Mumbai Diary – I: The Maiden Embrace

Mumbai!

Goodness gracious! Look at it his way… I had practically whiled away 35 years of my life, doing nothing except longing wishfully to soak up the gargantuan metropolis into my veins! So when I finally touched down at Santacruz and hailed a taxi to take me to Kemps Corner, I knew my inexorable wait was finally over. As the taxi exited Vile Parle and shot through the arterial Western Express Highway at breakneck speeds, Mumbai’s shimmering spectacle leisurely stretched out before my excited eyes. The unmistakable salty air that rushed in and ruffled whatever was left of my hairline wasn’t any different from that of any other coastal city, only that the towering sun kissed skyline at the horizon played up an aura of a vast, and infinitely imposing habitation of 20 million dreams.

Raju, my cab driver, sensed I was new to Mumbai. How, I couldn’t fathom. Though he didn’t prove himself to be an articulate fellow, he nevertheless made it a point to mention the landmarks he crossed. That was how I came to know that the Race Course, where Mumbai’s glitterati rubbed shoulders with the equally humungous stallions, abutted Mahalaxmi and that Dadar housed the famous Shivaji Park, Tendulkar’s alma mater. I, on my part, marvelled at Raju’s phenomenal driving ability, my perception of which went on wavering between what appeared to be ‘thrilling’ most of the times to downright ‘hair-raising’ on a few occasions. After some breathtaking manoeuvring, which involved squeezing through traffic between BEST buses, skinning a few other taxis on the way and petrifying about three dozen pedestrians and two dozen dogs, he dropped me at my destination in a little over 40 minutes. As I proceeded to pay him, he demanded a tip of twenty rupees over and above the legitimate fare, a demand that I politely declined. He sulked, dumped my luggage in the middle of the road, and drove off in a huff, though this profoundly uncharitable act hardly seemed to affect me. Streets in Kemps Corner are not even 20 feet across!

I had taken enough pains to book a single room in advance, yet, to my dismay, I discovered that the hotel where I had checked in had its hands full, with only a large double room vacant. After some clever, diplomatic and animated dialogue, a settlement was reached which was agreeable to both parties. I checked into the double room (the manager was intent upon calling it a ‘soot’) without having to pay a dime extra. I had threatened to walk out and go to the other hotel across the road!

After a quick shower, and then after an even quicker bite, I ambled off on foot to look for Om Chambers, my destination for the afternoon. As the narrow streets snaked upwards towards Cumballa Hill, I was struck with the magnificence of the place. Everything about Kemps Corner had a touch of natural splendour to it. The dense foliage lining the arched flyover scattered the sunshine into a million sparkling rays that bounced off the surrounding skyscrapers, lending the place an unparalleled radiance. The shops in the alleys were all small, nothing like those enormous showrooms which you would readily and unhesitatingly associate with Mumbai. Yet they were bustling with activity. As I passed a small bakery, a strong aroma of freshly baked cookies knocked me out. The result was an unscheduled halt and an addition of a few hundred careless calories to my corpulent system in the form of a grilled chicken sandwich and chocolate pastry, both of which tasted absolutely divine. Outside, I could see a few pedestrians, lazily crisscrossing the intersections, while a lone traffic constable was keeping an eye on the traffic. I reached my destination before long, and soon lost myself in a maze of endoscopes and other state of the art surgical gadgetry, the principle purpose of my visit to Mumbai.

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