Cities like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else,” says Italo Calvino in Invisible Cities. And Mumbai, like Calvino’s Venice reveals itself as different cities spooled into one. As Brunch celebrates eleven years of our love affair with Mumbai, we ask a few of its well-known residents, old and new, to pick one location that to them embodies the essence of this metropolis, especially on a Sunday, when the Maximum City takes a breather. We look beyond the usual suspects, past the glitz of Bollywood, the mad rush of the office-goers, the synergy of the clockwork dabbawalas, the reliability of the local trains, and even the charm of the Gothic and Art Deco buildings of south Mumbai. This is Mumbai by some of the people who call this city their home.
- By Ananya Ghosh
Aur, Irani chai
Actor Manav Kaul considers south Mumbai’s Irani cafés part of the city’s postcard moments
Although I have lived in almost every part of the city, for me Mumbai will always mean the town area. I am not a party person. On an ideal Sunday morning, I often take myself out on a walk through the half-deserted streets of south Mumbai and have chai and bun maska at an Irani café like Cafe Excelsior. Along with a hot cuppa, they serve up nostalgia and warmth. I love the way the owner shares cordial relationships with his regular customers and knows their usual orders by heart – something you usually find in small towns. And they never run out of smiles or chai. Being from Kashmir, tea is an integral part of my being and I fell in love with the Irani chai at first sip. I came to the city with a pocketful of dreams, but little money. These cafés fit my budget perfectly. When I was working as a stage hand for Satyadev Dubey, I would often land up here in the morning with my teammates. The first time I came to an Irani cafe, it felt like walking into a film set of the ’80s! I had seen them in movies while growing up, and for me these were part of the whole essence of Mumbai. But I never thought they really exist in the present!
-As told to Ananya Ghosh
Parmesh Shahani of Godrej India Culture Lab finds peace and oxygen in Vikhroli’s mangroves
Vikhroli is the city’s centre, with south Mumbai on one side and Navi Mumbai on the other. The 3,500-acre area is the lung of the metropolis and for me, its greenery is Mumbai’s essence. People generally think of the sea or high-rises when they think of Mumbai but it is also a city of nature. We need to break the geographical caste system that romanticises only the southern edge. I discovered Vikhroli six years ago when I started working at the Lab and it blew my mind. I was a SoBo brat. I remember when I first visited the mangroves. We climbed up the watch tower and were besotted with the panoramic view of the city. It was so quiet and magical, you could only hear the birds chirping. Now I work and live here, and can see the mangroves from my work desk. Often, on Sundays, I go birdwatching and plant spotting. It is a haven for nature lovers. Though it’s a private reservation, you can make prior bookings for such activities. This biodiversity is an important part of the city’s safe-keeping. Had the mangroves not been there, we would have been flooded so much more every monsoon.
-As told to Nidhi Choksi
Holding the fort
Conservation architect Abha Lambah loves to spend her Sunday evening at the Bandra Fort
I have been a Bandra resident for more than two decades and a lazy Sunday usually consists of spending time at Bandstand or at the Bandra fort. Sitting on the ruins of the fort and watching the sun set transports me to a different world. I first visited the fort, originally christened Castella de Aguada (which literally means ‘castle on the sea’), when I was around 10 years old. My aunt used to stay nearby and I was visiting her. The rest of Bandra doesn’t really prepare you for this stone structure. It was like finding a surprise treat tucked away under the rubble of chaos. For me, it became all the more memorable because it was the first time I ever saw the sea! This is one of the oldest layers of Mumbai and a Grade One heritage site. Yet, people mostly associate the history of the city only with south Mumbai. That said, this area is also a classic example of how the citizens have always taken active part in improving the city’s infrastructure and not depended just on government initiatives. The upkeep of the area is spearheaded by local people. It shows their love for Mumbai.
- As told to Ananya Ghosh
Coffee and books
Singer Shalmali Kholgade beats her loneliness sitting with her books at a Lokhandwala café
When I am not working and have time to laze around, I usually end up at the Lokhandwala Bru World Café. When I first shifted to this neighbourhood, I was alone in a new house and a tad scared. I went to the café at around 11pm with a book. I called my friend over and we both sat there, had coffee. The place has proved to be a great host over the years. Even now, whenever I have trouble falling sleep, I take a book, my wallet and house keys, hop down to the café. Another place I often go to on Sundays is the Joggers Park near my house. What started out as a fitness regime has turned into a part of my day that breeds ideas.
-As told to Nidhi Choksi
Art amid chaos
Artist Arzan Khambatta spends his Sundays lazing around at his Sewri studio
This might seem a bit odd, but I spend my Sundays at my studio in Sewri. It is my second home. I love to laze around with my dog, Stevo. I read books, solve puzzles that help me brainstorm and focus, and in the evening I order my special double-egg omelette and masala chai from a local stall. Sewri is the centre for me because it is closest to my home in Lower Parel and also close to Crawford Market, from where I source all my sculpting material. During the migration season in October, the flamingos flock around the nearby lake. In many ways, my cabin is like Mumbai, a place of order amid chaos. And for me it is a slice of Mumbai.
–As told to Nidhi Choksi
Restaurateur Riyaaz Amlani lets nostalgia be his guide as he revisits Prithvi Theatre and Café
A large part of the charm of Mumbai is its entertainment industry. And theatre is the cradle for cinema. Prithvi Theatre is where it all starts. It is a hallowed space for anyone pursuing acting. It deserves more attention and love. Although I don’t get the time to come here as often as I’d like, I have spent many happy Sundays here. I would watch a play in the evening and then chill at the Café. There was a point when there were no other cafés around and Prithvi Café was an institution. The non-pretentious ambience of this cafe made it my favourite dating spot as well. There used to be a flautist who would play here with a few of his students, some guy would be rehearsing in one corner, while someone would be reading his script aloud. I love the energy of the place. The flautist still comes every day at 4pm and plays till 7pm. And even now, the café’s Irish coffee remains my favourite.
-As told to Nidhi Choksi
Back to nature
Naturalist Sunjoy Monga’s first trip to Sanjay Gandhi National Park made him a lifelong fan
Sanjay Gandhi National Park is what Mumbai stands for. Not just because it is unique in that it survives as an ecological back-up. It is also a lesson of nature’s resilience and an opportunity for a city and her people to understand that the paths can meet. You can go for a trek, walk, cycle ride or just sit down and explore nature in that unhurried pace. I spend a lot of my Sundays at the park. I remember the first time I went there with my dad. I was barely seven but some childhood memories never fade and this is one of those. The green forest replete with wild flowers, those great spiderwebs, the orchestra of sounds, the playful monkeys, the gurgling streams, the dancing peafowl, my joyous swings on rope-like vines, giant leaves dwarfing me, and how I spotted a snake slithering along the water and scrambled, hurting my toe. Seems like just yesterday.
-As told to Nidhi Choksi
From HT Brunch, July 31, 2016
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