The chronicles of train commuters, dabbawalas, stock traders, chefs, night-clubbers, vegetable vendors, and crew from a TV serial provide evidence and more that Mumbai is a city which never goes to sleep.
3.25am to 4.25am
On the first train from Virar to Churchgate
If you expect to find lots of sitting space on the first Churchgate-bound local that leaves Virar at 3.25am every day, you’ll be in for a surprise. Vegetable vendors, fisherfolk, policemen, blue- and white-collar workers heading for the early morning shift — there are a lot of Mumbaiites who need to be up and about at that unearthly hour, and with every passing station, the train packs in more and more commuters.
7.00am to 8.00am
Shopping at the Dadar vegetable market
If you’re planning a function at home and expect a huge number of guests for lunch, chances are you will make a trip to Dadar to stock up on veggies.
Old-timers swear that the vegetable market on Tulsi Pipe Road just outside Dadar railway station on the western line is the place in Mumbai for the cheapest and freshest vegetables. It came up in the early 1900s, to cater to the needs of all those people who were rehoused in the Dadar-Matunga area to relieve congestion in south-central Mumbai.
Homemakers, restaurant owners, private caterers and even your local bhajiwalas throng the place every morning for the best deals.
The Dadar vegetable market, which is barely a 200-250 metre stretch of road, is strategically located in the heart of the city, and therefore the hub from where vegetables are distributed all across Mumbai. The crowds swell, especially during festivals such as Ganesh Chaturthi, Diwali and Gudi Padwa.
For many passing motorists and commuters, though, the market is synonymous with the sight and smell of rotting vegetable waste and traffic jams.
As blogger Harini Calamur says: “Dadar vegetable market is not a place that you take a camera into, not unless you don’t want to buy vegetables.” Not that there aren’t enough garbage bins around. But, as a vegetable vendor casually reasons: “The BMC picks up this garbage every morning anyway, why should we bother dumping it in the bin?”
The Virar-Churchgate service is an inherent part of the city’s heritage and dates back to the 19th century, when the British ruled India. The suburban section of the Western Railway was established in 1867, with a service running from Virar to Backbay. Three years later, the service was extended to Churchgate.
11.00am to 12 noon
At a dabbawala depot
If you step into any of the dabbawala depots — most are close to railway stations — at mid-morning, you will understand what organised chaos means. More than 1.75 lakh to 2 lakh lunch boxes are delivered every day by an estimated 4,500 to 5,000 dabbawalas, and as these men arrive at the depots to collect and pick up tiffins, you can’t but admire their efficiency — their error rate is less than one mistake in every six million deliveries.
They have such a great reputation that the BBC has produced a documentary on them, and when Britain’s Prince Charles visited India a few years ago, he took time out to meet them.
Since many dabbawalas are illiterate, they use a colour-coding system on lunch boxes to indicate the delivery address, the station to which it must be delivered and other details. They have recently begun to embrace technology and allow for booking through SMS.
1.00pm to 2.00pm
Inside the kitchen of an Udupi eatery
Peak hour at any Udupi restaurant is 1pm to 2pm. A large share of the city’s office-goers prefer a quick dash to the neighbourhood Udupi for lunch. The reason? The thali is tasty, hygienic and, most important, affordable. Most Udupi restaurants are family-run, and the chief cook is guarded more fiercely than a family heirloom. Udupi cuisine comprises dishes made primarily from grains, beans, vegetables and fruits. The eateries, though, have introduced many changes in their menus, including vegetarian delicacies from other Indian cuisines. A hallmark of the cuisine is the use of locally available ingredients.
Mumbai was initiated into the idli-dosa-wada cuisine in 1942, when Class 4 dropout A Rama Nayak arrived in the city from a village in south Karnataka. Hard work and a winning business formula soon enabled him to open Mumbai’s first Udupi eatery, in Matunga.
2.30pm to 3.30pm
The closing hour at a stock broking office
It’s 2.30pm on a typical weekday at a stock-broking firm and the scene is, well, chaotic. The closing bell at the stock exchanges is scheduled to ring in exactly an hour. Even as the smaller clients trade through computerised systems from their offices or houses, the broking firms focus on enticing bigger customers.
The digitalisation at brokerages has made the business less charged. Scenes of brokers yelling,
“Buy Reliance, sell Tata!” in the well of the Bombay Stock Exchange have now been replaced with those of suited young brokers, fresh-minted graduates from B-schools, negotiating deals over the telephone from plush offices.
One thing has not changed, however. About a fourth of the total trading on a particular day happens in the last hour of trading, according to industry experts.
8.00pm to 9.00pm
At the shoot of a TV serial
Mumbai is the hub of India’s television entertainment industry. Many of the country’s major television and satellite networks are headquartered here. Behind the shimmering sets and glitz and glamour, however, is a sordid story. On the sets, the pressure of the deadline looms large at all times.
In Mumbai’s television industry, a month has 45 working days, counting overtime, and 36-hour shooting schedules are not uncommon.
The daily soaps, according to an industry watcher, exist in a parallel universe, with their own time zone and logic. The insecurity over TRPs (television rating points) has meant that crews usually shoot during the day for the evening’s broadcast and scripts are faxed to the location even as the shooting is in progress.
The industry works in such a competitive atmosphere that trying to break out of this system appears impossible.
Those involved desperately hope that things will get more organised. Is this likely to happen? Given the big bucks involved, and general anarchy that prevails, highly unlikely.
12.00am to 1.00am
At a nightclub
It might be a cliché, but only the ignorant or the foolishly brave would argue with someone who says that Mumbai never sleeps.
Nights in the city are meant for partying, dancing and having a great time. If you want to join in the fun, squeeze into a nightclub on a Friday or Saturday night. As the witching hour draws near, the energy, the tempo, the beats, the number of people, the determination to have fun for that last hour before the bar closes and cops come knocking, peak.
Fresh-faced collegians who want to dance till they drop, office-goers drinking their way to oblivion, friends breaking each other’s records on how many shots they can do and continue to stand, under-dressed starlets hoping to get recognised, they are all packed into one space and they all share one goal — to have a blast.
In the recent few weeks, though, the police have been raiding nightspots for breaking rules and for suspected prostitution rackets, and are threatening to put the brakes on the city’s vibrant nightlife.