After hovering over for some time, the aircraft finally landed in the Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport of Mumbai. I am one of those old fossils who still like to call Mumbai as Bombay. It evokes fond memories of bygone days when my father and his brothers found what they were looking for – recognition, money and comfort. It was also the place where my primary education began. My mind was going over all these thoughts when my cousin Rama called me and asked me to get into the car. The car sped to Gokuldham in Goregaon East.
Rama is the youngest of my cousins. She has gone through much in life by way of pain and suffering. She has two daughters – Aparna, who is well settled in USA and is working on nano technology and Sahana, who is well on her way to become one of the leading professional accountants in Mumbai. Rama’s husband is an important person and controls the money you and I use. Sahana was waiting for us in the flat.
Life in Mumbai is very different from life in other cities of India. People from all over the country come here and live as if they belong to the same place. Every apartment is a mini India. Every one in these apartments treats the other as their own and also believes that their flats, like their minds, do not have any walls. There is a cute little boy called Veehan living in the flat opposite to Rama’s. The second day of our visit was spent in celebrating the first birthday of Veehan. His parents are from Jammu and Kashmir and Veehan stays mostly with Rama and Sahana.
That evening, Rama had promised me, would be the beginning of our Mumbai Darshan. The driver thought otherwise and found a greener pasture elsewhere. He did not turn up at the scheduled time. Rama wanted to compensate for this and took us to Juhu beach. Among the many memories I have of Bombay, Juhu is one. My youngest uncle, Venu brought his bride Saraswati regularly to this beach. In addition to the cool breeze from the sea, the beach also provided some privacy which they could not get at home. The so called home was nothing more than a single room, and at that time, there were ten relatives staying in that room. Number 13, Mohammed Younus Building on Lady Jamshetji Road (presently NC Kelkar Road) in Dadar West was like the Pushpak Viman. It had enough space for one more even after ten were inside. Toilets were common, never cleaned for years together, and the bath room was an excuse of small washing place, with a mini partition. Whenever a lady took bath, all the rest had to wait outside. Being a frequent visitor by then to Bombay, I also accompanied Venu to the Juhu beach.
What I saw now really flabbergasted me. Earlier, we enjoyed the sea and the breeze, now it is only a sea of humanity. The waters and the sea are to be seen only through a binocular. The bajjis and bondas of those days have vanished and a new conglomeration of shops selling the popular chatmasalas has come over. After waiting for half an hour, we decided to move on and went to nearby ISKCON Temple. Though not as big as the one in Bangalore, the temple is impressive with its huge chandelier. From there we returned to Gokuldham. The autorickshaw drivers impressed me with their abundant patience and honesty. In spite of my irritating questions, they answered me very politely and explained me as they would to a new born baby.
The next day, driver Srinivas did turn up and not only that, he came exactly at the time he had specified. Rama and Sahana joined in my quest for the good old days. Sahana told us that it would be auspicious to begin this voyage after the darshan of Siddhivinayak at Prabhadevi. I was in for another shock. I am not a total agnostic, but having visited many temples, I thought that the darshan would be over in no time and we could continue. I have heard many cribs that the new generation has lost all veneration and is going the West way. What I saw at the temple reaffirmed my faith in the generation next. It took us more than an hour to have darshan and an identical time to come out of the temple. Most of the persons flocking for darshan were youngsters with a basket containing all the paraphernalia needed to have darshan of god. I was also surprised that when we were crawling in the queue, a volunteer picked me and sent me inside by a faster route, a rare courtesy indeed! The management of the temple and the humane consideration there left me speechless. Seldom do we find such courtesies in temples much more famous than Siddhivinayak where we are bandied about like cattle.
We next went to Hindmata Cinema in Dadar East. Hindmata Cinema - where I had enjoyed films like “Har Har Mahadev” starring late Nirupa Roy as Parvati and Trilok Kapoor as lord Shiva – has, of course, been razed and a new shopping complex has come up. I have always wondered about Shiva. He is clean shaven in almost all Hindi movies and is fully bearded in South Indian movies. If not the beard, he will at least have a neatly trimmed moustache. The lane adjoining the Modern Times Restaurant, leads to a double storied building on the right known as Kayaji Building. It was with number 17 on the first floor of this building that most of my memories are associated.
My father - though a gold medalist from Central College, Bangalore University - could not find a suitable job there. To support my mother and me, he moved over to Bombay at the invitation of his second brother, Ramu. Ramu at that time was the sole occupant of 17, KB (Kayaji Building). He was working as an Asst Manager in India Coffee Board, and was looking after the welfare of one of their Coffee Houses at MG Road. He had great affection for me and greater admiration for his eldest brother. We four lived there for some three years. During this period my father supported us by selling “Kolber” pens on Mohammed Ali Road. He also worked part time as a steno to one Mr SS Kapoor, who was involved in Export & Import Business. I had just completed five years. It was time to get into a school and my father admitted me to a Mangalorean school nearby. Whenever I went to the classroom, there was precious little I understood. The teacher there - like my wife - had a knack of asking me only those questions which I could never answer. This led me to a stage where I actively began planning to avoid going to school without my parents in anyway getting wise about it. The only consoling thought for me was that the school definitely is not there now, but the building is intact.
After a couple of years, my father’s first brother, Sundara and his family joined us. His daughter, Leela was younger than me by a couple of years, and as was the custom, she was very loyal to the elder cousin. She did not plan any ventures on her own, and always consulted me before launching any action. Whenever guests visited us, Leela and I would go into the park adjacent to 17KB and spend some jolly good time. That park has lost all of its lawn and is presently used to house only some shops. My heart bled for the good old days! Coming back to the present, the lady in 15 KB invited us and narrated many incidents connected with my family and was very particular that we should have meals at her place. Smt Savitri, the resident of 15 KB, is more than 70 years and is still very active in treating guests like me. The love and affection she showed brought tears to my eyes!!
Ramu then moved to 13, Mohammed Younus Building (MYB), which was simpler than 17KB. It had only one room. By then, my grandfather and grandmother had joined us. My father, meanwhile, had secured a job as head master of Hamdard High School in Raichur and we moved from Bombay to Raichur. It was mandatory, therefore, for me to see if 13 MYB still existed.
After a couple of days, driver Srinivas sent his friend, Raju, for the next visit to the past. Things have changed over the years, landmarks have changed and it was quite a task to locate the place. The greatest landmark, however, is still there – the Plaza Cinema - on NCKelkar Road. The entrance to 13 MYB is by the lane adjoining Jyoti lunch home. Climbed up the stairs and hesitatingly asked an old lady whether it was the same MYB. She was panicky and called her husband. Sri Milind S Mulay somehow recollected all those days and was very prompt in recognizing me. The couple were very affectionate and were insisting on my having dinner with them. The daughter in law prepared an excellent “adrak ka chai” and added some biscuits. The hospitality shown by them was something which I cannot forget in whatever is left of my life. A total stranger being so nice and kind to another stranger is something to be experienced only in Bombay. I had to bow my head in respect and adoration to the love and affection I received from them.
Any visit to Bombay, even from my childhood, was incomplete without a visit to Mumbadevi temple in Bhuleshwar and Mahalakshmi temple in Mahalakshmi. When we went to the Mahalakshmi temple a couple of days earlier, the crowd was so huge that it was impossible to even enter the temple after waiting for about five to six hours in the queue. Even now, it was not all that easy, but we could just make it before the temple closed for aarati. The path to the sea has been barricaded, which was not the case earlier, maybe for security reasons. We returned to Gokuldham via the Worli Bandra Sea Link. The drive was a real pleasure. The skyline reminded me of the skyline of New York while going on a boat to the statue of Liberty. Both the approach roads to the Sea Link are eight lanes and were a big relief for someone used to congested streets of other places. The Sea Link is another marvel of the technological development our country has made.
Our next visit was to the local Gokuldham Temple Complex. Built in the middle of the road on an elevated platform, the Complex houses many small temples and is very spacious and designed to invoke immediate devotion in any visitor. The panditjis there are very cordial and have no intention whatsoever to fleece an innocent visitor like me. In fact, the Hundis are built into the walls and the panditjis politely point to the hundi for any cash to be deposited.
Having gone to Mumbai and not seeing a movie, well, was not in my genes. My grandmother was a great fan of Indian movies, and this trait has been passed on down the line to my grandchildren as well. We saw Paa and were impressed. It was also the time for the release of Avatar in 3D. How could we miss such a movie? We saw that also. My only regret was that I could not see it in IMAX at Wadala.
It was time for us to leave Mumbai. The trip which I had been very keen to make had given me the all that I had asked for. It showed me that the people in the new era in the ultra modern city of the country have their hearts at the right place and the old Bombay flavour was still there. I was also happy to learn, once again, that the younger generation has not lost its moorings and is not a meaningless wandering lot. The western gloss is undoubtedly there but the heart basically is Indian. The revelation, however, was in all of my travel, I never saw anyone jump the signal even when there was no policeman around and the traffic was consciously maintaining discipline. The trip brought back my childhood days – “koyi lauta de mere beete huye din” - Mumbai gave me back my Bombay!!