After growing up in England, coming to Mumbai was fairly overwhelming. There are the incessant car horns; the screeches of hawkers; the whirling and banging of drums at street weddings; the zipping of scooters weaving through traffic and the flood of commuters pouring from trains. Nevertheless, within all of this noise, movement and vibrancy, it amazes me to find little havens of peace.
One is the National Gallery of Modern Art, a stunning, virtually sound-proof sanctuary. White walls arch upwards to form an expansive dome, with deep wooden staircases winding their way through the building. Everything is still. Figures move silently, pausing for several minutes to consider the masterpieces before them, which are swirling colours stopped by time. With sporadic placing of benches throughout, the gallery is much like a brief pause in the swirl of the city. The artwork is not too bad either.
In a different way, the David Sassoon Library offers a dusty sense of academia. Heads bow low over long oak desks stretching across the room. Shelves reach from the well-worn floorboards right to the eaves of the colonial-style high ceilings. The passing traffic can be heard distantly, like a vague memory. The only other noises are the occasional clicks of the low slow rotating fans, and perhaps the odd clatter as someone walks into one of the many stacks of books perched precariously on tables. Boasting of a phenomenal range of books, from archaic French literature, to the latest scientific research, the Sassoon Library is the ideal place to sit quietly and lose yourself in a world far from the heat of the street.
Nevertheless, sometimes we need to escape further. And where to? Elephanta Island. The caves, a UNESCO world heritage site, aren’t all that impressive actually. The ascent to the caves is walled in with hawker stalls selling trinkets and an army of elephant statues in a myriad of stones and wood.
The caves are packed with tourists ambling round, peering at ancient carvings and walking in circles hunting for statues, seemingly uncorrelated with their guide books. In the hunt for a haven, my suggestion is to skip the caves and take a walk in the jungle. The island is, unbeknown to most, a gem, rich with fruit trees and monkeys howling. Off the hawkers’ trail, cows slumber as sunlight flits through the hatching of leaves. Birds perch on the boughs whistling.
Aside from the rustle of the greenery and humming of life in the undergrowth, you can stand alone and at peace. There are villages nestled deep in the hillside, lakes that emerge unannounced, serene with just a spread of lilies blanketed across the pool. Pure peace and respite, it should be this jungle that UNESCO holds in such high esteem. So if ever in need of a break from the city’s rush, try looking for what is still. And then get ready to jump back on the brilliant ride called Mumbai!