It’s hard now to imagine Mumbai without its sea link, pop-up restaurants and Rs 200-cr blockbusters. And yet a decade ago, these didn’t exist. We take a look at the ten most important changes that have redefined the ways of this city:
1) Our commute: conquering earth, land and air
There was a time not so long ago when Mumbai’s cityscape comprised streets, railway tracks, buildings, and the odd tree. Not any more. Look up now, pretty much anywhere in the city, and your view of the sky is likely to be obstructed by an overhead conduit of some sort — a skywalk or under-construction Metro link, a flyover, monorail link or freeway.
Having exhausted our surface area, we’ve taken to the air, in a manner of speaking. Next up, tunnels underground, to accommodate the ever-growing number of cars and commuters. So the daily commute is no longer a humdrum bus-train-bus ride. It’s a sweeping, swirling, many-splendoured thing of new-age, high-speed links.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that many of us can no longer afford to live any closer than Belapur so the commute is either as long, or longer.
2) T2 and the new ATC tower: finally, flying high
Mumbai’s airport used to be little more than an undignified exit. Then the GVK group roped in curator Rajeev Sethi, who turned the new terminal, T2, into one of the country’s largest art museums, packing it with painstakingly restored wooden pillars, bespoke frescoes, and samples of ancient Indian craft forms. The new terminal and the sleek new all-glass air traffic control tower opened last year and are a fitting gateway to a global city.
Finally, we can look around and feel pride at what will be, for many tourists, their first glimpse of the country — a sparkling space that is well-appointed, plush and yet distinctly Indian. Now, the culture shock will begin only once they pass through its doors.
3) The food scene: an age of Dessert bars, pop-ups, home chefs
Eating out used to mean a choice between ‘Chinese’, ‘Indian’ and ‘Continental’. As far as cuisines are concerned, you can now travel the world, a plate at a time, right here in the city. You can try Mexican or Mongolian, Nigerian or Meghalayan food. Like desserts? Pick from eateries that serve only yoghurt, or only cookies, only waffles, or just chocolate served up in different ways.
Prefer home food? Pop into the drawing rooms of an Assamese, Goan, Bengali, Bohri or Parsi home chef. Or head to one of many food events where other home chefs serve up scones and bacon jam. You can also take food tours that pick an ingredient or cuisine and explore its origins and examples in the city. Or join a meetup group for foodie adventures. If anything, the city’s now got too many options to choose from. But hey, there’s an app for that.
4) The skyline: a mixed-up makeover
There was only one image you could use to signify Mumbai without words — Gateway of India. Today, you could sketch the Bandra-Worli sea link, or the sweep of the bay with its soaring high-rises. India’s global city finally has a recognisable skyline. Of course, in typically Mumbai fashion, it is not a pretty skyline, nor a well-planned one. And it has come at a very high price, swallowing up acres of mill land in the heart of the city that were supposed to be used for green open spaces.
Instead, the mills have been turned into malls, or torn down and replaced by luxury residences. A 33-km coastal road promises to add another element, eventually. For better or for worse.
5) Bal Thackeray is dead: a party loses its roar
When he roared, the city shuddered. At the crook of a finger, he could summon enraged masses and unleash a fury of violence. Bal Thackeray never held public office, yet there has been no Mumbai politician quite as commanding. In fact, his boots were so big that it has been impossible for the party he founded, the Shiv Sena, to fill them. Today, strike calls go largely unheeded; Matoshree is no longer a Mumbai nerve centre; internal squabbling has seen stalwarts leave, and the party’s voteshare has plummeted. As a son and grandson struggle to revive the Sena’s fortunes, a charismatic rebel nephew’s dream of continuing the legacy externally has more or less perished.
Perhaps it was the man, perhaps it was his timing, perhaps both. Whatever the reasons for his unique and somewhat disquieting success, it is undeniable that his personality drove the party that went on to rule the state of Maharashtra; he made it what it was. The only roar left now is from the tiger on the logo.
6) How we play: of rooftop parks and indoor turfs
It sounds like science fiction, but the space crunch has become so severe in Mumbai that you now need to take a lift to the park, because it’s been squeezed in on the terrace. As builders seek to extract the most from every square inch, even the jogging tracks and cycling paths have moved indoors and upwards, and residents go for their evening stroll high up above the city.
Cricket and football pitches have moved too, into indoor turfs. No more rainy practice sessions at the maidan, then, or watching kids or pets roll around in the grass. Instead, kids can kick the ball around on faux turf, enclosed by glass walls.
7) Our films: Indie, corporate, Rs 200 crores and counting
Stars are never on time. Outsiders rarely make it in Bollywood. A hit can’t happen without a big star, a big budget, a big banner. So many stereotypes have found themselves reversed over the past decade. Technology and hyper-competitiveness have seen a notoriously stodgy industry go corporate, make space for new faces and new ideas. From Kangana Ranaut to Kiran Rao and Dhobi Ghat to The Lunchbox, the change has been sweeping. There’s been the rise of the shero, or woman hero. The surge of indie hits.
And among the old faithfuls — the tried-and-true Khan clans — there’s something new too. In a world of movies that only last a couple of weeks, a new measuring scale: The 100-crore club, 200-crore club, and now, glimmers of a 300-crore club too.
8) The fringes: Luxe living finds a new home
To many Mumbaiites, the names are still unfamiliar — Roadpali in Navi Mumbai, Shil Phata near Mumbra, Vasant Vihar in Thane. A decade ago, most of the people living here had lived here for generations. Now, as real-estate prices in and around Mumbai continue a stubborn upward climb, the fringes are finding new takers. And getting makeovers. Luxury real-estate brands are planting flowerbeds and finalising blueprints. Swimming pools and clubhouses are beginning to dot landscapes. In their wake, restaurants and malls, schools and hospitals, multiplexes and high streets are springing up.
For many of the residents, there is no longer a compelling need to visit the city — except for those with jobs there. As many of the fringes also get commercial complexes and business hubs, that is set to change too.
9) Localities getting new names: shadow lines
Lower Parel is Upper Worli, Wadala is New Cuffe Parade, Bandra East is BKC Annex and Four Bungalows is Upper Juhu. As builders snap up plots wherever they are available, they’re ‘rebranding’ entire chunks of the city to suit their target audience. Is Lower Parel too reminiscent of Girangaon and its textile mills? How about we offer you a Worli? Does Wadala conjure up images of bootleggers and swampland?
Try Cuffe Parade on for size. Do Bandra East and Four Bungalows sound anti-climactic? Just tack on the nearest desirable destinations. After all, you no longer have to worry that the postman won’t be able to find the address.
10) Impact of terror attacks: a trust deficit
What was once a gesture of goodwill — ‘Who’s left their bag on the rack?’ — has taken on a frantic air, ever since backpacks loaded with RDX were left on trains in 2006. A forgotten tiffin can prompt people to jump from a moving locomotive. Hotels that once welcomed you with folded hands now offer you a metal detector first.
Terror has left an indelible mark on Mumbai, following the serial train bombings of 2006 and the terror siege of 2008. You can no longer just amble up to Gateway, for instance. Or get through at all, after sunset. CST forever holds within it the image of blood-streaked floors and a rifle-toting Kasab. And when you look at the dome of the Taj hotel, you can still almost see the plume of smoke.
Illustrations: Shrikrishna Patkar