iconimg Sunday, August 30, 2015

Ayaz Memon, Hindustan Times
Mumbai, February 25, 2013
This road is to Chennai what Marine Drive is to Mumbai,” said the yakkity-yak driver as we entered the long promenade along Marina Beach that leads to the Chepauk Stadium (after making an appropriate left turn somewhere) where the first Test between India and Australia is being played.

I got his point, but can’t quite agree. My Chennai friends will pardon this insolence for I mean no ill towards one of the major landmarks of their city. The stretch along Marina Beach is spectacular in its own way, but not quite Marine Drive.

For more than five decades the drive from Hanging Gardens to Nariman Point via Teen Batti has enthralled me, more particularly the part that starts from just past Babulnath Temple and ends at the Air India building, incorporating the magnificent Queen’s Necklace in its sweep.

Not only does this 4-5 km stretch reveal the razzle and dazzle which makes Mumbai the urbs prima of India — the giant hoardings, the twinkling neon lights that hold out promise of an exotic life, the fancy cars that zip up and down all suggestive of a metropolis on the move — but also expresses how the city has grown.

From Girgaum Chowpatty, roads lead into the innards of south Mumbai where the old city and its cultural ethos still reside: Gai Wadi, Grant Road, and going deeper in, Bhendi Bazar or Crawford Market being some of the bastions of old Mumbai

For a true-blue Mumbaiite, Marine Drive can never be out of mind even if it is out of sight, so when I read a report on the net on Sunday that it was to get a Rs50-crore facelift, it whetted my appetite as much as the expectation of seeing Sachin Tendulkar make a century at Chepauk. (Alas, he fell for 81, but that’s another matter).

So what will this entail? From what I’ve gathered, all its lines and wrinkles will be evened out and the road thereafter will know be as smooth as a film star’s cheek — as Lalu Prasad Yadav once promised about the streets of Bihar — though whether the authorities mean this as in it will be botoxed and hence cosmetic, not real, I wonder.

Some readers will recall a so-called “beautification” of the promenade a few years ago that cost by some estimates about Rs100 crore but angered many when trees were removed, the paving was haphazard and nothing really looked that beautiful in the end.

I hope good sense will rule this time. The cleaning up of Girgaum Chowpatty also raised some eyebrows in the past but as it happens, few today can even remember when the food stalls had overrun the beach with their own brand of chaos. Now, it’s all organised of course.

Some may legitimately argue that Marine Drive gets preferential treatment over other roads. I see no reason for grouse given its iconic status. But, redoing roads cannot be a frequent occurrence, designed to fill the coffers of nefarious contractors rather than making the lives of citizens comfortable.

True, potholes don’t encourage speeding. But, the logic of a former railway minister who said that if trains ran on time there would be more accidents because it would mean they were speeding, must be seriously shunned. It is not just specious, but ridiculous!

But, for conservationists and historians of urban growth, it’s that long line of art deco buildings facing the sea that made Bombay in the past and make Mumbai, too, today. This experience is magnified if you take the Princess Road flyover to get on to Marine Drive.

The facelift proposed, of course, has nothing to do with these buildings, I imagine. The reason why I have included them in this piece is because attempts to redevelop these buildings, give them extra FSI and make them skyscrapers continue.

That would be self-defeating. However magnificently the road is remade, without these art deco buildings it wouldn't remain Marine Drive.