Bombay, The city of dreams. The city that never sleeps. The city of hope. Call it what you will, it is well nigh impossible to find another Indian city that embodies all that Bombay has stood for, and continues to stand for. As I have mentioned before, I spent my childhood never really ‘settling’ anywhere. In fact, in all my wanderings, it is perhaps Bangalore of which I had the fondest memories. It is the closest to what I felt to be home.
However, nothing prepared me for the impact that Bombay would have on me. I had visited the teeming metropolis twice before, and had then compared it unfavourably to Bangalore, my Bangalore. My quarter-of-an-inch nose up in the air, I had proclaimed that if I were ever to live the rest of my life in one city, it would be Bangalore. I hadn’t begun my lifelong affair with poetry then, or I would definitely have transposed Emperor Jehangir’s remark about Kashmir (“If ever there’s a heaven on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this”) to the garden city. The poor emperor is more to be pitied than censured, surely; he mustn’t have seen Bangalore at all.
But I must sorrowfully confess that Shakespeare had it right after all. ‘Frailty, thy name is woman.’ No sooner had I moved to Bombay than the city began to work its insidious charm on me. Soon, very soon, much sooner than I would have thought possible, and I blush to confess it, Bangalore became a distant memory. Nice, but it paled in comparison to the vibrant, pulsating, often vulgar city that I had made my home. Bangalore evoked memories of lazy afternoons, afternoon tea and cucumber sandwiches, cricket on the cantonment grounds – she, for I thought of Bangalore as female, was a great lady, slightly weary, but still oh-so-polite.
Bombay, on the other hand, had no time or inclination for such niceties.There was no time for dainty sandwiches, you could get vada-pao if you wanted; and ‘afternoon tea’ – what was that? ‘Cutting chai’ was there, strong and sweet.She, for Bombay too was a ‘she’, was openly sensual, very in-your-face, and had no patience with laziness. She was on the go all the time; if I wanted a mental image, she was exactly like the machchiwaalis with whom I often shared my journey back home in the wee hours of the night. Foul-mouthed, straightforward, street-smart, hardworking, forthright. And beautiful. Don’t forget beautiful. There was something about the city that called to me, and Bangalore, genteel, ladylike Bangalore was soon consigned to the ashes of things-not-regretted.
I have gone back every year, and rued the fact that I could never spend more than three or four days in Bombay before duty called me to visit relatives who really couldn’t care less if I visited or not, but would of course be offended if I didn’t. This year, for the first time, I had the good fortune of being in Bombay for two whole weeks. It was the beginning of summer, and the temperatures had already risen to an unbearable 40+ (for me, going from what I considered a balmy 9 degrees Celsius). The metropolis, like every other place in India, seems to be in the middle of everlasting construction. And the heat, and dust, and crowds just added to the mess.
I felt drained, and began to realise what a grape must go through to become a raisin. Like every proper Bombayite, I gasped my protest at the heat, and drank gallons of water, buttermilk, and curds to keep me from spontaneously bursting into flames. Amul’s Elaichi milk and Cool Café became lifesavers, as did tender coconut water and sugarcane juice – my corner juice wallah learnt soon enough that he had to bring me two glasses – the first one vanished too quickly down my gullet to be tasted.
It. Was. Amazing! I walked miles in order to get my job done. In fact, I quite literally wore out my shoes. I would come home dead tired by the evening. Shower, sit under a tired fan that merely circulated hot air around the room, and then go out for another walk ‘just for fun’ at eight in the night. I would end up having two, three showers every day in a bid to feel fresh.
I lost myself among the teeming crowds in the marketplace, and did not even pause to wonder why, of all the places I might walk, I would choose to go to the impossibly crowded vegetable market. I would grab a plate of sev batata puri, or a ‘fruit plate’ and then walk some more. I even walked out at half past midnight looking for an adaptor for my laptop, only to find the roads full of people. It was a nice feeling.
And I loved it. If the home is where the heart is, then Bombay has my heart.
To celebrate the city that I love, the only city that I will ever truly call ‘home’, the city that will continue to change but always remain the same, here are some songs, in no particular order, that show off the city with love and affection, while being accepting of its flaws.
This is the quintessential ‘Bombay’ song. There has never been such a visual ode to the city before, even if Johnny Walker is lamenting the city’s heartlessness. Bombay is not heartless, it is not uncaring. But yes, it does not unnecessarily push its nose into your business. The Victoria, the walk along Marine Drive, the graceful old buildings in South Bombay, the Queen’s necklace, all these and more still abound, underlining the charm of the great city. If you look very carefully, you can see the crowds following the Victoria during the shooting of this song.
2. Bambai sheher ki (Piya ka Ghar, 1972) Kishore Kumar / Laxmikant-Pyarelal
If most songs about Bombay stick to the tried and tested venues – Marine Drive, Gateway of India, Colaba – Piya ka Ghar showed us a Bombay inhabited by aam aadmi. Seen through the eyes of its heroine, a small town girl who is at once enthralled and repelled by the great city, we got to see the little places – the crowded by-lanes, the double-decker buses, the beach, the airport, along with the more popular ‘tourist’ spots. And the song made perfect sense in the film, as the hero shows off ‘his’ city to his newly-wed bride. There is so much to see, after all. I will confess that this song was chosen more for its visuals than for its music.
3. Hum panchchi mastane (Dekh Kabira Roya, 1957) Lata Mangeshkar-Geeta Dutt / Madan Mohan
The song opens with a beautiful shot of the sea dashing against the rocks, and then you can see when low tide pulls the sea away leaving the rocks exposed. It does seem like the girls spent the entire day walking the same kilometre and a half stretch back and forth, but hey, they seemed to have fun doing it, and who am I to quibble I like the sea myself in all its myriad moods, and I can only think that the sea and Bombay are so alike, ever changing, yet constant. I also liked the fact that the mouth-organ interludes were played by Shubha Khote on screen – it brought in just that little bit of zaniness that the song required. Thanks to pacifist for introducing me to this song.
4. Ee hai Bambai nagariya tu dekh babua (Don, 1978) Kishore Kumar / Kalyanji-Anandji
Amitabh Bachchan should perhaps get the credit of bringing Bombay alive in all its glory on screen. So many of his movies have been set in this great metropolis, but perhaps it is Don‘s Vijay, an itinerant singer from Benares, who completely symbolises what Bombay means to an immigrant. He calls Bombay the ‘city of illusions’, but credits it with accepting everyone who comes there seeking their fortune. He also expresses his frustration at the names of the various places – ‘Koi bandar nahin hai phir bhi naam Bandra’, he laments, ‘Church ka gate hai, church hai la pata‘. Yet, Sheheron mein sheher hai sheher Bambai wah! How true!
5. Yeh Bambai sheher ka bada naam hai (Kya Yeh Bombay Hai, 1959) Mohammed Rafi / Bipin Dutta
There is a reason this film is obscure, and it will soon be evident when you see the picturization of this song. If there was a way I could have screened the ‘actors’ on whom this song was shot, and concentrated on the shots of Bombay – Worli, Dadar, Colaba – I would have. It was so nice to see trams on the roads of Bombay those days – so, yes, nostalgia wins over picturization anyway.
6. Sab janta ka hai (Parvarish, 1977 ) Lata Mangeshkar-Usha Mangeshkar / Laxmikant-Pyarelal
For a change, we have Bombay in colour. Neetu Singh and Shabana Azmi seem to be taking pleasure looting people from Marine Drive to Chowpatty to Juhu Beach. Of course, they only loot the rich so they can help the poor, which latter class includes themselves. Apart from the ubiquitous shot of the walkway down Marine Drive, and a more unusual one of the Oberoi Sheraton (the area looks nothing like this anymore) I like that they move the shot to the residential areas of the suburbs without much ado.
If the earlier clip showed the Oberoi, this one showcases the grand old lady herself – the Taj, Bombay. It also shows a Bombay skyline without skyscrapers, Malabar Hill with trees, and I don’t think Nariman Point even existed! Much less traffic too. Only, I think young Sajid was too busy singing about the woes of society to actually sell any newspapers.
8. Tumse jo dekhte hi (Patthar ke Phool, 1991) SP Balasubramaniam-Lata Mangeshkar / Ram-Laxman
Forget Lata screeching, forget the horrible fashions and hairstyles of the 90s, forget that musically – sigh, what ‘musically’? So why is this song here? Because it’s nostalgia hitting me big time. Apart from the fact that I have a soft spot for Salman Khan (so shoot me!), it is mainly listening to the old street names that have been changed willy-nilly because of the jingoistic nationalism that now masquerades as patriotism. I wonder if the people who do so really think they can rewrite 200 years of our past. Or whether changing the old British names will change the fact that our old colonial masters actually built those roads, those monuments, etc. Somehow, I do not think it even matters.
So it is nice to hear Cadell Road (now Veer Savarkar Marg), Warden Road (now Bhulabhai Desai Road), Peddar Road (now renamed Dr. G Deshmukh Marg), and other familiar names again. Bonus: you get a roller skating tour of the city. (You know that Salman is actually rollerskating, and you know that Raveena is not.)
9. Yaaron sun lo zara (Rangeela, 1996) Udit Narayan-Chitra / AR Rehman
RGV either makes very good films or very bad films – he hasn’t heard of moderation. Rangeela falls into the former category. One of the few films based on the film industry that actually succeeded, it cemented AR Rehman’s place in the Hindi music industry. The songs were a huge success, side characters were lovingly and succinctly etched, the lower middle class settings actually looked like they were lower middle-class, the film was one of the biggest hits of the year, Urmila Matondkar’s career took off, RGV ended up fighting with his hero, and Aamir Khan boycotted the Filmfare Awards. The songs in the film were shot in and around Bombay, and because it was shot by a maverick director, it eschewed the usual locales and shot in places like the Bandstand in Bandra, the beaches of Manori, and obscure roads in the residential areas of the suburbs. Nice.
My favourite song in this series. There is something very clean and fresh-washed about the city soon after the rains. While I think the Kishore Kumar version of this song is much better song-wise, this song wins hands down for its picturization of my Bombay. There are other reasons for liking this song, not the least because there are so many wonderful memories associated with it.
Many years ago, I was working at Nariman Point in Bombay, and my early morning journey included either a shared cab, or a long walk from Churchgate. When I was training, I would leave home at 6 in the morning, walk to the station so I could catch the 6.15 train and reach Churchgate by 6.55. It was nice to walk then, and I would reach office between a quarter past seven and half past seven, just in time to see the vendors clean off their carts and set out freshly cut fruits. Inevitably, I was their boni – their first sale of the day.
That year was also my first Bombay monsoon, and I soon learnt to carry an extra change of clothes with me when I went to the office. I love the sea in all her moods, and one day, I decided to walk the long route – alongside the ocean. Big mistake. My umbrella folded over itself, but not before trying to make itself a parachute and take me to meet the sea a little closer than I would have wanted to, and I was drenched within seconds of reaching the seaward side. I gave in to the inevitable. I folded my useless umbrella, and enjoyed the monsoons like I never had before.
And if you think I was silly to get drenched in a cotton churidar kameez (thank heavens when I reached office finally, I managed to get to the restrooms without meeting anyone!), then three piece suits and saris are not exactly the best outfits for getting drenched in the rains. But they look like they are having so much fun too. Nice shots of Cross Maidan and the old Rajabhai Tower, along with the usual suspects.
Written By: Anuradha Warrier, is a writer, editor, film, and music buff. She writes for pleasure, edits for a living, and indulges in watching films, listening to music, and writing about both on her blog Conversations Over Chai as and when time permits.
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