Shades Of Words


Walking Tour of South Mumbai: From Churchgate to Gateway of India

Once you get over the shock of crowds, the humidity and the tangy sea breeze mixed with the smell of dead fish and sewage that permeates this megapolis, it is easier to open your mind to what Mumbai offers. To make sense of this vast throbbing mass of life you have to get to know it from the ground up and like all great cities of the world, the best way to discover Mumbai’s neighborhoods is by foot.

South Mumbai or “downtown” has traditionally been the drinking hole of the rich, the famous and the artistic. The newer districts around Bandra raised the bar in the recent years, but this area retains its sense of old world charm with style. A great place to start your downtown exploration is at Churchgate station, the terminus for the city’s western line. Try not to be overwhelmed by the numbers of commuters as you observe the chaos around the station where vendors sell everything from sandwiches to flowers to discarded flight headphones.  If you can stomach it, I highly recommend having a cup of piping hot masala chai and dosa from a vendor.  For something more fashionable, step into Gaylord Bakery across the road. I have never had their coffee, but their breads and pastries are the best in town.

From Churchgate, the Veer Nariman Road will take you to the Marine Drive promenade. Meeting ground for joggers, college kids skipping classes, lovers and retired old men, this is the place for quiet contemplation as you gaze at the vast Arabian Sea and the curving skyline of Mumbai. It’s easy to get lost in your thoughts here.

After some soul searching head back on Veer Nariman Road towards Flora Fountain. This detailed sculpted fountain was designed and built by the Britishers pre-independence and in recent decades been the heart of a sprawling secondhand books market that lines the nearby pavements. More recently, the municipal corporation, in it’s over enthusiastic bid to keep the city clean, has been waging a war against street hawkers. As a weak sign of protest, few vendors can be spotted selling college textbooks and pirated books. But gone are the days where crossing two blocks would take you as many hours because with every step your eyes would fall on a book that you must own.

At the Fountain, take Mahatma Gandhi Road towards Colaba, but first spare a few minutes to admire the gothic architecture of the Mumbai High Court buildings and Mumbai University. The university clock tower is Mumbai’s own Big Ben and is one its most photographed sites.

MG Road ends in the Kala Ghoda arts district. Lined with galleries, restaurants and theatre this is the venue for the annual Kala Ghoda Arts Festival where hundreds of thousands of people turn up to attend free movie screenings and open air concerts.  On other days, it’s pretty quiet and the only two people that I always see posted outside the historic Jehangir Art Gallery are a palm reader and a guy who will write your name on a rice grain (why would anyone want that?).

Next door is the Prince of Wales Museum, which is now known by its much longer Indian name. I know museums are not for everybody, but I have always enjoyed ogling at the exquisite ceramic and pottery collection on the third floor.  Sometimes I wish the glass casings would magically disappear and I could claim some oriental jade pieces.

The Shivaji road from the museum will take you straight to the most important landmark monuments of Mumbai – The Gateway of India and The Taj Mahal Hotel. Both sites have seen devastating terror attacks in the past decade and while there are no apparent scars, it’s impossible to stand here and not think of those tragedies. I see hundreds of people milling about as if nothing has ever happened and I wonder if this is resilience or apathy.

At the docks, you are bound to be accosted for ferry rides. My advice, don’t take them. They are only fun if it’s a party on the boat and you are getting drunk.

By now you are probably tired of the heat and have just had enough of Victorian architecture. Gulp down a few cold beers at Café Mondegar, kickback, relax and watch a game of cricket.



Travels with My Aunt

As I am just a few weeks away from my trip to India and Istanbul, I was itching to read something to get me into the spirit of things. I started with Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul but the book was not what I was looking for. His Istanbul is black and white, always cold and inhabited by jinns. I am sure there is much more cheer as I read ahead but for now I put it away. I don’t know what it is with Pamuk and me. I love his writing, the prose is poetic, but I can never seem to get through any of his books in one go! I have started My Name is Red so many times and left it exactly at the same spot. Sigh.

Since I am such a fan of Graham Greene, I thought of giving “Travels with my Aunt” a shot. I really did not know what I was getting myself into. I had expected something funny and witty and in general a fictional travelogue. After having just completed the novel, one thing is for certain “Travels with my Aunt” is most definitely NOT a travelogue.

It’s a very strange but extremely entertaining story of Henry Pulling, a middle aged lonely banker, who meets his estranged Aunt Agatha after fifty years. The aunt than literally hijacks his life (and the novel) and takes him and us the readers along with us on a journey across continents, both in the past and present.

Greene wrote the book for “the fun of it” and you can tell. It’s full of ridiculous characters, unbelievable escapades involving war criminals, smugglers, CIAs and despotic generals and you along with Pulling you try keep pace with jaws hanging open.

While I enjoyed reading it, I was also trying to get through it, because it did not possess the slow melancholy quality of Greene’s works, which seep into your psyche with every word.  There is this one incident in the book where Aunt Agatha tells Henry why she prefers romantic novels to Walter Scott – “It moves a great deal quicker and there are fewer descriptions”.

It wouldn’t be completely unfair to say the same about Travels with My Aunt. I did like it though, because Greene has flexed his literary muscle to create a comical delight which at times is funny, predictable and sad.


Goodbye St. Louis

Note: Kapil and I moved out of STL after having lived there for almost 3 years. Since I had been clamoring for the big city life for so long I had not anticipated the wave of loss to hit me as I got ready to “leave on a jet plane”. Putting my thoughts to paper, I had planned to publish this post sometime ago, but the craziness of the shifting, packing and unpacking got in the way.  Now I am glad for the delay because living in different place has given me more perspective and makes my goodbye even more meaningful

As I turned my car into the parking spot in front of my house one last time, I could not help getting a little misty eyed. Today is my last day in St. Louis before we shift to Los Angeles, and it seemed not so long ago that I moved here from India and made this city my home. Even though I had traveled to the US before, St. Louis will always remain my first American experience. And out in here in the Midwest, it’s as authentic as it can get.

Sitting in the parking lot, staring at my cozy suburban apartment, my mind wandered to the things that I will remember the most.

I know that when I will face the infamous LA traffic, I will dearly miss the five-minute drive to work at the lovely campus of Maritz, from where hubby and I would often take a detour to the Krispy Kreme nearby and indulge in “Hot Now” donuts. And I will miss heading out to the smaller parks that surrounded our neighbourhood in Ballwin for long walks or bird-watching. My particular favourite is Queenie Park which has nice trails into the wilderness where the sounds of the traffic are all but muffled and it is easy to spot owls, robins, yellow finches, mountain jays and blue birds. Sometimes the longer drive to Lake Creve Couer were rewarding simply for the shimmering view of the lake in the sunset.

I will miss waiting for the weekly Riverfront Times edition that kept me updated about the small but active theatre scene in St. Louis. I remember catching some excellent performances in UMSL. I will miss watching really good productions of Shakespeare in the Park. There is something very gratifying to watch these dramas the way they were meant to be performed, in the open for the general population. Sitting in the green grass of Forest Park, sipping wine in the twilight, as fireflies circled above you – these memories already seem like a different time.

I will also miss the cute little town of Kirkwood and the many, many weekends that we spent there. I know that the Loop is the more popular hangout area in St. Louis but I personally prefer Kirkwood – it’s just so quaint and pretty. During the daytime there is the little farmer’s market to browse through and in the evenings you can just walk around, or walk into the dozens of restaurant that line its streets. I have eaten some great food here, including Mediterranean at Ranoush, gourmet pizza at Dewey’s and fancy Italian at Amicis. A great place to drink down a few beers is Bar Louie. If you ever drop in at Bar Louie’s you must sample their loaded fries. Speaking of fries, I am going to miss dirt cheap booze and spicy fries at our neighbourhood bar, Fandango’s, where we went when we had nothing else to do and getting drunk was fun enough. Aah those aimless summer evenings!

I will miss lusting after the European styled lavish houses in Kirkwood and Clayton. I love the apartment life, but it’s hard to resist the beauty of a French Villa.

I will also miss the change of seasons. I may not miss the freak thunderstorms, tornadoes and six-inch snowfall, but I will miss the glorious colors of autumn and the new born beauty of spring which is made more meaningful after months of grey.

So dear St. Louis, I might have sulked and complained about your small town life, about never having anything to do, but for what it’s worth, I am never going to forget the time I spent there and I am going to miss you.