly, the next location was The Gateway of India and The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.

The Gateway of India is an arch-monument built in the early twentieth century in the city of Mumbai erected to commemorate the landing in December 1911 at Apollo Bunder, Mumbai (then Bombay) of King-Emperor George V and Queen-Empress Mary, the first British monarch to visit India.

The gateway was used as a symbolic ceremonial entrance to British India for important colonial personnel. It has been called a symbol of “conquest and colonisation” commemorating British colonial legacy. The gateway is also the monument from where the last British troops left India in 1948, following Indian independence. It is located on the waterfront at an angle, opposite the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel and overlooks the Arabian Sea. These are some of the most visited tourist spots in the city today.

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The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, is a heritage, five-star, luxury hotel built in the Saracenic Revival style in Colaba historically known as the “Taj Mahal Hotel” or the “Taj Palace Hotel” or simply “the Taj”.

Part of the Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces, this hotel with its 560 rooms and 44 suites is considered the flagship property of the group; it employs some 1,600 staff. The hotel is made up of two different buildings: the Taj Mahal Palace and the Tower, which are historically and architecturally distinct from each other (the Taj Mahal Palace was built at the start of the twentieth century; the Tower was opened in 1973). The hotel has a long and distinguished history, having received many notable guests, from presidents to captains of industry and stars of show business. The hotel is notorious as the most visible target of the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

From here, we headed to Leopold Cafe nearby. The cafe has been mentioned extensively in the novel Shantaram and its sequel The Mountain Shadow. Cafe Mondegar is another cafe just a 2 minute walk away from Leopold Cafe. 

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It was founded in 1871 by Iranis. It first started out as a wholesale cooking oil store and over the years has variously been a restaurant, store and pharmacy (hence the name “Leopold Cafe & Stores”). Prior to the terrorist attack, it was particularly known as a popular hangout for foreign tourists. After the attack, it is also now also popular with many Indians to commemorate the spirit of defiance. The Leopold Cafe has preserved some of the signs of the attack as a memorial, whereas at the Taj and Trident, the damage from the attacks has been repaired.

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We spent almost 2 hours heckling, negotiating and shopping at the street stalls right outside the cafe. One can score a huge bargain here and it’s quite fun. Moving further, we hit our last spot of the evening, which was The Trident Hotel and then spent time walking along Marine Lines and just sitting by the sea and listening to the water.

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One notable spot that we missed out on was The Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, which if you aren’t aware of too well, you’d mistake with the police headquarters.

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This was our entire afternoon and evening spent in Mumbai. An ideal trip and bunch of locations to cover if you have just 1 day to sightsee or explore.

Regards,

The Travellothoner.

 

Mumbai Riders – Midnight Cycling

My Experience:

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I went cycling with this group back in 2016 and it was something I had been wanting to do for a while, ie, explore the streets of Mumbai on my bike. It was a totally different experience for me, viewing this city in a totally different lens altogether. Riding past some of the most iconic buildings and streets this city harbours. After my ride, as luck would have it, the founder Rishi Shah turned out to be a college mate, and I instantly started volunteering and helping him host these rides. And each ride has had such a diverse bunch of people, that it feels like a new experience each time.

We’ve hosted cyclists and sports enthusiasts, people just looking for a different experience away from the routine Saturday Night Partying, people who do it from a fitness perspective or as a group activity, etc. And people from various fields like software development, finance, medicine, construction, engineering , psychology, entrepreneurs, etc, ranging from as young as 15 year olds to 50+ year olds. The best part about these rides is the route. For a person living in the suburbs, my frequency of going to the other side of town is very scarce, and I have always wanted to explore these areas up close.

About Colaba:

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Colaba is one of the oldest and one of the first places to be occupied in Mumbai. Constructed by The East India Company in 1838 it occupied the 2 islands of Colaba and Old Woman’s Island.

The architecture of the area is reminiscent of the old Bombay, fact highlighted by buildings like National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Regal Cinema, Prince of Wales Museum (now Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Museum) and Cusrow Baug, a Parsi residential colony built in 1934, covering an area of 84,000 square yards, which home to over 500 families. Plus the area is also hub of various art galleries, which makes this area a natural destination for artist community.

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Apart from upmarket retail showrooms, and small shops dealing in electronic goods, cosmetics and music, it a has pavement book stall dating back several decades, besides having numerous small shops and footpath outlets selling everything from artefacts to shawls, carpets and minor antiques to slippers of all kind, which make tourists, backpackers and locals from South Mumbai, throng the area through the year.

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Among the restaurants, cafes and roadside eateries that make the street popular with tourists and locals alike are the Indian Mughlai fame Delhi Darbar restaurant, Piccadilly restaurant, Cafe Churchill, Mings Palace. Cafe Mondegar, and the Cafe Leopold were founded by Iranians in 1871.

Other visitors’ attractions in the area are historical structures like Church of St John the Evangelist (Afghan Church) in the nearby Navy Nagar, built by the British to commemorate the dead of the disastrous First Afghan War of 1838, and the Sassoon Docks, built in 1875, by Albert Abdullah David Sassoon(1818–1896), son of David Sassoon, a philanthropist Baghdadi Jew. Today the Sassoon Docks house, one of the largest fish market of Mumbai city. 

About The Ride

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We start from Happy Cycle Shop towards Taj Gateway and then head towards Regal Cinema. From there, we ride to Asiatic Library. From there, we head to the High Court, CST/BMC Building and then towards Metro Cinemas. From Xaviers we head up the bridge to Marine Lines. From hereon, we move towards Valkeshwar and then Peddar Road. We go up the road and then cycle our way to Haji Ali.

Moving onward from Haji Ali, we take a U-Turn from NSCI Dome, and head back via Breach Candy towards Marine Lines and then head to Colaba. It take a total of 3 hours, we provide refreshments and take several water breaks at some checkpoints. All in all, it is a joy ride which enables you to navigate South Bombay on 2 wheels.

If interested in participating, you can find us on Facebook at Mumbai Riders. We organise approximately 2 rides a month.

-The Travellothoner