The Essence of Bombay
What in modern day is known as Mumbai, used to be seven islands artificially brought together by the British, after it was gifted to them by the Portuguese as a dowry.
To entrepreneurs across the globe, it is the commercial capital of India. To India, it’s the cosmopolitan city Mumbai, but to us from Mumbai, that’s just a name. To us, Bombay is the emotion.
Amidst the kaali-peelis – black and yellow – cabs and bouncy rickshaw rides, lies the charm of the “city of dreams.” Right from the beautiful, grand, and colonial inspired Taj Mahal Hotel to the street side’s vada pau – a spicy potato cutlet served inside Indian style baked bread with sweet and spicy chutney – is the true essence of what Bombay is made of.
Living here for three years on a student budget hasn’t really allowed me to be touristy, but it has enabled me to explore different places. Right from the suburbs, that are more affordable to South Bombay, that is the heart of all things exorbitant, you’ll find a variety of things one can do. If your mind goes to stereotyped postcards, the India where you will get to sit on an elephant ride, chances are you’re in for a treat because we don’t have them in Bombay nor will you get butter chicken with honey. What you will find are authentic Indian style jhumkis; traditional silver or gold dome-shaped hanging earrings with intricate floral details and suspended beads. You will also find comfortable kurtas – a light, ethnic top worn by men and women.
Staying in South Bombay is not just an experience, but to many people, it’s a luxury as the prices of properties are much higher than that of the suburbs. It’s the place where many ideas have turned into reality and where two of India’s richest families hail from; the industrialist Ambani’s and the Tata’s – respected for their community outreach. Opportunities are never discriminated against in Bombay.
One of my favorite restaurants that I’ve been to is ‘Colaba Social’ where you get the yummiest breakfast trays that have people travelling for more than an hour on a weekend, just so they can have a really great breakfast that includes a variety of western dishes like pancakes and jalapeño mac and cheese as well as Indian dishes like Biryani. They also have Indian style eggs called egg burji which is a spicy scrambled egg, cooked with tomatoes, chilies, and onions, infused with turmeric and chilli powder served with an Indian style bread called ‘pau.’
Teary eyes, watery noses, heat in your mouth. Does this sound adventurous to you? To those of us who belong to Bombay, this is how we eat ‘paani puri chaat.’ A plate of six hollow crackers filled with grams peas, sweet tamarind chutney, and pungent fennel seed water that are served to you individually in a small bowl by the chaatwala, who makes the chaat for you while you, your friends, and family stand around him.
Bombay isn’t only about the food, the people, and the ethnic clothes. It’s about the history and geography of the place that combines along with the diversity of expats to create a concrete jungle that is so close to the hearts of many.
With the sound of the camera shutter in the air, birds chirping away, and being checked heavily by the Mumbai Police is a famous location built like an arch to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Bombay. The Gateway of India, built in 1924 and located at the tip of Apollo Bunder, it is one of India’s most valued and unique landmarks . Overlooking the Mumbai harbor and bordered by the Arabian Sea, the Gateway of India is one memory I will cherish from my childhood. It is also important to every single Indian because it was the exit of the last horde of British troops that symbolizes the importance of Independent India and the largest democracy in the world today.
Located very close to the Gateway is another popular destination to visit. The heavily researched Elephanta Caves. A network of sculpted caves located on the Elephanta Islands which have been dated back as far as the 5th century AD. Located on an arm of the Arabian Sea, there are two groups of caves carved from solid basal rock. The first one, known as the Great Cave, contains five Hindu caves that have rock cut stone sculptures that represent the Shaiva Hindu sector, dedicated to Lord Shiva. The second is the smaller group of containing two Buddhist caves.
Amidst Bombay’s fast paced life is a serene place. A place where the speed of the city comes to a halt and all that is left is the space for your countless thoughts. A boulevard that is 3.6km long, known as Marine Drive. Situated on reclaimed land, Marine Drive is also called the “Queen’s Necklace,” because if viewed from an elevated point, the lampposts on the streets resemble a string of pearls. It is believed by every Mumbaikar that the charm of Bombay cannot be compared to that of Marine Drive as its tranquillity is almost alien to Bombay’s regular speed.
The Gateway of India and Marine Drive act as a symbol of transition from my childhood to living responsibly as a student. The Gateway of India is not a place I go to anymore because I have conserved those memories as the last few happy ones from when my uncle was alive. Today, Marine Drive remains as one of my favorite places to go to in Bombay as it has helped me detach myself from the real world when needed. I’ve sat there for hours watching the sunset on a gloomy day, made really great memories with new friends from university and have had the deepest conversations with my best friend.
Being born and brought up in another country has shaped a huge part of my personality, but Bombay is the place where I understand myself most. It’s the place where I discovered my potential and the true meaning of the word ‘hustle.’ People have always asked me if I’ve grown fond of Bombay. Truth be told, Bombay and I will always have a love-hate relationship, however, I do not deny that I owe this place an immense amount of gratitude as this is where I learned what the hardships, and beauty, of life really are.
Facebook: Photographs by Ruel Rebello
Facebook: Edgar Souza Photography
Anusha Kaul Datta