Shinde dropped me right in front of Marina Mansion at the junction of S V Patel Marg and Marine drive, close to the staircase leading upto the footbridge. Across the road, on my right, lay Chowpatty, a vivid expanse of golden yellow sand, gloriously bathed in bright arc lights. It was 8.40 pm. I felt a bit of pity for Shinde, who, when I last saw him, was desperately fighting off a stubborn challenge by two stout Parsi ladies insisting on a lift. Poor chap. May his wife allow him to rest in peace (and in one piece) once he reaches home!
Slowly ascending the steps of the footbridge, I marvelled at the resplendent architecture of the buildings lining the Marine Drive. Though Marina Mansion seemed unremarkable in comparison to the other buildings, the rather dull appearance only belied the strategic importance of the three storeyed structure, which, I could bet, allowed one of the best views of the entire Chowpatty beach. I wondered if film and TV crews had already infested the block, premium space being such scarce in Mumbai! Opposite the Marina Mansion, stood Fulchand Niwas, home to a few well known restaurants in the Girgaum – Chowpatty area. I stood for a while on the footbridge, looking up at the imposing western façade of the Gothic structure, and reflected whether the visage bore any resemblance to the bow of the Titanic. Below, the Marine drive was a gush of molten gold, as thousands of vehicles streaked under the footbridge, their headlamps lighting up the promenade and spilling beyond.
Those who have seen the expansive coastlines of peninsular India and have been to the beaches in Goa, Kerala, Chennai, Andhra or Karnataka will agree that Chowpatty is a rather minuscule beach, perhaps a little more than half a kilometre across. But for Mumbai’s 20 million dreams, Chowpatty is an iconic symbol of emancipation, a liberation from the mundane, a deeply coveted indulgence after long and tedious hours of droning existence. It was nearly 9.00 pm, and quite dark beyond the arc lights. Straight ahead, the horizon was a blur in black, punctuated by a few obscure blushes of light coming from freighters docked in the distant sea. On the left, the Queen’s Necklace was like a dazzling apparition. Closer, and to the right, the waves slowly lapped on the sand, their dull white, phosphorescent linings breaking upon Chowpatty in a riot of fluorescent colours as Malabar Hill delicately tossed its extravagant radiance at the sea below.
I stood there, transfixed in awe, as I absorbed the tranquillity in muted silence. Many minutes may have passed, when my reverie was suddenly broken by squeals of little children chasing each other excitedly. I diverted my attention to the people around. There were many couples on the beach, some squatted on the sand and talking animatedly, while a few others taking a quiet, leisurely stroll, arms lovingly held across each other. Then there were entire families, stretched out in various degrees of leisurely recline. The army of vendors, though cropped short on account of it being a weekday, was still formidable enough to attract your undivided attention. They were selling glow-in-the-dark yoyos and parachutes, plastic toys, roasted corn, balloons, and even rides for children atop small beach bikes. I spotted a couple of photographers too. An icecream trolley passed by, selling flavoured ice candies for Rs. 5/- a piece. There was a picture painted on its side, rather a face with the tongue sticking out. After careful appraisal, I could identify that it was Govinda, though he looked pitifully emaciated. The icecreamwallah had finally identified his woes and decided to put him on a much needed diet!
I had to get on. I stood up, dusted the sand off my trousers and set off in search of a plateful of spicy bhelpuri at one of the stalls, humming that evergreen number from Gurudutt’s CID…
“Aye dil, hai mushkil, jeena yahan…zara hatke, zara bachke, ye hai Bombai meri jaan…”