Neighbourhoods of Mumbai 1: Matunga

Neighbourhoods of Mumbai is a series that will explore the different areas of Mumbai, their history, their sub-cultures, their architecture, the changes sweeping through them, and what makes them tick.

How difficult can it be to write about a place that I have known all my life? I would have said not very, till I sat down to write this post on Matunga, a central suburb of Mumbai. Read on with advance warning that it is a long post ! 🙂

Matunga is where my mother grew up, where I spent a part of my childhood, and a place that is so much part of me and my memories that I’ve never given it a second thought. So when I heard about a guided walk of Matunga conducted by a fellow blogger and friend, Rushikesh of Breakfree Journeys, I was surprised and intrigued. Surprised, because someone found it interesting enough to conduct a walk, and intrigued because I wanted to know what exactly was being covered in the walk and if they would look at Matunga the way I saw it and do it justice.

On a Saturday evening earlier this month I went on the 2-hour walk that took me through the history of Matunga, its development, the different communities that are resident here, its architecture, it unique sub-culture, its eateries, the changes sweeping through it… Some of what I learnt on the walk was new to me, some of it was a literal walk down memory lane, and some of it was seeing the same place through new eyes. Join me as I take you on that Matunga walk and also share my memories and thoughts about the place.

Matunga 1
My maternal grandparents’ home … somewhere in Matunga

Continue reading “Neighbourhoods of Mumbai 1: Matunga”

Travel Shot: The elevator with the pink seat

The elevator dings its arrival and the doors slide open noiselessly. I step in and look in fascination at the elevator’s interiors.

I am at Hotel Suryagarh, a luxury boutique hotel near Jaisalmer, and am being escorted to my second floor suite by a hotel attendant after completing the usual registration formalities.

“Why don’t you sit down, Ma’am?” the hotel attendant urges me.

This might have been a strange question considering we were in an elevator. But since the elevator had a large, cushioned seat upholstered in a velvet of bright pink, it really wasn’t that strange a question.

Hotel Suryagarh, Boutique Hotel, Luxury, Elevator

I politely decline as I feel a little stupid to sit down for a trip of two floors. But I do notice that the elevator speed is quite slow and discover later that this has been done deliberately to encourage guests to relax and sit down.

And over the over the two days that I spend at the hotel and the numerous trips that I make between my room and wherever I was headed to, I would use the elevator. Get in. Sit down. Relax. Take pictures. Normally, I would have used the stairs, but not this time.

Hotel Suryagarh, Boutique Hotel, Luxury, Elevator

To this day, the luxurious elevator with the pink seat at Hotel Suryagarh remains unique. I have never come across anything like this before, and doubt it I will.

Have you come across unique hotel elevators? Do share.

The social movements calendar 2014

You might wonder why I’m writing about a calendar when we are almost half way through the year. The thing is, I forgot to write about it when I received the calendar in January. And the reason I forgot is because I’ve always considered the Social Movements Calendar (SMC) to be more of a resource, and less of a calendar, in the sense that it is not time-bound for me. Besides, I never give away the SMC even after its “validity” is over. As to why I do so, well… read on 🙂

Originally conceptualised by the late Smitu Kothari, the 2014 SMC Calendar is its fifth edition and returns after a gap in 2013. The good people from Intercultural Resources India, who bring out the SMC, have this to say about it:

The Social Movements Calendar 2014 is a collective process and a non-profit endeavor meant as a tool to educate and create public awareness about the vast array of people’s struggles in India.

Like previous editions, this one too is an effort to document peoples’ struggles and protests. While the previous two editions were theme-based —  “peoples’ struggles against international financial institutions (IFIs)” in 2011, and “saga of labour struggles from colonisation to globalisation” in 2012 —  the 2014 calendar does not state any particular theme on the first page of the calendar.

Social Movements Calendar 2014, Intercultural resources, People's struggles, social issues, calendar
Protest against the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant

But when one goes through the calendar it is to discover that the most recent protests in India have been included in the calendar. Continue reading “The social movements calendar 2014”

The Sewri Fort

A couple of years back, I happened to travel in a cab whose driver was very chatty and unusually boastful of his knowledge of the city. About 20 minutes into the journey, I had enough of his tales and asked him:

“Since you know so much about Mumbai, tell me how does one get to Sewri Fort. I want to visit it.”

“Sewri Fort? What Sewri Fort? There is no Fort at Sewri.”

“Of course, there is a fort there. I read a report about the Fort in the newspaper only last week.”

“Newspaper? Bah !” said the driver in a dismissive tone. “Don’t believe everything that they print. Listen to me, I’ve been there so many times that I know the area really well. I know Sewri Jetty, all the automobile service centres there, the Port Trust Offices, the dargah… everything. I can tell you confidently that I have never come across any Fort there.”

And that was the end of the conversation.

Last month, I visited Sewri Fort. Yes, there is a Fort, but after visiting it I could understand why the cab driver and many others like him are neither aware of its location or existence. Incidentally, it is located right next to the dargah that the driver mentioned. Just see the view outside the Fort in the photograph below. Is there any indication that there is a Fort anywhere in the vicinity?

Sewri Fort, Forts of Mumbai, Eastern Shoreline
The approach to Sewri Fort

Continue reading “The Sewri Fort”

A double-decker bus, a launch & Mumbai

Sometimes, all it takes is a bus ride to see your surroundings in a new light, or a new perspective. Don’t believe me? Read on… 🙂

It all began with an invitation from Audio Compass to celebrate the launch of their AudioCompass Guide with an “open air bus journey through Mumbai at sunset, discussing and getting to know her many stories”. So, on the appointed day and time on a beautiful day in March, I boarded the open air, double-decker BEST bus near Churchgate Station in South Mumbai.

As I surveyed my surroundings from the upper deck of the bus, it was with a sense of familiarity of seeing old landmarks—the Asiatic Departmental Store across the road, Resham Bhavan on my left… And yet, everything looked so very different. That’s when I realised that the elevation made a huge difference to what I was seeing and things that I had not noticed or details that were not visible from ground level were suddenly in focus. For instance, I could see the white spire of St. Thomas Cathedral rising above the trees through the left windshield of the bus — something I had never noticed before.

Audio Compass Bus Tour, #Stories of Mumbai, BEST Double Decker Bus, Nilambari

This is the ‘church’ whose ‘gates’ have given Churchgate its name. To me, this felt like an auspicious start to the tour and I couldn’t wait to see what else was going to be revealed during the bus ride. I didn’t have long to wait and once the other guests had arrived we set off. Continue reading “A double-decker bus, a launch & Mumbai”

Book Review: Silent Cinema in India

Watson Hotel, Historic Hotel, Mumbai
Watson’s Hotel / Esplanade Mansion

In the busy Kala Ghoda area of South Mumbai is a run down, decrepit building called Esplanade Mansion. Once upon a time, it was known as Watson’s Hotel and is India’s oldest surviving cast-iron building today. Fabricated in England and assembled on site between 1867–1869, Watson’s has quite a bit of a history attached to it.

There are many stories about Watson’s, but the one I’m going to share here is in the context of the book being reviewed here — Silent Cinema in India: A Pictorial Journey (Harper Collins, 2012, Price: Rs.4,999/-) by B.D. Garga. It was at Watson’s Hotel that the Lumeire Brothers’ Cinematographie was screened on July 7, 1896, to an all-white audience for an admission fee of one rupee.

“Cinema arrived in India like an itinerant traveller, unannounced” (pg.15).

image Continue reading “Book Review: Silent Cinema in India”