Two incidents and a lesson

I was 16 and in my last year of school when the first incident happened. School had finished for the day and I was waiting for a rickshaw outside my school to take me to the railway station, from where I would take a train home. Hearing a rickshaw approach behind me, I turned hoping that it would be empty. It wasn’t and as it sped by me, I saw a horrific sight. A man and a woman were struggling in the rickshaw and the man had a knife in his hand.

Photo Courtesy: Istock photos

I saw all this in a flash and for a moment I thought that I had imagined the whole thing. But then I reasoned that I couldn’t have imagined the glint of the knife, could I? Just then an empty rickshaw came and I saw to my relief that the driver was someone I knew, in the sense that I had travelled in his rickshaw many times.

I told the driver about what I had just seen and asked if we should give chase. The driver said that I must have imagined the knife and what I must have witnessed was some friendly “wrestling” between a couple. Besides, wouldn’t the rickshaw driver have done something if he sensed that there was something wrong going on? No, no, I must have had a stressful day, and it would not do for a girl like me to have such an active imagination. I should concentrate on my studies and try to get home as quickly as possible. With these words of advice, he dropped me off at the railway station.

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The golden city of Bath

Bath is a rather funny name for a city, isn’t it? I first came across the city of Bath in Charles DickensThe Pickwick Papers, and later in Jane Austen’s novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. Over the years I “visited Bath” through other stories, essays, films, paintings and photographs, and discovered a deliciously decadent life of leisure and luxury, fashion, intrigue, matchmaking, music, dance, poetry… I further discovered Bath’s history of healing and curing through its mineral rich, hot water springs. In fact, archaeological evidence exists of the waters of Bath being used for healing purposes since pre-Roman times. In 1987, Bath was declared a UNESCO Word Heritage Site.

When I spent a year in London in 2008-2009, Bath was on my list of “must see places before return to India”. And on one beautiful July day in 2009, I set off for a day trip to Bath, organised by London Walks. It was a day that the English, rather mistakenly, call an Indian summer’s day—pleasantly sunny with a cool breeze and intermittent light showers. A lovely day to travel and have a bath in walk around Bath. :-)

Located in the green and gold Somerset countryside of England, my first impression of Bath, or Bath Spa as the city is called now, was that it did not look or feel like England at all—it had a very European air about the place. The River Avon flows through Bath and it is the first thing that you see when you come out of the station.

The River Avon at Bath

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The Elephanta Caves

“I couldn’t tear myself away from the image of the Maheshmurti. It was so beautiful. So mesmerising. Elephanta was so nice,” gushed Iskra, an exchange student from Bulgaria.

I listened to Iskra’s description of her visit to Elephanta Caves with part fascination and part envy. The reason? In spite of having lived in Mumbai for nearly 23 years, I had never been to the Elephanta Caves. Listening to Iskra, and that too a foreigner, rave about them needled me into resolving to visit the caves at the earliest opportunity.

And would you believe it? The opportunity presented itself to me the very next day, almost as if it was just waiting for me to make up my mind. My Facebook wall announced that Girls on the Go (GOTG), a women’s only travel club, was conducting a guided day trip to the Elephanta Caves on 13 March 2011. Would I be interested? Not one to let go of an opportunity like this, I signed up for the trip within seconds of seeing the intimation. :-D

Gateway of India

So, on D-Day, I was at the Gateway of India much before the reporting time of  7.45 am. While waiting for Piya Bose, the founder of GOTG, and the rest of the group to assemble, I tried to recall what I knew about the Caves. They were … um… really old rock-cut caves, were located in Elephanta Island some distance away from Mumbai, could be accessed only by boat, and was a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In short, I knew nothing about the Caves. Of course, by the time the tour got over I was a little wiser thanks to Lakshmi Kishore, our guide, and a booklet on the Elephanta Caves that I purchased from the ticket office.

Elephanta Island has traces of habitation from 2nd century BC in the form of remains of a Buddhist stupa, reportedly built by Emperor Ashoka himself. But what the Island is really famous for are 7 rock-cut caves, whose age is not well established due to absence of written records. Various theories exist as to the age of the caves as well as to who built them, and according to the Archaeological Society of India’s (ASI) booklet, the caves were excavated during the middle of the 6th century, during the rule of the Konkan Mauryas.

Locally, Elephanta Island is known as Gharpuri and is located about 11 km from Mumbai. It was called Elephanta by the Portuguese, who found a stone statue of an elephant at one of the entry points to the Island. Though they tried their best to destroy the statue, they only succeeded in severely damaging it and today the restored elephant is installed at the Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Mumbai.

Aquatint of the Stone Elephant by Thomas Daniell and William Daniell, 1786. Photo Courtesy: Elephanta by George Michell

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100 kilometres from Mumbai

Have you heard of a place called Nevrepada?

Chances are that you haven’t. Even I hadn’t heard of this place till I visited it about a month back. A visit that I think about even today, a visit that opened my eyes to realities I had only read about in newspapers or seen on TV. It is a visit I invite you to join me in as I write this post.

Nevrepada is a hamlet near Aghai Village in  Shahapur Taluka, Thane District, about a 100-odd kilometres from Mumbai. We drive down the Mumbai-Nashik Road and when we cross the dusty town of Shahapur, there is an underpass which takes us to Atgaon Station on the Mumbai-Kasara line. As we drive by Atgaon station, we see—with part horror and part bemusement—Tata Sumos, Traxs’ and an assortment of four wheelers stuffed with people outside the station. In addition to the people sitting inside the vehicles, some are seated on the luggage rack above these vehicles, while some are perched on the side ledge, calmly hanging on to the windows for dear life. That’s when we realise that these vehicles are probably the only mode of transport in the area.

Forest land

Driving on, we soon pass a board announcing that we are on the forest department’s land. The dried up brown earth sprouting dried up brown trees and shrubs is a forest? Is an occasional green tree enough for the area to be called a forest? If such a term as an arid forest exists, then this is the perfect illustration of that term.

We look around bleakly at the various shades of brown, hoping for some change in the landscape. This comes in the form of an ugly square building with an entrance board announcing it to be a retreat for some religious organisation. We pass more such plots earmarked for other religious organisations. Construction on forest land, we ask aloud? Would we soon be seeing other commercial establishments coming up here as well?

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A walk in the sky – 2: Chembur Skywalk

Last week, I took a walk on the Chembur Skywalk. While trying to take a photograph of the skywalk from one of its 3 currently operating exits, I gathered a crowd of some curious onlookers. The conversation that ensued went something like this:

“Are you a journalist?” one of them asked.

“No. I am not a journalist,” I said.

“Then why do you want to take pictures of the skywalk?” another one asked.

“Because, I am writing a series on Mumbai’s skywalks for my blog, and the Chembur skywalk is the next one to be featured,” I replied.

“Then you are a journalist,” the group said triumphantly.

“No, I am not a journalist,” I said a little more forcefully.

“Look, madam,” said one of the persistent onlookers, “why would anybody want to photograph and write about the skywalk? It is not a film hero or heroine. Only journalists write about such things. If you don’t want anyone to know that you are a journalist, fine. But we know that you are a journalist. A serious journalist.”

“It’s ok,” said another. “We won’t even ask which paper you work for.”

I gave up. There were 3-4 khaki-clad people in the group who decided that I should not be “pestered” by the others. Shooing them off, they introduced themselves as BMC employees who worked in the area and said that they would very gladly be my “informers” about the Chembur Skywalk.

View of the Chembur Skywalk from the Sadguru Kadam Baba Garden

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Mumbai Lens: Summer’s here !

Summer’s here, folks. And how do I know it? Apart from the weather, that is. The ice gola man has started doing his rounds. I saw him the day before yesterday at Vashi with his wares.  His colourful cart was like a magnet and I saw many people taking pictures with their mobile phone cameras.

Different flavours and colours of ice golas. Mmmm…

I can’t have ice golas as I am allergic to artificial food colouring :-(  But hey, my eyes and other senses are not allergic to artificial food colouring and that’s how I am able to share it with you.

Happy summer and yes, Happy Holi too !

Mumbai Lens is a photographic series which, as the name suggests, is Mumbai-centric and is an attempt to capture the various moods of the city through my camera lens. You can read more posts from this series here.