Five of them sat in a row on the broken divider on the road in front of their slum. Their sarees — tightly wrapped around them — could do with a good wash, their hair with some shampoo. They sat there, giggling and falling against each other. Their feet were caked with mud, while their hands were trellised with mehendi.
It was something I would perhaps not have seen had I been rushing past that very road on which the women sat, trying to dodge the traffic and the filth. But standing on the Bandra skywalk gives you the time and space to look at the same old city from a slightly different perspective — elevated, if you must.
The Bandra skywalk — that starts at the Bandra station and ends at the Bandra-Kurla Complex — is not Marine Drive. It does not give you breathtaking views and breathfuls of sea breeze. What it does give you, however, is a long, clean stretch to walk, think and look at the people around you — people who make up this city and whom we generally tend to ignore.
So, in one bend of the skywalk, you will find a bunch of youngsters — playing truant from college for all you know — huddled over a cellphone, and then bursting into peals of laughter. The stud of the group — and the owner of the cellphone — perches himself on the bright yellow railing and looks mighty kicked with himself.
At a distance, in one of the many backyards of the commercial buildings that you walk past, a few men in bright orange overalls are sprawled out over a pile of large pipes, taking what looks like a break from work. A song plays on a radio somewhere in the background, while one of them does an impromptu gig. Another grins while yet another curses and then laughs.
I feel a bit guilty. They don’t know that they are being watched. That man perhaps would not have been shaking his backside if he knew. But hell, aren’t some of the best pleasures in life guilty ones?
The skywalk, which opened on June 24, 2008, was surprisingly busy at that time of the afternoon. Looking up from the roads below, I had always wondered how many people used it. As it turned out — one lakh people every day. But, standing there, looking at the Mithi flow by — this is the only time of the year during which it actually flows, I think — I could not help wonder whether this was yet another one of those many utilitarian things that we all take for granted and never pause to look at in any other way.
I don’t remember the last time I had taken a walk in the heart of the city without tripping over broken pavements, sidestepping filth and bumping into hawkers. Ten steps up to the right from the foot overbridge at Bandra station and I had stepped onto something I did not think possible in Mumbai — not because I think it is an engineering marvel of any sort, but because even after a year and more, the 1.3 km stretch is spotlessly clean, there are no hawkers, no beggars, no stalls, no stench and nothing broken. (Though I have to admit the penguin-shaped dustbins look woefully rusty).
The bright yellow beams and the green cover add to the cheer of the walk. Whoever had planned the colours must have got mighty bored of the grey that surrounds almost all other foot overbridges. From the roads below, I had thought the contraption looked like something out of Toyland, not Mumbai. And climbing the 43 steps down to the road at the Bandra Kurla Complex I could not help think that the steps looked like they had just popped out of a box of Lego blocks.
My first experience of a foot overbridge in Mumbai, at the Dadar station — amid the press of hawkers and stepping on layers of filth — is one that Iwould not be forgetting in a hurry. The skywalk is as far as I could possibly get from that.