Last week, I took a walk on the Chembur Skywalk. While trying to take a photograph of the skywalk from one of its 3 currently operating exits, I gathered a crowd of some curious onlookers. The conversation that ensued went something like this:
“Are you a journalist?” one of them asked.
“No. I am not a journalist,” I said.
“Then why do you want to take pictures of the skywalk?” another one asked.
“Because, I am writing a series on Mumbai’s skywalks for my blog, and the Chembur skywalk is the next one to be featured,” I replied.
“Then you are a journalist,” the group said triumphantly.
“No, I am not a journalist,” I said a little more forcefully.
“Look, madam,” said one of the persistent onlookers, “why would anybody want to photograph and write about the skywalk? It is not a film hero or heroine. Only journalists write about such things. If you don’t want anyone to know that you are a journalist, fine. But we know that you are a journalist. A serious journalist.”
“It’s ok,” said another. “We won’t even ask which paper you work for.”
I gave up. There were 3-4 khaki-clad people in the group who decided that I should not be “pestered” by the others. Shooing them off, they introduced themselves as BMC employees who worked in the area and said that they would very gladly be my “informers” about the Chembur Skywalk.
According to the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority, the Mumbai skywalks have been built with the main purpose of helping pedestrians to bypass heavy traffic and crowds and take them from a station to a strategically placed exit like a major road junction, or an important office area. This purpose does not apply for the Chembur Skywalk. What it essentially does is to connect the two foot over bridges on the western side of Chembur station.
The first thing that you notice about the skywalk, particularly if you are standing below it is that, it is built directly above a pre-existing path. This path appears to be the preferred mode of travel for people, as I saw more people using the path than the skywalk above.
While the skywalk is seamlessly connected to the railway foot over bridge on the northern end, it is just the reverse with foot over bridge on the southern end. I had to squeeze through two bars to access the skywalk! The 230 metre long bridge has the Harbour line railway track on one side and buildings (a school, a college), a garden and an open area on its other side. And it is for this reason that it feels more like a foot over bridge than a skywalk. The pleasurable thrill of feeling suspended in mid-air is sadly missing.
Currently, the skywalk has 3 exits—two exits to each of the railway foot over bridges and the third exit to a lane between the Sadguru Kadam Baba Garden and the BMC school. The fourth exit, which is yet to be constructed, will be on the bridge portion of the Mahul Ghatkopar Road.
The skywalk passes almost within touching distance of a BMC school. To prevent people from looking into the classrooms as well as to prevent the school kids from looking out of their classroom windows, barriers have been erected on the portion of the skywalk that passes by the school building.
I would hate to be a student in any of the classrooms whose windows open to this grey, barricaded view. The poor students can’t even see the trains going by or have the pleasure to daydream and escape the tedium of uninspiring lessons !
But the Chembur skywalk has a surprise up its sleeve as well. So what if it cannot give the feeling of being suspended in the sky ! The skywalk is level with many trees and this gives the passer-by an opportunity to observe quite a few birds. I even managed to photograph a rather haughty-looking crow.
While talking about the Chembur skywalk to my khaki-clad “informers”, one of them suddenly burst out,
“Madam, you have to write about the Chembur skywalk.”
“Of course, I will be writing about the Chembur skywalk. That’s why I am here, ” I said.
“No, no. What I mean to say is you have to write that it is a nuisance for us. We can’t bear to see it.”
I was puzzled. “You can’t bear to see the skywalk? Why?”
“No, no, madam. That is not what he means,” said another of my informers. “He is feeling a little shy to say that there are lots of young couples who use the bridge for their ‘friendship’ and we get embarrassed.”
I didn’t really know how to respond, so I kept quiet.
A third “informer” continued, “Actually, it is fine if they only hold hands, but they go beyond all that. Much beyond all that.”
And the talk continued in this vein for some time till the first informer requested that I write about what they had just told me. To which, I said that I would report this conversation as faithfully as I could.
As I was taking their leave, the fourth informer who had been quiet all this while said, “Madam, it is not as serious as my friends are saying. The young people have nowhere to go and we must understand this. Anyway, once the skywalk is fully functional and more people start using it, this problem will go away. But do write about all this.”
About the Skywalk Series
This series attempts to see Mumbai through a skywalk. To keep some sort of uniformity (and convenience), all skywalks are done on a Saturday and at approximately 9.30 am. The skywalks explored so far are: