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Sunset boulevard

Viewed from the narrow lane leading to the esplanade, Marine Drive is a dull white marble band sandwiched between buildings.

mumbai Updated: Jan 02, 2010 01:31 IST
Karthik Balasubramanian

Viewed from the narrow lane leading to the esplanade, Marine Drive is a dull white marble band sandwiched between buildings. It is a horizon trapped in a street. The sun is saffron, the water turquoise, the Trident tower at the NCPA end a clear white.
Headaches are fringe benefits of being adolescent. You take angst-ridden walks along polluted lanes of the suburb you live in. No epiphanies are forthcoming. You come back home with the groceries. You should have gone to Marine Drive.
This is the Mumbai walk.

4:45 — at the NCPA
At the NCPA end are the elites, white folk emerge from the Trident, and stroll along the concourse. You see an interminable row of parked cars. The NCPA quarters, Trident and the Air India Building are monolithic. The sun casts its rays on the embankment, and vendors scurry around hawking cigarettes, crisps and water. Tourists balance themselves on the wet acropods disappearing into the sea.
5:00 — at the Air-India Chowk
As you continue walking, the towers give way to squat residential buildings. An elderly gentleman gazes out from his ground floor window with a newspaper in hand. A photography exhibition featuring aerial snaps of sights from around the world, the theme being global warming, is set up ahead. Students from the Alliance Francaise are briskly distributing leaflets about the photographer, who is collaborating with the Alliance for the exhibition.

5:30 — at the pizzeria
The Pizzeria is filled with foreigners. Next to the Pizzeria is a banner denouncing Madhu Koda, the letters incandescent in the setting sun’s rays. Professionals hurry along the Drive, in understated suits. College students are giving out leaflets. Soon, there are several couples on the marble embankment, perhaps because it is darker now. People are out now for their evening jog, and few tongas go by. The Marine Drive flyover is at a distance, the dark sky and sea are no longer distinct; for a moment the city is still. You cannot forget this instant.
6:00 — at the gymkhanas
But as you approach the Gymkhanas, the moment is forgotten. The streetlights are on, there are bright billboards on the buildings, and cars streak
past you.
The Gymkhanas are special. The cricket writer and historian Ramachandra Guha writes in his ‘A corner of a foreign field’ about the brisk rivalry between the Parsi, Hindu and Muslim Gymkhanas for the annual quadrangular cricket tournament held in Mumbai during the early 1900s: the last team being, of course, the British. Arguably, it was here that the nation was first captivated by cricket. Today, there is a gala wedding on at the Parsi Gymkhana. One wonders if the people thronging the maidan are aware of its role in the democratisation of cricket and, by extension, the unification of
the country.

6:30 — At Chowpatty
Chowpatty begins with a long, narrow wharf ending in the sea. The boats in the water seem like toys fixed in black velvet, so still are they. The trees in the sidewalk deepen the gloom.
Behind you are a string of lights with a well-known sobriquet, and to your right is a teeming city with no time to stay still except in your imagination. There are a few drunks to the left, one man is smoking charas contentedly, a family has settled itself into a disused boat, and the man of the house (or boat) is addressing the wife on some important matter.
Far-off Chowpatty is a prismatic sight, a stark contrast to the discrete tones at Marine Drive. The lights at the stalls are immensely bright, the women’s sarees are dazzling, the sounds of the waves and the visitors a distant drone.

7:00 – At the marine drive
You walk back and decide to go up the flyover for one last look at the esplanade. Behind you are Mumbaikars at the beach, cheerful, relaxed, after a hard day’s work, far away the skyscrapers are like gold ingots. The drive makes a good point with no digressions. It is hard not to wonder where you’d rather be, at the beach or at the NCPA?
The epiphany is here. You forget about the groceries.

This weekly column explores the city’s varied low-cost pleasures